Tuesday, 9 June 2009

And Not a Moment Too Soon

PM to Unveil Voting Reform Plan, the headline launched itself from the screen and affixed itself to my gaze. Hooray, my brain celebrated, not a moment too soon! If you think my previous post was a rant on the political system in this country, it was nothing compared to what I was yelling about over dinner, in the car, to anyone within hearing range for the last few days. It's taken me a while to compose my thoughts into a coherent posting, and reader will have to judge for themselves, but I'm pretty certain I haven't finished yet.

I said in my last post "at least I can trust the electoral process that gets them into office" but after Sunday's result at the European elections, I'm starting to wonder if I really can. The BNP managed to get not one, but TWO seats in the EU parliament. Needless to say there's pretty much universal dismay at this, but really there's only the electoral system to blame.

The BNP have managed to represent themselves as a mainstream party, but the fact is the majority of people did not vote for them. The majority of people didn't vote at all. I'm not the only person to have noticed this, so why, oh why, isn't the principle of compulsory voting a key pillar of the government's review of the voting system (this article describes the options under consideration)? First past the post would work, the alternative vote system, the version of proportional voting used in Northern Ireland and Scotland, all of these options would be fair if only 100% of the electorate voted!

I've heard only one arguement against compulsory voting. It's an infringment of your democrating right not to vote if you don't want to. This is the biggest load of do-do (with respect) for one simple reason. If you expect to have the right, you're obliged to exercise it for the good of your society. If you don't, you're no better than a hermit or a prisoner or anyone else who opts out of society. Contribute, for goodness sake! Don't expect to get all the benefits without putting some effort in! At least if 100% of the electorate votes, you know the candiate with the most votes is the one most people voted for and the electorate will really get the government they deserve.

I also believe in a non-compulsory system those that don't vote are those that really need to vote. They are the less well-educated, the disenfranchised, low-earners. They don't see how politics affects them because they've never had it explained to them, yet they are the most adversely affected when people who don't care about them get elected. The candidates don't care about the opinions of those who didn't vote because they didn't vote, so they're not going to fight for their issues.

Finally, a compulsory system is more democratic because it ensures governments are at all times held accountable to the elecotrate. In the US, they try to limit the power of the president by ensuring he can't serve more than two terms. This takes away the democratic right of the electorate to vote in the candidate they want! How ridiculous for the so-called Land of the Free. In the UK, there has only been one change of governement in the last 30 years. Until 1997 Conservatives had been in power for 18 years and now we've had 12 years of Labor. There may well be elections every 4 years, but the system means we get the same pollys year after year after year.

By way of comparison, Australia has a compulsory electoral system with preferrential voting and proportional representation. Voters can chose whether to vote for a party or individual candiates. They can decide where their preferences should go. The Lower House (equivalent to the Commons) is elected every 4 years, half the Senate (or House of Lords) every 6 years. The system may be more complex, but it's widely recognised as being one of the fairest and most representative systems in the world. Quite apart from elections being a lot more interesting, the result is a national government that most people voted for.

Aussies complain just as much about untrustworthy politicians as anyone else, but at least we all voted for them ;-)

Dearest reader, thank you so much for reading my latest babblings all the way to the end. I'm happy to have got all this off my chest, but I would really be interested in your comments on this. Am I just being Aussie-centric, or do my arguements strike a chord? Did you vote this time? If you didn't, please vote next time!


  1. Just a small question: how is a compulsory voting system democratic?? I want my right not to vote if I so desire.

  2. Is there some way of having an option on the voting card for "abstain"? That way people can vote to, er, not vote...

    Just an idea.

    Out of interest, how is it enforced? What if you can't get to a polling station on the day, say because of illness or family bereavement etc? It's certainly an interesting idea.

  3. The law doesn't say you have to cast a valid vote, only that you have to cast a vote. If you choose you can deliberately make a mistake filling in your ballot paper. This is called a donkey vote and is not counted. The number of donkey votes is noted and is sometimes considered an indicator of satisfaction (or otherwise) with the choices on offer. So if you want to exerise your democratic right not to vote, that's how you do it.

    If you can't get to a polling station on Election Day, you have to write a letter explaining why you didn't vote, otherwise you get a small fine. This happened to me, when I had a migraine and couldn't get out of bed. Pete just forgot to vote, so we wrote letters with a medical certificate saying I was ill and Pete was caring for me. No problem.

    When you go to vote your name is marked on the register and any no-shows are easily identified. Also, elections are held on Saturdays, so you don't have to miss work and schools don't have to close so their halls can be used.

    There's no perfect system of democracy, but I really think, given how appalling the result of the recent election here was, something has to change. Perhaps there needs to be more rallying of the electorate along the lines of "it doesn't matter who you vote for as long as you vote."

  4. a) Australia is not a democracy!!!! It is a Constitutional Monarchy that chooses a democratic way of electing its government. Further, one does not elect the government but only the "local member". The majority of "local members" from a particular party form government.
    b) In one sense (and far be it for me to suggest this) the US system of "enrolling to vote" is much more democratic. The very fact that I get a monetary fine (excuse the tautology) if I do not go to vote (whether it be a valid vote or not) is undemocratic!!! I want my choice not to care! (That, btw, is a joke!)
    c) the donkey vote wins! Democracy does not work without an informed vote.

  5. a) Splitting hairs? The government is made up of members, I elect the member ergo I elect the government.
    b) Sure have your choice not to vote, but don't complain when your view is not represented, and don't complain that politicians are unrepresentative *lol*
    C) Solution: inform! Somehow everyone needs to understand the importance and impact of politics. I don't claim to be any sort of expert - in fact I'm probably quite naive and simplistic in many respects, but I really care and think everyone else should too!