In spite of being lower than in many other nations, next week’s turnout for US congressional elections could set a new high. Does Australia have a possible answer?
Voter turnout in the most recent midterm election was higher than typical. That is, odd if measured against typical American behavior.
The US Elections Project reports that the 2018 midterm election had the greatest turnout (among those eligible to vote) since 1980.
Voter turnout could end up being higher than in the 2018 campaign due to tight races and widespread interest. If that happened, it would still pale in contrast to the turnout seen in other democracies.
Recent nationwide election data reveals the United States ranks 31st in voter turnout among 50 countries analyzed by Pew Research. Of course, this 62.8% was from a presidential election. Participation in midterm elections typically falls far below that of presidential and gubernatorial contests.
According to Pew’s Drew DeSilver, the United States “consistently comes around the middle or somewhat below the middle relative to this peer group of countries.”
His claim that voter registration is a crucial factor is true. Nationwide voter registration is common; some nations enroll citizens automatically once they reach voting age, while others actively encourage it.
Depending on where you live in the United States, you may have to actively seek out registration. They must re-register if they change addresses. DeSilver believes that more people would vote if it were simpler for them to register to vote because registered voters tend to have a far higher turnout rate.
Australia, one of the few English-speaking countries with mandatory voting, does not have this issue. Voting is not required in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. The high voter participation in Australia is a reflection of this.
Since its inception in 1924, removing one’s name from the electoral roll has been a mandatory process for all eligible individuals on election day. Since Saturdays are more convenient for the majority of people, that’s when elections are held. Not voting without a “valid and adequate reason” carries a fine of A$20 ($12.57; £11.36).
However, there are methods of avoiding this problem. Some voters may qualify for exemptions, while a small percentage (less than 5%) simply cast informal votes by submitting blank or damaged ballots.
Historian Judith Brett argues that this is good for democracy since it gives a voice to the majority.
“Most individuals I’ve talked to, especially in the United States, view it as undemocratic, but in Australia, they hold the opposite view.”
Politicians need the votes of everyone, including those who are historically underrepresented at the polls, such as the poor, the uneducated, and the immigrant population. Including them, Ms. Brett contends, results in “more egalitarian” public policy.
She also contends that mandatory voting helps keep politics in check. The temptation to advocate for “far more extreme” political issues exists for parties that must encourage their supporters to make the effort to go to the polls.
People in Australia “took solace in the belief that, because we had compulsory voting, that sort of populist result — which is how people in Australia perceived it was far less likely to happen” after the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the vote on Brexit in Britain.
Opponents of mandatory voting say that it leads to politicians being lazy because they no longer have to try to sway voters’ opinions.
Professor of politics Ian Tregenza claims that the party “takes their vote blocks for granted.” And other people vote even though they aren’t invested in the issue or have enough information to make an informed decision. However, he thinks that mandatory voting helps fight apathy.
According to him, the system in Australia has resulted in very high levels of basic political engagement among the population. Even if Australia did away with mandatory voting tomorrow, I believe that our [vote] rates would remain rather high. He thinks they might reach the same level of support as New Zealand’s recent election, which hit over 80%.
He argues that the right to vote should include the right not to vote, which is the strongest possible case against voting becoming mandatory. “That notion of individual rights is at its foundation.”
Almost no Australians are in agreement. The majority of people agree that voting should be mandatory, and there aren’t many prominent people who disagree with this. Ex-Finance Minister Nick Minchin was one of the proponents of optional voting in 2005.