Ending compulsory voting? Nyet!

By July 18, 2017Australian Politics

The US Studies Centre has suggested that compulsory voting should be rethought1. This assertion that compulsory voting is injurious to democracy has a long history with one of the main drivers of it being former Howard government minister Nick Minchin2,3. His involvement is enough to make any normal person believe the opposite is better, as Minchin was one of the Howard drones who was a climate change denier. It is therefore clear he doesn’t understand the concept of evidence, let alone understand how science operates.

Compulsory voting is something that has occupied my mind ever since the smugness of not being able to elect an idiot like George W Bush dissipated when Australia elected Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. Unlike the Republican Party in the US, the Liberal Party in Australia were astute enough to realise that it is not a good idea to have a halfwit as a Prime Minister, and dumped Abbott. Unfortunately, his nemesis is only marginally better in being slightly more articulate, while still prosecuting the same idiotic policies4,5,6.

The only thing that worries me about compulsory voting is forcing people to vote who are under the misapprehension that they have a direct say in who will be prime minister, or that the most important thing is to stop more brown people arriving in Australia, or that we are in danger of being swamped by Asians (or is it Muslims now?), or that there is a queue that is being jumped, or stopping the imposition of sharia law, or stopping all the thousands of white people being killed by terrorists, or stopping them doing burnouts in their V8 manhood surrogate.

Modelling by Simon Jackman, CEO of the US Studies Centre, shows that compulsory voting has created a steady, guaranteed supply of disgruntled voters that cannot exit the system1. This is a silly thing to say, given the long history of protest informal votes in Australia. One could be forgiven for wondering whence the funding for this modelling came. Could it in part have come from someone with a vested interest in the major parties retaining their hegemony? This sort of attempt at hegemony has reached its apotheosis in the US, which Professor Jackman would have seen in his studies, and is manifest in the attempts to minimise voting enrolment of minorities and the extreme gerrymandering, mostly by the Republican Party7.

The good thing about compulsory preferential voting is that, unlike the simplistic voting systems in some other western democracies, your vote is not meaningless if you prefer a minor candidate. This allows you to vote for your minor candidate but also allows you to rank your preferences so that you can put a major candidate last. As an example, in the 2017 UK election, the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency was won by the Labour Party, whose vote came to 48.2% of the total vote. The Conservatives received 48.1% while the Liberal Democrats received 3.7% of the vote8. So, more people voted against the candidate who won the seat than voted for them. It is quite possible that most of those who voted for the Liberal Democrat would have preferred the Conservative, but we will never know. If preferential voting existed in the UK, then those Lib-Dem voters would not have wasted their vote.

While my enthusiasm for compulsory voting is more ambivalent since the Abbott disaster, I still think the risk of turning Australia into a carbon copy of the US or UK is too great a danger to get rid of it. What we do need is an electorate which is informed and not prey to the alarmist drivel used by modern politicians to suck in the uneducated and ignorant. Unfortunately, an educated electorate is something of which conservatives live in fear9.

When a politician tells you that it would be best if we did not have compulsory voting, as Minchin has done2, you can be certain that he is only ever doing it out of self-interest. It will be a method, as he sees it, of making it more likely that his side of politics will attain power and stay there. That is reason enough to be suspicious of any pronouncements he might make. Compulsory voting with a secret ballot makes it almost impossible to corrupt the system by paying people to vote; optional voting would facilitate it. As Jackman says, if the major parties tried to force this through, it would be purely out of self-interest and would make it very difficult for some of the smaller parties to garner the votes they do now1. Of course, that would be their aim. When it comes to politicians, the interests of the populace and the institutions of democracy come a long way behind self-interest.


  1. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/time-to-rethink-compulsory-voting-says-australianus-research-institute-20170713-gxa9o6.html
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2005-09-19/minchin-seeks-end-to-compulsory-voting/2106858
  3. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-24/minchin-backs-voting-legal-fight/4277466
  4. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/turnbull-goes-full-queensland-lnp/
  5. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/greenhouse-hide-seek/
  6. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/turnbull-bereft-of-principles/
  7. http://www.blotreport.com/us-politics/how-to-stop-politicians-from-perverting-us-democracy-no-1/
  8. http://www.bbc.com/news/politics/constituencies/E14000834
  9. http://www.blotreport.com/australian-politics/capitalist-education/



  • Jon says:

    “If you are that sort of person you are much more likely to do two things,” said Professor Jackman. “One, express a preference for the non-mainstream parties and, two, not vote.”

    Shock, horror. Fancy that, someone voting for non-mainstream parties! The world is coming to and end surely? What Jackman appears to be suggesting is that disenfranchised voters ought to be encouraged to remove themselves from the democratic process because they might upset the comfortable status quo. Outstanding logic. Make voting voluntary because disgruntled voters want politicians to do what’s right for the country rather than the party and vested interests. Jackman appears to believe that the only worthwhile system of government involves mainstream parties – which in Australia means Liberal, Labor, National, Green. One look at recent parliaments should be enough to show that each of these mainstream parties has a range of incompetents, nutters, ideologists, and completely blinkered power-hungry, self-serving wallies already. In a race to the bottom it’s hard to know who is the biggest buffoon – Dutton, Joyce, Brandis, Hanson……? The list is long and it’s not the fault of disaffected voters or compulsory voting that we have such people in parliament.

    • admin says:


      Yes, precisely. If a politician does anything it is likely to be entirely out of self-interest. Very few of them give a toss about the people; they just want to keep the salaries flowing into their pockets. We need to have time limits on terms for parliamentarians, such that their legacy is not how big their bank balance is, but what they do for the nation.

