Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Informal, not Indifferent

It didn't take very long after the 2004 election distaster for the Senate's equivalent of Tony Abbott, hard-rightie Nick Minchin, to roll with the "high informal vote therefore people don't really give a shit about voting therefore why make it compulsory?" wagon.

What crap.

Unfortunately the figure of 5.2% informal votes - 638,851 out of nearly 12 million voters - does not distinguish between which votes were accidentally informal, ie voters wanted to cast a proper vote but did not understand how to do so correctly on the ballot paper - and which were deliberately informal (eg writing "piss off" on the paper). My guess, however, is that this would be a fairly even mix, ie the figure would be closer to 2-3% of all voters who really don't give a shit.

The seat of Greenway, for example, in western Sydney and won by the Libs from Labor, had the highest informal vote of all electorates with nearly 12%, but as has been pointed out, this would have a lot to due with the high immigrant population there and consequent language and communication problems about voting, particularly as NSW has optional preferential voting whereas the Commonwealth has compulsory preferential.

2-3% of people pissing on their democratic right and obligation - a right that millions of people in so many countries are continually denied and one that people fight for and die to achieve - is hardly a compelling argument to change the system. What this is really about is a conservative governmment wishing to wipe out of contention disillusioned voters in less-advantaged areas who may not vote if they didn't have to, but as it's compulsory they go in and are more likely to decide Labor is the slightly lesser of the two evils and throw them a vote. It's also about giving people who vote incorrectly a chance not to vote at all, rather than educating them how to vote correctly so that it is not completely wasted. Greenway may well have stayed with Labor if those 12% of informal votes had been filled out properly.

Either way, compulsory voting should stay. It takes the average Australian voter a sum total of 20 minutes to get off their arse on a Saturday afternoon, go down to their local church, get their name crossed off the roll and then do whatever the hell they want with their ballot paper. We shouldn't once again be trying to copy the US and become so frivolous about what can be the most important piece of political activism we undertake in our lives. But then again, with our current government being little more than a subsidiary of Bush Republicanism Inc, it's no big surprise that one of its employees would push for this flawed US initiative anyway.


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