Compulsory Voting in Australian local, state and federal elections
- History at
- "The starting point of the process came in 1902, the first election having been
held, pursuant to sections 10 and 31 of the Constitution, under the laws of the
various States. The Commonwealth Parliament enacted the Commonwealth
Franchise Act 1902 and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902, which taken
together provided for a secret ballot, votes for men and women (but not for
aboriginals), and plurality ("first-past-the-post") voting for both the Senate and
the House of Representatives."
- "A reform with profound implications for the conduct of day-to-day political
campaigning, but with a partisan impact difficult to measure, was the introduction
of compulsory voting in 1924. As a consequence of compulsory voting, parties do
not have to devote to "getting out the vote" the sorts of resources which are
deployed by, for example, the main US political parties. Compulsory voting has
long been accepted without much complaint within Australia, while being regarded
by outside observers as somewhat eccentric. In recent years the debate, such as
it is, has taken a new turn, with attention being focussed not so much on the
question of individual rights - any voter can if he or she so chooses avoid making
a choice of candidates by casting a deliberately informal vote - but on the effect
which compulsory voting has had on the overall quality of political discourse and
government in Australia."
- Compulsory vs non-compulsory voting in elections in Australia
- History of Compulsory Voting in Australia:
- advocated by Alfred Deakin at the turn of the century
- compulsory enrolment introduced in 1911
- compulsory voting first adopted in Queensland in 1915. Federally it was
introduced in 1924 on the basis of a Private Members Bill
- compulsory voting has become a distinctive feature of the Australian
- Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting:
- voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform eg
taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
- the educative benefits of political participation
- parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
- governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and
- candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather
than encouraging voters to attend the poll
- the voter isn’t actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by
- Australian Electoral Commission - CASE FOR AN ELECTORAL OMBUDSMAN
- Australian Electoral Commission - Enrolment Statistics
- Compulsory Voting in Australia (Including a list of countries where voting is compulsory)
- "Other countries which have some form of compulsory voting are:
Argentina, Austria ,Belgium , Bolivia , Brazil , Cyprus , Dominican Republic ,
Egypt , Greece , Guatemala, Honduras , Liechenstein , Luxembourg , Panama ,
Philippines , Singapore , Switzerland (some cantons only) , Uruguay , Venezuela"
- Compulsory voting: a useful target for anti-state action?
- "The question I want to address here is why compulsory voting in Australia
is so readily accepted. Why has there been so very little organised resistance
to it? The wider interest here is in assessing what sorts of campaigns to
challenge state power are likely to mobilise widespread support. If there
are some techniques by which governments can defuse obvious libertarian
objections to the exercise of state power to enforce voting, this may
provide insights useful for deciding on and promoting campaigns on other issues.
As a case study, I use the system of compulsory voting in Australia. The
insights from the Australian experience should apply elsewhere. The
Australian culture and political system are generally similar to
those in other English-speaking countries. The difference in voting
systems are not obviously correlated with other systematic
differences in social structures.
Although some commentators have portrayed Australians as acquiescent to
government impositions, there is evidence contrary to this. There were,
for example, well organised anti-conscription movements during World War
One and the Vietnam War. The plan by the federal government a few years
ago to introduce a national identity card was defeated by a large,
spontaneous opposition uniting both left and right wing forces.
Government compulsion is neither automatically accepted nor
automatically rejected in Australia.
I begin by outlining the introduction of compulsory voting in Australia
in the first half of this century, and then turn to the practical details
of voting. Next, I describe the attitudes and action of some contemporary
anarchist groups. Finally, I comment on the implications of this evidence
for the development of campaigns against state power."
- "In Australia, it is relatively easy to avoid the compulsory registration. In moving
to a new address in a different electoral district, for example, it is simple to fail
to register, by neglect or by choice, in the new district. Few of the officials
looking after the rolls vigilantly seek out the unregistered."
(Lachlan's note: as mentioned at the top of this webpage, this
is bollocked and a totally unwarranted slur on the Australian Electoral Commission -
possibly by someone who perhaps has never tried to avoid registering to vote.
- "Contrary to what might be expected, opinion polls have shown
that Australians who oppose compulsory voting are more likely to be apathetic
about politics. They oppose compulsion because they do not want to bother to vote.
Apparently, only a minority have a principled opposition to compulsion or to
- "Another escape route for dissatisfaction is the informal vote. Strictly speaking,
compulsory voting is a misnomer: the elector is only required to cast a ballot, but
it does not have to be a valid vote. What is called an "informal" vote in Australia
is any ballot that is not properly marked, such as a blank ballot or one in which
the numbering of preferences is not correct or complete.
The informal vote is usually a few percent of the ballots cast. The greatest source
of informal votes is probably mistakes, especially in senate tickets where there are
typically dozens of candidates. But conscious informal votes are one avenue for venting
displeasure with all candidates or with voting generally."
