Should voting be compulsory in Australia?

Essay by greggy August 2003

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Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia in 1924 after the voter turnout of those registered to vote in Australia was as low as 47%. Since voting was made compulsory by the Federal Government, voter turnout has remained around 94-96%. Over twenty countries have some form of compulsory voting which requires citizens to register to vote and to go to their polling place or vote on election day. "Nearly seven-in-ten Australian electors (67%) believe voting in Australia should be compulsory, while 31% say it should be voluntary and 2% are undecided." 89% of voters said they would vote at the next Federal election even if voting were voluntary. Only 9% said they would not vote while 2% were undecided, according to the 1997 Roy Morgan poll.

Today, the right to vote, or universal suffrage, is considered a given element of democratic rule. However, there is the issue of universal participation.

In order to guarantee this goal, must the right to vote be supplemented with the application of a legal duty? Few countries have elevated compulsory voting to a legal citizen duty. For new democracies, it is always an option worth considering in order to assure a high level of voting which is likely to enhance the legitimacy of representative institutions and of the political system in general. Whilst a high turnout level actually can be found under voluntary voting, it is quite clear that compulsory voting laws are very effective in raising participation levels in the countries that have them.

When comparing the differences in turnout it is evident in the increase and decrease of turnout using Australia as an example, since compulsory voting was introduced. Nevertheless, as we use a secret ballot it is quite impossible to prove who has or has not voted so can this process be...