It doesn’t happen very often, but I think I have changed my mind. It would appear this election has broken me.
I used to be in favour of compulsory voting. Surely a democracy is enhanced when the government is elected by the entire voting population? Well maybe, but isn’t it more democratic if people are allowed to exercise their right to abstain from voting?
I guess, in the past, I’ve supported compulsory voting because, in practice, I thought our democracy was enhanced because the government has a mandate to lead from the entire population. This overrides the democratic trade off where citizens are able to abstain. But the effect of compulsory voting seems to have become greater disenfranchisement of the voting population.
Governments are decided by the handful of electorates that would, presumably, have low voter turnout if voting was not compulsory. They are the swinging voters in marginal seats that are primarily concerned with their lot – their house, their family and their mortgage. They are the product of 50 years of atomisation and suburbanisation in Australia. So the two major parties put the majority of their energy into wooing these voters at the expense of any real vision, safe in the knowledge that their core voters will always vote for them because they have nowhere else to go – it’s a two party system after all*.
Doing away with compulsory voting would, I believe, bust the whole paradox wide open. If you no longer have to worry about wooing those voters and instead have to appeal to your base in the hope that they will go out and vote, you can start to genuinely develop some visionary, if more difficult, policies.
I can’t imagine us moving away from compulsory voting anytime soon, but I’m not in favour of non-compulsory voting.
*There’s not doubt that the Greens are starting to change this for the left of the ALP but they are a very long way off becoming a ‘major’ party.