Should Voting be Voluntary?

The South Australian state election has been run and not quite won.

Although it looks likely that Labor will form government, the final result will not be known for quite some time due to the unprecedented number of postal votes.

In achieving a state-wide swing of over seven per cent, the Liberal Party and Isobel Redmond have positioned themselves as a genuine alternative to Labor.

However, while there are still a lot of votes to count, it appears they’ll have a four year wait until they have another opportunity to lead the state.

The election was notable in that, despite a huge state-wide swing, many Labor marginal seats remained with the incumbents. There have been allegations of dirty tricks and misleading conduct, but even in those electorates where such activities didn’t take place, the marginals were mostly retained by Labor.

In gaining approximately 52 per cent of the vote, the Liberals certainly have a strong case for being the most popular choice but didn’t do well enough where it mattered.

Working on the polling booths in a number of electorates, I was once again amazed by the number of people who resented having to turn up on election day, let alone actually cast a vote.

In Australia, we have an obligation to register to vote and to attend a polling place to be marked off the electoral roll on election day. However, there is no responsibility on any individual to cast a formal vote in the confines of the ballot box.

So why do we insist that our citizens go through a process designed to make them turn up but not to cast a formal vote? Surely if any one of us wants the right ‘not to vote’ we shouldn’t need to have our names marked off by some official before doing so.

That is the premise of voluntary voting. It allows those who choose not to participate in our democracy the right to do so without bureaucratic compliance.

In some nations with voluntary voting, less than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote actually do so. This results in a lot of political activity designed to inspire people to support a cause or a party by getting them out to vote in the first place.

As someone who has always supported our current system, if moving to voluntary voting means more people would actually be inspired by the political process rather than just going through the motions, it is worthy of our consideration.

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