Voters point out system’s flaws

With one week of pre-polling behind us and an election just two weeks away, YourLifeChoices asked older voters for their views on pre-polling and compulsory voting in the Friday Flash Poll: Would you still vote if you had the choice? Here’s what they had to say.

Seventy-one per cent agree with pre-polling, 21 per cent don’t, and seven per cent are unsure
More than half (52 per cent) have or will vote early in this year’s federal election. As to why …

“I have voted early, in accordance with the rules, as I will not be able to on 18 May. Regardless, why do people vote early? Possibly because nothing will change their mind and nothing in the campaign will. Or, perhaps, they like the convenience. Sure the parties and pollies dislike it, but woe betide any pollies who want to change the system. Imagine upsetting almost 50 per cent of voters. In a terrible campaign like this one, with many below-par candidates, lack of vision, no coherent plan for the country, dirt units dragging up scandals from years ago – no wonder people want to vote and get it over with,” wrote Ted.

“Queues at polling stations on election day have become disgustingly long in recent elections. That is unacceptable when voting is compulsory and encourages people to pre-poll without a legitimate reason,” wrote IndyLoops.

76 per cent agree with compulsory voting, 24 per cent do not, and nine in 10 (90 per cent) would still vote even if they didn’t have to
“I believe it is the greatest thing about the Australian voting system … everyone gets to say who they want and there is no excuse for people to say they are dissatisfied with their local politician … It would be terrible if we ended up like the US or Britain… we at least get what we deserve through our own actions,” wrote Aileen Goodwin.

“Perhaps if voting was not compulsory, the political parties would work harder to get and keep my interest in their policies,” wrote Huskie.

“While I favour compulsory voting, I think there is a strong case against. Do you really want voters that don’t care or don’t understand the issues voting to party lines or donkey voting?” wrote Farside.

69 per cent have made up their minds long before election day, while three in 10 (31 per cent) consider themselves swinging voters up until hitting the polls
“I think we should be voting on a party’s ability to govern and general principles and the quality of their politicians, all of which are evident well before the election. So pre-polling is fine,” wrote Keithb.

Four in 10 (39 per cent) feel that because they are forced to vote, they will merely choose the best of a bad lot
More than half (55 per cent) express confidence in their candidate. Six per cent are unsure.

“As regards voting for the ‘best of a bad lot’, I recall our history teacher who was a staunch Labor voter in an electorate that was 98 per cent Country Party being asked which the best party was to vote for. His answer remains with me to this very day. We were told to vote for the candidate who we think will do the best for us personally, regardless of party affiliation, and not be swayed by the overall result.

“By this criteria, it gets down to a local contest where things like climate change, electric cars, coal mines and sea levels become meaningless for those living through prolonged droughts. If a candidate can promise to sort out a local problem, and we can believe that they can, what is happening with house prices in the city is white noise,” wrote Old Man.

Older voters still have faith, although it is waning …
Almost half of all respondents (48 per cent) still believe in Australia’s democratic system, but 44 per cent say they that while they still believe in the system, they are losing faith. Only eight per cent expressed outright distrust for democracy.

Seven in 10 (69 per cent) say that voting should remain compulsory
But more than a quarter (27 per cent) think it should be voluntary and three per cent are unsure.

“Many of the problems in the US are caused by their lack of compulsory voting. I would hate to see us go the same way! One of the cornerstones of our system is that we all have to vote and dropping that requirement would lead to the awful scenario of politicians hassling people, trying to get them to come out and vote. For goodness sake, don’t advocate for voluntary voting! It would be a disaster!” wrote Infinityoz.

“A democratic system expects that all citizens should participate by demonstrating their views through voting. It makes parties work harder to present their policies to all, not just a target audience of rusted-on voters. Preferential voting, though, is highly questionable simply because a voter’s choice has every chance of being co-opted to another party,” wrote Crowcrag.

“I do think everyone should vote, but I also think we should be allowed to only vote for candidates we agree with – not be forced to number every box,” wrote Triss.