- "The main interest in compulsory voting by historians and political scientists has been
on its impact on voting patterns. There are studies assessing the impact on voter
turnout, the advantages to different political parties, and the effect on the
informal vote. There is relatively little said about the opposition to (or,
indeed, the support for) compulsion. I think this is because the issue in fact
has caused little public controversy. In the major histories of Australia,
compulsory voting rates hardly more than a footnote.
Opinion polls show that about one-third of people oppose compulsion, a substantial
minority. There are occasional articles in newspapers attacking the practice, such
as one by prominent historian Geoffrey Blainey just before the 1990 federal election.
But few of those who voice opposition feel strongly enough about it to try to
develop a campaign of resistance."
- "John Zube, an anarchist, sometimes failed to vote and was sent a standard
letter demanding an explanation or payment of a fine. He sent electoral
officials a list of numerous sayings against voting. Seemingly as a result,
in some cases the fines were dropped.
Robert Burrowes, a nonviolent activist, refused to vote on several occasions
in the early 1980s because he opposes any system based on rulers. He refused to
pay the resulting fines and, as a result, on two occasions spent a few hours
in jail. Burrowes aimed to build a vote refusal support group but this did
not happen at the time."
- "The main exception to this pattern is in Melbourne, a city nearly the size
of Sydney, where the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society since
1977 have devoted considerable energy opposing electoral politics .
Their bulletins over the years have featured articles against voting,
and during election campaigns they have run anti-electoral campaigns
with posters ("Voting: stop it or you'll go blind") and forums. This
group appears to be the only one that has consistently conducted antielectoral campaigns.
Noticeably, the efforts of the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society
do not focus on the compulsion associated with voting. Removing compulsion
would remove only a limited part of what they oppose, namely a system based
on rulers, elected or otherwise. They want to abolish government altogether."
- Australian Democrats and Compulsory Voting
- "The Australian Democrats fully support the practice of
compulsory voting and oppose any proposal to introduce voluntary
voting in Australia. Compulsory voting is an essential element of
the democratic process and it has, since 1924, been the accepted
practice in all Australian State and Federal Parliamentary
elections. At least twenty-one democracies practice compulsory
voting at the local, state/provincial, or national level."
- Compulsory voting and participatory democracy
"Voting is a means of participating in the political process uniquely
accessible to the largest number of citizens and for many, represents
the only way they believe they can influence what the government does.
Removing the obligation to vote is not simply a matter of freeing
people from the performance of a duty. It represents a devaluing
of the act of voting by the government and a corresponding devaluing
of the peoples' role in the system of government.
Compulsory voting helps to ensure the expression of choice at least
by a majority of voters and to guard against the opportunities for
improper or illegal electoral practices, such as multiple voting
or bribing voters. "
- Arguments for compulsory voting
- voting is a civic responsibility of citizens in a democratic society.
Each citizen must take responsibility for who governs them and how they are governed;
- compulsory voting ensures the expression of choice by all those
eligible to vote and ensures, as far as possible, that parliaments are
elected according to the will of all its citizens;
- compulsory voting helps legitimise the electoral process and the parliaments chosen by it;
- social and political cohesion is promoted and alienation from the
political process by the disadvantaged is diminished;
- citizens develop a sense of ownership of the political and decision-making process;
- compulsory voting contributes to civic education and the entrenchment of civic values;
- election campaigns focus on the issues and choices before the
voters rather than concentrating on mechanisms to get people to the polls;
- compulsory voting diminishes the opportunities for the exercise
of corrupt, illegal and improper practices during elections;
- the involvement of all citizens in an election provides some protection
against domination by minority interest groups, the economically powerful and other elites.
- Compulsory voting and individual liberty
Voting is a positive duty owed by each citizen to the rest of society arising
out of the profound political and social significance it wields.
It is argued that compulsion to exercise a right to vote infringes individual
liberty. However, it is integral to our system of democracy that citizens
possess and exercise both rights and responsibilities.
The compulsion to vote is not unique. Other citizenship responsibilities
accepted by governments and citizens include jury duty, giving evidence
in court proceedings, compulsory education and payment of taxes. The
compulsion to vote cannot be considered an unusual or especially onerous
requirement of citizens.
In the same way that the payment of taxes is accepted as a sacrifice
citizens must make to obtain various social benefits provided by a
democratic system of government, the obligation to vote is accepted
as a necessary duty citizens must fulfill in order to maintain our
system of democracy and the benefits that flow from it.
- Compulsory Voting, Party Stability, and Electoral Bias in Australia
- Alternative Voting Options for Australians
- Compulsory Voting by Simon Jackman
- Compulsory voting - the Australian Anachronism
- What happens "in" Australia if you don't "vote"?
- Fines for Not voting in Australian elections. Examples of "Penalty Notices",
"Reminder & Final Notice", "Notice Of Possible Prosecution",
"Charge and Summons", "Statement of Fines and Penalties Imposed", "Notice of Intention to Enforce"
and "Final Notice".
