Voting in Australia
Australia has been a democracy since 1901, making it one of the world’s longest continuous democracies. It has federal elections every three years and the frequency of state and local elections varies. Any Australian citizen can vote.
The Polling Process in Australia
Polling places in Australia are mostly churches, schools, and community centers. Elections are held only on Saturdays to make it as convenient as possible for voters to attend.
Upon entering a polling place, voters are directed to a polling official who asks a few questions. They ask for name, place of residence, and whether or not you’ve voted yet in the election. The point is to prevent voter fraud and also check the accuracy of their records. If there are any inaccuracies, they’ll be corrected.
After these questions, the voter is taken to a private booth with the ballot sheets. As they leave, the ballots are slipped into the appropriate boxes.
Australia’s Compulsory Voting
In Australia, voting isn’t just a right. It’s a requirement. Australia has compulsory voting, which means that if you’re over the age of 18, you must vote. You’re required to vote in federal and local elections. In South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, voters
aren’t required to vote in local elections.
If you fail to vote, there are penalties. After the election, those who fail to appear are sent letters from the Electoral Commission asking for a reason. If no reason is provided within 21 days, a $20 fine is levied and you’ll then be prosecuted. If you’re found guilty of failing to vote, you’re required to pay a $50 fine and court costs.
Compulsory voting was introduced in the 1920s because of poor voter turnout. In the years 1922 and 1923, voter turnout was less than 60%. The compulsory voting law was introduced in 1924 and passed with no objections. Now, the voter turnout rate is around
95%. Since the 1920s, it has never dropped below 90%.
Why is there compulsory voting? The official position is that voting is a civic duty. A democracy cannot function without the participation of its citizens. Critics charge that compulsory voting is undemocratic and it leads to voters choosing candidates they don’t truly care about. Proponents say that it’s a secret ballot, so voters have the choice of voting for nobody.
Australia also has a system of preferential voting. In addition to choosing a candidate, you rank the candidates. If one candidate doesn’t get a majority of votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and a recount is held. This process is repeated until someone has a clear majority vote.
Pencils, not Pens
In polling places across Australia you’ll find plenty of pencils but not a single pen. Section 206 of the Electoral Act specifies that polling places are to have pencils, not pens or any other type of writing implement. However, if you bring a pen with you to the polling place,
no one is going to stop you.
This has been a mystery for many Australians for years, but according to the Australian Electoral Commission, it’s really quite simple. Pencils are more practical because they can be stored easily, they don’t smudge, they work in tropical climates, and they never run out
of ink. Plus, they’re cheaper.
The Australian Ballot
Australia mas made a major contribution to all democracies around the world. It pioneered the way we vote today by first introducing the secret ballot. In fact, the secret ballot is often referred to as ‘the Australian ballot.’
The secret ballot was first introduced in 1856 in a local election in Tasmania, which was then a colony. The development of the secret ballot was influenced by the chartists, a British working class movement that flourished during the time in Australia.