Facts History about Compulsory Voting in Australia
Voting is Compulsory in Australia
Is voting compulsory?
Yes, under federal electoral law, it is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to enroll and vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendum
What happens if I do not vote?
After each election, the AEC will send a letter to all apparent non-voters requesting that they either provide a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote or pay a $20 penalty.
If, within the time period specified on the notice, you fail to reply, cannot provide a valid and sufficient reason or decline to pay the $20 penalty, then the matter may be referred to a court. If the matter is dealt with in court and you are found guilty, you may be fined up to $170 plus court costs and a criminal conviction may be recorded against you.
Why did I receive an apparent failure to vote notice?
You will receive a letter from the Australian Electoral Commission if according to our records you did not vote at a federal election. If you did vote, you should respond to the letter before the due date.
What is a valid and sufficient reason for not voting?
It is at the discretion of the Divisional Returning Officer for each electorate to determine what a valid and sufficient reason for not voting is
What if I need assistance to vote?
Assistance is provided if the polling official in charge of the polling place is satisfied that you are unable to vote without help. The following electors may seek help:
People with a disability (including visual impairment);
People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Polling staff are trained on how to assist you.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, under section 245(1), states: ”It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election”.
Under the Electoral Act, the actual duty of the elector is to attend a polling Place, have their name marked off the certified list, receive a ballot paper and Take it to an individual voting booth, mark it, fold the ballot paper and place it In the ballot box.
It is not the case, as some people have claimed, that it is only compulsory to
Attend the polling place and have your name marked off, and this has been
Upheld by a number of legal decisions:
High Court 1926 – Judd v McKeon (1926) 38 CLR 380
Supreme Court of Victoria 1970 – Lubcke v Little  VR 807
High Court 1971 – Faderson v Bridger (1971) 126 CLR 271
Supreme Court of Queensland 1974 – Krosch v Springbell; ex parte
Krosch  QdR 107
ACT Supreme Court 1981 – O’Brien v Warden (1981) 37 ACTR 13
On a related matter, it is also an offence under the Electoral Act to remove a
Ballot paper from a polling place.
As voting is compulsory, electors are given a number of ways to cast their Vote at an election, including postal voting, pre-poll voting, absent voting, Voting at Australian overseas missions and voting at mobile teams at hospitals And nursing homes and in remote localities, as well as ordinary voting at a Polling place in their electorate.
Because of the secrecy of the ballot, it is not possible to determine whether a Person has completed their ballot paper prior to placing it in the ballot box. It Is therefore not possible to determine whether all electors have met their Legislated duty to vote. It is, however, possible to determine that an elector Has attended a polling place or mobile polling team (or applied for a postal Vote, pre-poll vote or absent vote) and been issued with a ballot paper
Compulsory voting was first advocated by Alfred Deakin at the turn of the 20th Century. Voting was voluntary at the first 9 federal elections.
Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1911.
In 1915, consideration was given to introducing compulsory voting for a Proposed referendum. As the referendum was never held the idea wasn’t Pursued.
Also in 1915, compulsory voting was introduced in Queensland by the Liberal Government of Digby Denham, apparently concerned that ALP shop stewards Were more effective in “getting out the vote”, and that compulsory voting Would restore a level playing ground (ironically, Denham went on to loose the 1915 election).
The significant impetus for compulsory voting at federal elections appears to Have been a decline in turnout from more than 71% at the 1919 election to Less than 60% at the 1922 election. The Bruce-Page government (a Conservative coalition of the Nationalist and Country parties) was reluctant to Be too closely identified to such a proposal.
In 1924, a private member’s bill to amend the Electoral Act was introduced in The Senate by Senator H. J. M. Payne (Nat. TAS) sponsored in the House of Representatives by Edward Martin (Nat. Perth). It was only the third private Member’s bill passed into law since 1901.
The impact was immediate, with turnout at the 1925 election rising to over 91%.
Victoria introduced compulsory voting in 1926, NSW and Tasmania in 1928, WA in 1936 and SA in 1942.
When enrolment and voting at federal elections was introduced for Australian Aborigines in 1949 it was voluntary, and continued to be so until 1984 when Enrolment and voting became compulsory for all eligible electors.
Compulsory Voting in Other Countries
When Queensland introduced compulsory voting in 1915, it became the first
Place in the then British Empire to do so.
There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting, of which 19
(Including Australia) pursue it through enforcement.
10 of the 30 members of the OECD have compulsory voting.
Following are the names of countries that enforce compulsory voting
Austria [two lander only]
Switzerland [one canon only]
One of the initial reasons for introducing compulsory voting in Australia, and One of the arguments frequently advanced for maintaining it, is that it Maintains a high level of participation in elections.
The turnout at Australian elections has never fallen below 90% since the Introduction of compulsory voting in 1924.
There is evidence of strong popular support for compulsory voting. The first Australian Election Study, after the 1996 election, showed 74% of Respondents supported compulsory voting at federal elections.
