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Attila the Pun
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
 
Roll up roll up

Unfortunately, visiting Crikey to read that amusing Latham transcript also required me to swim through the rest of the rubbish there. A good example is an article by Christine Wallace on voluntary voting.

It ignores the fact that all the assumptions about voluntary voting (i.e. it favours conservatives) are about 60 years out of date, and whips out every tired cliche in the book:

If you're sick, poor or exhausted trying to cover a minimum-wage job, you're more likely to skip voting if there's no penalty for doing so. And it's not thrashing the class stereotype too hard to suggest such voters tend to back the Democrats in the US and Labor in Australia.

Sick people are more likely to vote Labor? Does she have figures to back that up?

Conversely, Ralph Lauren polo-shirt wearing Republicans (for Australia, read Liberals) keen on keeping tax cuts rolling are not going to miss out casting their vote, even if it means diverting the Beemer for five minutes on the way to the country club for a couple of Long Island Iced Teas. And while that may make only a couple of points difference to party support, that could be the difference between winning and losing.

There is a point to using outlandish stereotypes for amusement/wind up value, but that is high school level stuff. Besides, if these poor Labor voters decide not to exercise their right to vote in the way that their BMW driving cousins do, whose fault is that?

In the US, Bill Clinton wouldn't have won in 1992 had Ross Perot not split the conservative vote to stymie President George Bush Snr's re-election bid. Every US Democrat faces a formidable task every single election even getting supporters registered to vote, let alone getting them to polling booths.

Unlike Republicans, who can pack them in? Its funny how Clinton managed to win back to back elections then isn't it.

Senator Minchin told ABC Radio PM's Alexandra Kirk on Monday that last weekend's New Zealand election, with an 80% turnout, was an advertisement for voluntary voting. "I'll keep arguing the case for Australians to have the right to choose whether or not to vote, and I hope our Government will seek a mandate at the next election to be able to introduce voluntary voting if we're successful at the next election," he told Kirk.

Which if they won, people like Wallace would claim that it didn't represent a mandate of course.

Minchin said he hadn't discussed it with the prime minister but that "his personal view, I know, and he's expressed it publicly, is that he thinks you shouldn't be guilty of an offence for not voting." There are "many, many Liberals who share my view, from the Prime Minister down," Minchin told PM, "so I hope we can build a consensus around what is a very liberal position on this issue, and that we can give Australians the right that New Zealanders have."

I would have thought that giving people the right to vote (as opposed to the obligation) and removing the ridiculous offence of not voting, would be a pretty compelling argument. It certainly appeals to a few, judging by the reader reaction following the piece.

But of course, the section of the Crikey readership who like having the Government tell us what to do had to then pipe up:

Trevor Kruger writes:

Both Roy Morgan and Crikey seem to be guilty of aiding and abetting the spin of the politicians with regard to the myth of "compulsory voting" in Australia. What IS legally "compulsory" is for each voter to attend and receive voting slips at a polling booth at each election. One does not have to choose between persons or parties as the question suggests. Answering a question about how one feels about having to turn up on voting day addresses an entirely different issue.

I find this argument (which gets trotted out every time) deeply stupid and deeply insulting. They aren't even trying to defend the situation on grounds of civic obligation or responsibility, instead they argue that the government will only fine us for not showing up. What kind of ridiculous law is that?

Brian Mitchell writes:

It's a conundrum. How can one support a liberal democracy but insist on compulsory voting? The same way one insists on compulsory tax-paying, or compulsory testing to get a driver's licence, or on compulsory attendance at jury duty. There are benefits and responsibilities in being a citizen.

That's more what I expect, but its still wrong. Voting is a right, fining me for not exercising it transforms it into an obligation. I don't have a "right" to be taxed. As for driving, I am not fined if I don't drive, but if I want to drive, then I must do it in accordance with the law. Likewise, if I choose to vote, then I must follow the electoral laws. Nobody fines me if I choose to walk everywhere.

One compromise might be to confer voting obligations only upon those who register as active citizens.

Robert Heinlen in Starship troopers suggested you should have to do military service to qualify - fancy that idea Brian?

The unwashed masses would then be free of the onerous duty, but they should no longer be able to partake in activities such as government employment or receipt of government welfare.

According to Christine, public servants and dole bludgers all vote Labor anyway, so that sounds great from Minchin's point of view.

Margaret Kent writes:

Since when did Australians not have the right to "not vote"? What a furphy. Australians who are eligible to vote are legally obliged to attend a polling booth, have their names crossed off the electoral roll and return the ballot papers which they may choose to mark accurately or which they may choose not to mark at all, in other words, not vote. Get it straight Senator Minchin.

Good thing you are here to sort us out Margaret. To make you happy, would you prefer that we referred to it as "compulsory turning up to polling booths"" and called for its abolition?

Simon Rolfe writes:

Must be getting close to the silly season if this old chestnut is rearing its ugly head again. We DO NOT have compulsory voting in Australia. We have compulsory attendance at a polling station. It is not compulsory to fill in the voting form, it is not compulsory to put the vote in the ballot box.

See what I mean - is it not insulting that people consider that a devastating response to a situation where the government will fine (and potentially jail) you for not exercising your right to vote?

An anonymous subscriber writes:

If ever there was a reason to force people to vote it was the recent suffering of the poor and disadvantaged in New Orleans. If those folk had cast votes I don't believe they would have been so abandoned by their governments. There is nothing like the fear of loss of office to get pollies off their a*ses.

By that logic, shouldn't the conclusion be that those people should have voted? To conclude that the solution would be for the Government to fine them for not voting is peverse.

Robert Bruinewoud writes:

Provide me with proof that voluntary voting will produced better results for ALL Australia, and not just for certain sections of it, and I may be persuaded.

Better in what way? How about you will no longer be fined for failing to exercise a right?

True, I'm against voluntary voting because of what I see happening in the USA, but to call it "dislike" is too mild – "sh*t scared" might be a better description. And while Charles's examples of functioning democracies that do have voluntary voting is heartening, can we be sure that there are no communities in these countries who have lost their voice due voluntary voting?

Catch the secret codeword there? USA = we all nod sagely, knowing that the USA is close to a dictatorship, even though Bush could have easily lost, and is forbidden from running again (which in itself is anti-democratic). And how do they lose their voice? They don't. They may choose not to use it, but again, that is their choice. Personal responsibility people - live it.

Ben Aveling writes:

Voting is not mandatory in Australia. You are required to attend a polling booth and to have your name checked off.

Sigh.

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