Why I’d vote against compulsory voting

In my nearly 42 years in Australia, there are two things I have never really understood: why rugby league players kick the ball backwards to start a play and compulsory voting.
The former has always reminded me of cowboy star Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger. Roy asks Trigger how old he is, and Trigger responds by using his right hoof to kick backwards, and Rogers counts: “one, two, three …” If I ever became head of the NRL, I would find a better way to continue play. (That’s about as likely as Trigger playing rugby league.)
The latter is something that seemed so strange to someone who had come from the US, where voting is not compulsory. It’s considered a right and a privilege, but not a requirement. I used to get into arguments about it, but I’ve been here so long, I am used to it, and I can see advantages.
In America, so much money and energy is spent trying to get out the vote, politicians don’t have as much time to explain their policies to their constituents as they should, and use campaign funds and negative advertising to appeal to voters.
In Australia, politicians conduct similar negative campaigns, but at least they know people will have to vote for them. When a truly awful government, like the NSW Labor Party in 2011, tries to get re-elected, they are in no doubt they will lose in a landslide, and they did.
But in a democracy, you shouldn’t be forced to do anything, except obey the law, and it certainly shouldn’t be against the law to refuse to cast a ballot.
What has prompted me to write about the issue was a silly season discussion paper on electoral reforms by the Queensland Liberal National Party which questions compulsory voting. The Labor Party has, of course, slammed the proposal, with Wayne Swan calling it something out of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign 30 years ago: “I thought I was back in the Joh era when I got up and read the paper this morning. I thought: ‘Has Queensland just gone back 30 years?’” http://bit.ly/136QonC
The Acting Prime Minister was aiming at the Newman government, which won in a landslide thanks to compulsory voting and state Labor’s poor performance: “It appears the new government is going to do everything it can to stop Queenslanders from having a say about their cruel cuts to services that they never outlined prior to the election.”
Julia Gillard, who’s on holiday, tweeted to back her deputy, saying non-compulsory voting would make “our democracy the plaything of cashed-up interest groups.” She was referring to the super PAC groups in the US who supply the funds for the negative advertising campaigns of candidates they favour.
The acting Queensland Labor leader Tim Mulherin told The Australian how the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, had said that just getting Americans to vote “alters our politics, makes it more expensive, and I think it also alters people’s sense of responsibility.” I don’t agree on the last point as one of the reasons I became an Australian was to be able to engage in the politics of the country as a responsible voter. And I didn’t learn that in Australia, but in the US, where I was taught that it was a right and a privilege to vote, especially when so many nations did not have that right.
And there was another reason. It was 1974 and I wanted to vote for Gough Whitlam. As a Democrat from the US, I loved Gough for what he stood for: Medicare, multiculturalism, free university education, Reconciliation, a revival of the Arts, an independent foreign policy and a recognition that the Vietnam War was a failure, to name a few. He also had a wonderful sense of humour. Combine all these and compare them to what Richard Nixon stood for, and you can see why I wanted to vote for Whitlam. Okay, Whitlam’s economic policies weren’t the best, given the Loans Affair, in a bid to finance development plans, which was an unmitigated disaster for the government. But give me Gough any day.
When I was supervising producer for the Sunday Program at Nine, I often tried to get Gough to come on the program as a guest, to be interviewed by Laurie Oakes. One day in the late nineties, I called his office, and he came on the line. He couldn’t appear on the program that week, but we started to chat about my ethnic origin. “Krause,” he said. “That’s German isn’t it?” “Yes,” I replied, “but I’m more Irish than German as my grandparents on my mother’s side are from County Mayo. But I was born in the US, and came to Australia in the early seventies.” Up until this point, it was just a pleasant chat, until I said: “But I’m an Australian now. In fact, I became an Australian so I could vote for you in 1975.”
At this point, the former Prime Minister boomed down the line in that distinctive voice: “Your credentials are improving!” Gough Whitlam eventually appeared on the program on the 20th anniversary of Sunday, November 18, 2001. He was, as always, a tremendous guest.
I have never regretted my vote for Mr Whitlam in 1975, and have even come to tolerate compulsory voting. But if it’s put to a referendum, I would cast my ballot for optional voting – even though, it’s the system they use in America, and it’s far from perfect.
In last year’s US presidential elections, voter turnout was only 57.5 per cent – although more than 60 million people voted for each of the major parties for the first time – and there was criticism of the new voter ID requirements and long queues at the polling booths. The Loyola University newspaper, the Phoenix, in Chicago, wrote about low voter turnout and suggested a public holiday for the presidential election: “If the nation gets a whole day off to celebrate the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus, why not a day off to celebrate our right to decide who runs our country for the next four years from arguably the most powerful seat in the world?” http://bit.ly/136QonC
So there are Americans with a sense of responsibility about voting, and it’s not compulsory. Bring it on!
Two things before I go. Last week, I reviewed two books; one on baseball that was more than just a novel about America’s pastime, The Art of Fielding, and the other a history of the championship professional basketball team, the New York Knicks, When the Garden was Eden, which was also a portrait of the turbulent late sixties and early seventies in the US. Well, another novel came my way on the sport of cycling, called Gold, by Chris Cleave (Sceptre). And this one is more than a story about three cyclists pursuing Olympic gold medals. It’s about what you have to do to win a gold and is it worth the sacrifice. I think it’s worth reading because if you have an addiction to winning, it will make you stop and think. It also makes the point that there are more important things in life than sport; caring for sick children, for example. A great read.
And finally, a word about this blog. WordPress.com’s annual report on my blog – I didn’t even know they had “stats helper monkeys” who wrote reports – tells me it got about 5,600 views in 2012. That means I still need to get another 9,400 views a year before I have to be worried about regulation if the Finkelstein inquiry is adopted by the government.
I managed to write 56 new posts last year, and the busiest day of the year was August 23 with 167 views. The most popular post that day was If I worked in a newsroom like The Newsroom I’d still be working http://bit.ly/ZYPAU5
My most frequent commenters were my friends, Steve McQueen, Tim Wilson, Malcolm Weatherup (whose blog is: http://www.townsvillemagpie.com.au/), Paul Ellercamp, and Bill McMackin. Thanks, guys, for commenting and being regular readers of my blog.
If anyone wants to read an excerpt from the annual report, called 2012 in Review, it’s on the post below. You can click on the link in the post, if you want to see the complete report.
Happy New Year!

4 thoughts on “Why I’d vote against compulsory voting

  1. What does living in a Democracy mean? Is it not the right to choose, within the law, what we choose to, or not to do. Hear lies a conundrum. It is against the law not to vote in this country.It was once said the law is an ASS. In this case it certainly is. I would also vote not to vote. And in some cases I have voted for myself not to vote. That should be my right, as I am supposed to be living in a Democracy.
    Tom, I would like to recommend a book. The White Tiger. Written by Aravind Adiga. Published by Atlantic Books. It is a story about one mans life living in India. An unique treatment of construction
    detailing the mans journey.
    Have a great new year to your good self and all your family.

    • Slam, Thanks your comments and I’m happy you agree with me! And believe it or not, I do have The White Tiger but haven’t read it yet. On your recommendation, I will read it next. Happy New Year to you and yours. Stay well. Tom

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