“Women fought long and hard for me to get the vote and I would be denigrating their hard work by not voting,” wrote Ardnher.

“People fought hard for the right to vote, why give it up?” wrote Misty.

While many support compulsory voting, others remain sceptical and some even suggest that voting is not compulsory under the current system.

“Compulsory voting is itself undemocratic. We do have at least the option to protest by casting an informal vote, which unfortunately not many people are aware of,” wrote Franky.

“It is not compulsory to vote, it is compulsory to be on the electoral role and have your name crossed off the list … what happens next is up to you,” wrote Ted Wards.

“One can make the conscientious decision not to vote. However, I think that is a poor attitude. We should cherish having a democracy and being able to vote and hope all people do and make considered choices,” wrote Rod63.

“The main reason that the US has a lousy government is very similar to our own – vast amounts of tied or vested interest cash pumped into political parties with strings attached. Anyone who has lived in the US knows the political power of the vested interests and lobbyists, the NRA, no gun control and tens of thousands of deaths annually; the oil and mining industries, no climate control. Australia proves that uncontrolled political donations corrupt, the US proves that they corrupt absolutely. If you think compulsory voting ensures good democracy, ask the people of North Korea, Egypt, Libya, Mexico, Brazil, Greece and Argentina how it works out for them?” wrote Cosmo.

Pre-polling is fine, but voters want a time limit set
Three quarters (75 per cent) of all respondents believe there should be a time limit placed on pre-polling, with 40 per cent saying pre-polling should begin one week prior to an election, 29 per cent saying two weeks prior and 15 per cent saying three weeks. Only 17 per cent said there should be no such limit.

Pre-polling and compulsory voting not the issue
“The biggest problem we have is preferential voting. I know we can end up with more people not voting for the winner, but people will have thought more about who they vote for. It would also rid major parties giving preferences to minor parties, promising to adopt some of their ridiculous programs,” wrote Luddite.

“Does anybody find it ironic that we are compelled to vote or vote ‘informally’, a euphemism for not entering a vote or spoiling the ballot paper, yet our politicians have the right to abstain in parliamentary debate. Why is that privilege not extended to the electorate? If we must continue with the current system, how about an ‘abstain’ box on the ballot sheet. Maybe it’s a crackpot idea but at least the politicians would gain an understanding of the percentage of the electorate who didn’t like any of them,” wrote Notoverthehill.

“The problem is that voters are uninformed. My view is that every candidate should be given by the Government free reasonable space, and compelled to, record their own personal policies, with supported reference to verifiable reasons, in local media before the early voting period. A low limit should be placed on media advertisements to prevent money controlling information. Compulsory optional preferential voting is essential to allow voters free choice and register disapproval of party control preventing proper candidate representation of their constituents,” wrote Eddie.

“Compulsory voting is the method by which the winning party can claim it has a mandate. It was designed by the parties for the parties – not the voters. It does not guarantee good representatives or good government. Similarly with preferences. The saving grace of the system is that one does not have to vote for any of the candidates if none are up to the mark, simply have our name crossed off at the polling station. The fairest and most accurate indicator of support for a candidate is ‘first past the post’, with no preference deals. We may still end up with a bunch of donkeys, but at least we will know it hasn’t been elected by mathematical trickery,” wrote BillF2.

“Preferential voting should be abolished and first past the post wins. Those small minority parties that you have to preference, some you never have heard about, how can you tick any of boxes when you cannot understand their policies? Some are way out of this planet. They will never be able to govern in own right and WE have to tick one of those on our ballot paper, otherwise our vote will be informal!” wrote Haveachat.

While Australia’s system of democracy will always have its critics, compulsory voting and the convenience of pre-polling ensures that all Australians have a say in which party is elected to govern. As one member, Mick, writes: “If you don’t vote, then celebrate what you get! You deserve it.”

Do you feel that preferential voting is a problem? Do you monitor all parties’ campaigns until election day. Or have you already made up your mind who will get your vote?

Related articles:
Senate voting rules: How to vote
The most important election issue
Election issues that matter most

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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