      • Jon says:

        Democracy is failing the people across the globe and one of the reasons is obvious. In Australia at least part of the responsibility lies with the so called “representatives of the people” who have become lazy and complacent and have no regard whatsoever for the national interest. Significant changes to negative gearing, trusts, investment in offshore tax havens (particularly by a PM) etc won’t happen because the very people who would make the decision are those who currently reap the benefits. These incompetents are so busy fighting ideological battles that they’ve missed the big picture. How else can anyone explain how a country rich in natural resources would first allow mineral companies to be the sole beneficiary of extraordinary prices during the mining boom, and now permit multinational gas companies to rake in billions while returning sfa to the owners of the resources – the Australian people.

        Let’s face it. Political leadership is at its lowest ebb. Abbott, Turnbull, Shorten – little wonder people are looking for alternatives. Dragging ourselves from the mire will be difficult but part of the process should certainly NOT involve discouraging engagement in the political process (that’s already at a minimum).

        • admin says:


          The way to start getting politicians to look after the welfare of the populace is to remove corporate money from politics. Unless that happens, there is no hope, whatever we do otherwise.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    The only reason Abbott got the gig as PM was that the Labor Party had been self-destructing for several years, tearing itself apart. It was unelectable. A drover’s dog could have won against that shambles in 2013. Come to think of it, a dog did.

    • admin says:


      True. This is the result when narcissism (Rudd’s) gets in the way of what politicians should be concerned about; the wellbeing of the rest of us. That is the problem these days; politics is now all about politicians.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    “The good thing about compulsory preferential voting is that, unlike the simplistic voting systems in some other western democracies, your vote is not meaningless if you prefer a minor candidate.”

    I’m not sure that compulsory voting would have changed the Newcastle-under-Lyme result you mention. Preferential might have, in that one of the two major parties’ candidates would have had to garner enough other preferences to skate past 50% instead of relying on the very primitive first-past-the-post system which returned them just 48%+ each. Surely we would only know if compulsory voting would have changed the result if there is any evidence about which types of voter are more likely to stay away in a non-compulsory vote. Do we have any such evidence?

    One thing I don’t like about the Australian preferential system for the lower house is that you have to number every box. Effectively this means that however low I choose to rank the two major parties, somewhere on that ballot paper I have to choose to put one of them above the other. And in most electorates, because most voters vote like sheep, the relative positions of the two major parties decides where your vote eventually gets distributed.

    I’d prefer it to be optional preferential, as is now the case for the Senate ballot. And yes, I know the argument that says your vote expires if you don’t number at least one of the major parties. I know, and I don’t care. I want them both to know, when they get around to examining the results, that I, along with a whole lot of other people, regard both their sets of policies as odious, particularly as they relate to detaining refugees without charge or trial in Pacific gulags.

    Compulsory is great. Preferential is better than first past the post. But Optional preferential for both houses would be better.

    • admin says:


      No, it may not have changed the Newcastle-under-Lyme result, but preferential voting may well have done. The only way you could determine the former would be to compare local opinion polls with actual votes, but even that would only indicate a possible change to the result. I can understand your point of view regarding voting, and know that most people effectively vote ‘above the line’ in senate elections in that they number the candidates for their favoured party from top to bottom. I think having a complete Robson Rotation of names on the list as well the position of the parties so that the donkey vote is effectively neutralised should be investigated. Using it on names in a party’s list may also prevent the guaranteed seat in parliament for the first person on the list, as is currently the case. As for house of reps elections, that is of course a different kettle of fish. I tend to look on my vote as not a vote for someone, but a vote against those whose policies I consider unsavoury. That is why I have not voted for either major party for a very long time.

  • Jim Jago says:

    Compulsory preferential voting has always seemed an excellent method. It means that we all have to make a decision. However, like Arthur I would prefer optional preferential voting, e.g., at the next SA state election I have no real wish to vote for the ALP, Liberals, Nick Xenophon or the Greens–One Nation barely exists in SA. One of the problems with voluntary voting has been shown up in the American presidential elections for the last 30 years or so. Not many more than 50% of the eligible voters vote which means that the new president is elected by little more than 25% of the electors–this applies to Bill Clinton as much as it does to Donald Trump, although of course he got less than 50% of the actual vote.

    • Arthur Baker says:

      Quite so, Jim. Trump was indeed elected by only about 25% of those Americans entitled to vote. I’d be ashamed if any Australian government were elected by such a small proportion. Luckily with compulsory voting it’s unlikely to happen. However, one thing such a result may achieve is that those who couldn’t be arsed to get off their backsides and go to vote may be so appalled by what their apathy produced, that they might be better motivated next time to register a vote. This is what seems to have happened in the recent UK election, where young people seem to have got this message loud and clear: “If you can’t be bothered to vote, you lazy bastards, you get stuff like Brexit, which ain’t going to be beneficial to you”. So out they went in much larger numbers at the general election which Mother Theresa was so foolish to call so soon after the Brexit referendum, and largely voted for Corbyn. Not enough to lumber him with the Brexit negotiations, which will probably fatally wound whoever takes them on (explains why May’s Tory rivals are as silent as the grave these days, leaving her to take the inevitable flak). But the resurgence of the youth vote in the UK gives hope to UK Labour for a victory in the next election, whenever that happens to be, and also possibly to anti-Trump forces in the USA. The message to them is similar: “If you can’t be bothered to vote, you get a dingbat in the White House”.

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