- Australia: The Public Record » Parliament » About Legislation
- Private Senators' and Members' bills
The right to propose legislation is not restricted to the
government of the day. Any senator or member of the House of
Representatives may introduce a bill and, in the Senate, a
private senator's bill is dealt with in exactly the same way as a
government bill. While comparatively few private senators'
and members' bills are agreed to by both Houses, some significant
proposals have become law as a result of private senators'
and members' initiatives. Compulsory voting at federal elections
was introduced as a result of Senator Payne's Electoral (Compulsory
Voting) Act 1924. The banning of tobacco advertising in
the print media was achieved through Senator Powell's Smoking
and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Act
1989. From the Parliament's perspective, the most significant
piece of legislation sponsored by a private senator or member
was the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 which was introduced
by the President of the Senate and which codified the
Parliament's legal immunities and its powers to protect the integrity of its processes.
- When is legislation required?
Not every policy proposal requires legislation to implement it.
Any proposal to raise or spend money requires legislation, as
does any proposal creating rights or imposing obligations in
relation to individuals or corporate bodies. Generally speaking,
new powers may be conferred on government departments or
agencies only by legislation.
- Compulsory and preferential voting
- "Voting is compulsory in Australia, and nonvoters must pay a fine of $100.
Voters are required to rank all the candidates on the ballot in order of
their preference. If no candidate wins a majority of first- preference
votes, the lowest-ranking candidates are eliminated, starting from the
bottom, and their votes are redistributed according to preferences until
one candidate receives a majority."
- "In the 1996 elections, the Socialist Labour League is calling on workers
to cast a first-preference vote for its candidates, and to mark lower-level
preferences randomly among the other candidates. It refuses to participate
in the parliamentary horsetrading and vote-swapping, and seeks to instill
in workers an understanding that the their class interests cannot be defended
through parliament or by voting for the "lesser evil," but only through the
building of an independent political movement of the working class. "
- Researcher warns against dropping compulsory vote
- Electoral Events Timeline (Australian Electoral History)
- Australian Capital Territory: Frequently Asked Election Questions: Is voting compulsory?
- "Yes. Voting is compulsory for every person on the electoral roll except
for eligible overseas electors, Antarctic electors, electors serving a prison
sentence outside the ACT and itinerant electors."
- Voting: Should it be compulsory?
- Compulsory voting refers to the legally required participation of all
citizens in an electoral poll. The main rationale behind it is to strive
for the electoral equality of all social groups.
It is noticeable in many countries in which voting is not compulsory that
some socio-economic groups are less likely to exercise their franchise
than others. Nevertheless, voting is not compulsory in a majority of the world's democracies.
In Australia, failure to vote in Federal, State, or Local Government
elections is punishable by a fine.
An interesting test of the law requiring people to vote occurred in
March 1999. Ms Melissa Manson of Knoxfield, Victoria, won a seven-year
battle with the Australian Electoral Commission when a Magistrate dismissed
charges of failing to vote. Ms Manson was of the opinion that the right
to vote should also embrace the right not to vote and she did not vote
in the 1992 or 1996 State elections. A fine of $40 in 1994 was never
paid and Ms Manson said she was prepared to go to jail over the issue,
which she described as a "fundamental breach of civil liberties". She
said she had received letters of support from politicians Peter Reith
and Senator Nick Minchin.
- Is Voting compulsory?
- "Voting is compulsory in Australia at all federal elections for all eligible persons.
Compulsory voting thus ensures the highest possible turnout of electors. Compulsory
voting is not unique to Australia and is used in countries such as Argentina,
Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Italy and Singapore.
Compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting were first introduced in Queensland,
where a non-Labor government hoped that it would discourage apathy among Australian
electors there. Compulsory enrolment was written into the Commonwealth Electoral Act
in 1911 but compulsory voting was not introduced until 1924 by a National Country
The term compulsory voting is in fact a misnomer. The Australian electoral Acts
enforce compulsory attendance, with names checked on the electoral roll. In a
democracy, no electoral law can enforce a compulsory vote because any such
attempt would breach the principle of the secret ballot.
Political parties in Australia gain major benefits from compulsory voting.
In most democratic nations without compulsory voting, parties firstly have
to convince electors to turn out to vote and convince them that it is to
their benefit if they do and secondly they have to convince voters to vote
for them. The first task is done for the political parties in Australia by
compulsory attendance legislation, so they can concentrate on winning support."
- Majority of Australian Voters Want Compulsory Voting (Morgon 1997 Poll)
- WA MP calls for non-compulsory voting
- House of Representatives Practice, 3rd ed: Private Members' bills
- "In 1924 the Electoral (Compulsory Voting) Bill, which introduced
compulsory voting at Federal elections, was initiated in the Senate by a
private Senator, and when transmitted to the House was sponsored by a private Member."