The Australian Election Study after the 2004 election was still showing 74% in Support. A Morgan poll in 2005 showed 71% support, and an Ipsos-Mackay Study, also in 2005, showed 74%
Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1912
Compulsory voting for state elections was introduced in Queensland in 1915
Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924.
Arguments used in favour of compulsory voting
Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
Teaches the benefits of political participation
Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate"
Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management
Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll
The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.
Arguments used against compulsory voting:
It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
The ill informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls
It may increase the number of "donkey votes"
It may increase the number of informal votes
It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates – political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates
Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons.
Proponents of compulsory voting argue that a parliament elected by a
Compulsory vote more accurately reflects the will of the electorate.
As electorates have nearly as practicable the same number of electors, each
Member of Parliament is elected by the majority decision of the same number
Of electors as any other MP.
In a voluntary system, the turnout could vary significantly from electorate to
In the UK elections in May 2005, turnout varied from 74.6% in Dorset West to
41.5% in Liverpool Riverside.
By contrast, the turnout of all but 2 electorates in the Australian elections in
October 2004 was over 90% (the exceptions were Kalgoorlie with 83.53% and
Lingiari with 77.71%, both covering remote areas with transient populations).
The legitimacy of a government formed by a voluntary turnout could also be
Questioned. In the UK in May 2005, Labour won 55% of the seats with 35% of
The vote after a turnout of 61.4% (in other words, 21% of the total possible
Electorate delivered 55% of the seats in the House of Commons).
Voting as a Civic Duty –
Proponents of compulsory voting argue that voting is a civic duty comparable
To other duties citizens perform, such as taxation, compulsory education and
Opponents argue that it is an infringement of liberty to force people to vote,
And that the ill-informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to
One argument against compulsory voting is that voting can be an onerous
Imposition on some citizens. Against this it has been stated by Mr
Christopher Bayliss, in a submission to JSCEM, that:
”All our voting system requires is for a voter to attend a polling booth and
Mark some papers as they wish, approximately once every three years. This
Does not seem to be an insurmountable burden to be part of a democracy”.
Another argument is that both the United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights refer to people’s rights to “freely chosen representatives”. It is
Then claimed that a “right” is something that a person posses and chooses to
Use, not something produced on demand.
Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, however, states that
“Rights and freedoms” are subject to “duties to the community”, including the
“Just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has stated, in a submission to JSCEM,
That: “There are many things that people do not wish to do and which they would
Not do if they were able to exercise “individual freedoms”, but which
Parliament has legislated to require. The role of parliament in a parliamentary
Democracy includes passing laws to ensure the effectiveness of that
For opponents of compulsory voting, the question is about the nature and
Extent of the obligations that it is acceptable for the parliament to impose.
Resource Implications -
Proponents of compulsory voting argue that candidates can concentrate their
Campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend a
Polling place and vote.
Opponents see this as wealth transfer, to the advantage of political parties,
While proponents see it as a wealth transfer to the advantage of the
Opponents also argue that resources must be allocated for the enforcement
Of compulsory voting – determining whether those who failed to vote have
“Valid and sufficient reasons” and penalizing those who do not.
Parties would be anxious to maximize turnout at an election, not only for the
Obvious need to secure sufficient votes, but also for the access to public
If a candidate secures 4% of the formal vote cast in the electorate for which
They are a candidate, they are funded $1.95 for each formal vote. At the
October 2004 election, the total amount of public funding paid was $41 926
After each federal election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(JSCEM) conducts an inquiry into the election and considers public
Submissions. A report, with recommendations for improvement to Australia’s
Electoral system, is subsequently published.
The 1996 JSCEM report recommended that compulsory voting should be
Repealed. The ALP and Democrat members of the committee did not support
The recommendation, and the government rejected the recommendation,
Saying that voluntary voting should not be considered at this time.
The 1998 and 2001 JSCEMs received submissions on voluntary voting, but
Chose not to pursue the issue.
The 2004 JSCEM recommended that a full and separate inquiry be held into
Voluntary and compulsory voting.
Compulsory voting is an issue for the federal parliament. The AEC does not
Have an official view. Its role is to conduct elections according to the electoral
Law in force at the time.
If there is to be a public debate on voluntary and compulsory voting, the AEC
Does have a role to ensure that the community is informed about all matters
Relevant to the debate.
Political Neutrality and AEC
The AEC places special emphasis on political neutrality because it is responsible for providing the Australian people with an independent electoral service.
It is essential that all AEC employees are, and are seen to be, politically neutral.
All AEC staff, both permanent and temporary are required to provide a declaration of political neutrality which is designed to ensure that there is no conflict of interest before they are considered for employment. Having had a party affiliation at some time in the past does not automatically rule someone out but all officials are required to behave neutrally and face instant dismissal if they do not.
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Source – Australian Electoral Commission
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Sunday, March 08, 2015
Tags – Australia Compulsory Voting Rules Facts History Background
08 March 2015
Facts History about Compulsory Voting in Australia