Month: March 2015

Exercise your rights: Vote!

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Next Tuesday, citizens of Israel will head to the polls to elect a new Knesset.

Voter turnout will likely be somewhere around 68%, meaning almost one in three eligible voters will choose not to exercise their democratic right.

In Australia, if you fail to vote in an election, you can face a fine and even potentially prosecution in court.

How can that be in a liberal democracy?

Australia is one of only a handful of countries around the world that enforces a system of compulsory voting. We’ve had it in place since 1924.

If you fail to vote in an Australian election, you risk being fined.

Usually it’s no more than NIS 60. But, coupled with a sense of civic duty, this is enough to persuade most people to get to the polling stations on election day.

As a result, turnout in Australian elections is exceptionally high by world standards. At the 2013 federal election, it was 93%.

Though it might seem at odds with the freedoms of a liberal society, in Australia we see compulsory voting as a bulwark of our democratic system.

As Australians see it, voting for elected representatives is one of the obligations of Australian citizenship.

Political scientists differ in their opinions over the advantages and disadvantages of such a system. There are debates over whether compulsory voting leads to a more or less engaged citizenry and a more or less representative parliament.

But one definite by-product of Australia’s compulsory voting is, at least to my mind, a less polarised and more centrist political debate than that seen in many other countries.

Political parties do not need to spend time energising and exciting their base or on get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Politics remains highly contested, and debates are as fierce as they are in other democracies.

But in a compulsory voting system it is a contest for the political centre, not the political fringes, which determines the outcome and the government.

Australia’s electoral system is far from perfect. But compulsory voting, now almost as old as our democracy itself, is one of its most valuable features. We intend to keep it.