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Common misconceptions: Australian and US voting

Part 2: Why must we vote?

To read part one of Hannah’s three-part series, ‘Common misconceptions: Parties vs. presidents, click here.

Part 2: Why should we have to vote if Americans don’t have to?

In part one of our mission to debunk pop-culture-fuelled political misconceptions, we looked at who your vote goes toward in an election.

Now, let’s turn our attention to why it’s so important that we play our role in democracy on May 18th.

Trying to stay on top of politics can often seem like you’re fighting a losing battle. From the outside, you could be forgiven for perceiving political conversations as drenched in jargon and spit-flying accusations about the opposition party.

So, is it worth attempting to make sense of this in order to cast an educated vote, or can you just choose to abstain from the process altogether?

In Australia, voting is mandatory.

After you turn 18, you must enrol to vote, show up on election day, place numbers on two ballot papers, and put those slips of paper into the ballot box. The contents of the paper is another matter entirely, and whether or not you choose to cast a legitimate vote, informal vote or simply ‘donkey vote’ is up to you.

If you do not enrol to vote, you could face a fine of up to $180, while failing to cast a vote at a federal election could hit you with a $20 fine.

Fortunately, enrolment is a one-off process. Once you’re on the electoral list, you are on there for good and there is no need to re-enrol each time an election rolls around, except when you change address.

Voting in the States, however, is voluntary.

Like Australians, Americans are eligible to vote from the age of 18. But, if you don’t want to, you simply don’t have to.

Those who do wish to have their say in democracy are free to vote, but the registration process for Americans tends to be a much more complex process than it is over here. Each state of the US has different rules about registering to vote. For example, only 37 states offer online enrolment.

The difference in voting legislation between the two countries has a noticeable effect on enrolment rates for elections.

In Australia, the enrolment rate for federal elections has remained above 90 percent of the eligible population, since compulsory voting was introduced in 1924.

By comparison, the 2016 US presidential election saw 55.7 percent of the eligible voting population enrolled to vote.

However, enrolment rates fail to take actual turnout numbers and legitimacy of the votes into consideration.

In Australia, the high percentage turnout that comes with compulsory voting can often see a larger proportion of donkey votes or uneducated votes cast, as this is the most common way people are able to abstain from the process.

On the other hand, voluntary voting in the US sees a smaller but more engaged voting public. Since those who vote have made the choice to do so, they often go into the process more educated about politics and with a vested interest in the outcome of an election.

Check out the final instalment of our three-part series to suss out how a winner is picked, and what your vote means in the process.


To read part three of Hannah’s three-part series, ‘Common misconceptions: Choosing a winner, click here.

Hannah Matchett is a third year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @matchett_hannah.

Image from Pexels.

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