Image by Kodak Views via Flickr
A couple of months ago – the day after Malcolm Turnbull became Australia’s fifth prime minister in five years to be precise (for an ordered and developed Western country free of political coups and other such forms of general political unrest, we sure like to churn through our prime ministers) – I saw a post on Facebook where the person, whom for reasons of privacy will remain unnamed, had written something like this:
Woke up to another prime minister. Deja vu.
I’ll admit I had a chuckle when I read this post. But then I discovered that this person’s post was quite indicative of how a lot of people in Australia found out about the country’s most recent leadership change: via Facebook. It’s no doubt how a lot of people find out about what’s happening in the news full stop.
I sometimes wonder that it weren’t for the fact that news outlets use social media themselves, we would be a more misinformed society than during the Dark Ages. Okay, slight exaggeration, but concerning nonetheless.
But this leads me to raise the question, in a country where political nonchalance is common, should voting really be compulsory? Australia is one of 22 countries that has compulsory voting. Some other countries include Argentina, Egypt, Brazil and Greece. Yet, are we really doing ourselves any favours when people who have little idea of what’s happening in the political sphere – and much less care – are shuffling in line at the voting booths just to avoid a fine?
The Australian Electoral Commission website lists a number of reasons in favour of compulsory voting such as that it frees up campaign money from being spent on trying to get people to vote and that it’s a “civic duty.” The latter point is debatable but one of the proven drawbacks for compulsory voting is that it increases the chances of informal or donkey votes.1 Which is fine in the sense that these votes aren’t counted. At least not in Australia. But what are counted are the random votes – if the random votes are filled out as formal votes, that is. So even if boxes are ticked off haphazardly without any thought or knowledge or care of who the candidates are, they are still counted if they’re filled in ‘correctly.’
I’d warrant that there are plenty of these types of random votes.
I am truly grateful that I live in a democracy where I have the right to vote for who I want in government. However, I would rather political candidates were voted into parliament because people genuinely want them there. Not because of random and uninformed numberings.
What about you? Are you for or against compulsory voting?