Australia’s compulsory voting system to be challenged at High Court

It’s great to see this will finally be challenged on a constitutional basis. State cohesion is never the answer. Freedom of choice is. What is the difference between Mr Holdmdahl receiving a fine for not voting and 730,000 other Australia’s that reluctantly showed up at a polling booth to submit a blank vote? Both camps chose not to make their vote count.

Supreme court rejects Adelaide man Anders Holmdahl’s fight for right not to vote

AN Adelaide man says he will take a legal challenge against compulsory voting to the High Court, after the state’s Supreme Court today rejected his argument that voting should be optional.

Anders Holmdahl said he was “not surprised” that the Full Court of the Supreme Court had ruled against his appeal against a conviction for failing to vote in the last Federal election.

Mr Holmdahl, 65, set up his legal challenge by deliberately failing to vote and then refusing to pay a $20 fine.

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis and Justices John Sulan and Tom Gray today unanimously rejected Mr Holmdahl’s argument that compulsory voting went against the nation’s constitution.

Mr Holmdahl argued that the constitution stated it was the right of every Australian to vote, while the electoral act stipulated it was a duty.

After the ruling, a defiant Mr Holmdahl said he was determined to pursue his case in the nation’s highest court.

“We suspected that this was going to happen because there is too much political pressure at the moment and we will take it to the High Court,” he said.

“Compulsory voting is definitely unconstitutional … what is the difference by putting in a blank vote which about 730,000 Australians did at the last election and not turning up at all, the result is exactly the same

“Why shouldn’t we be treated as adult people and be given a choice on whether we want to vote or not?”

Former Liberal Senator Nick Minchin was in the court for the judgment and said he supported Mr Holmdahl’s crusade.

“I’ve always said that compulsory voting is an infringement on the democratic rights of Australians so I am delighted this case was brought to court,” Mr Minchin said.

“I hope it will be taken to the High Court. I think the Australian Electoral Act’s requirement on Australians to vote whether they want to or not is wrong and I think it should be tested in the High Court.”

Which reminds me of this Julie Bishop article at the last election:

Vote – or else?

What does Australia have in common with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, Ecuador, Fiji and Greece? How about Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, Turkey and Uruguay?

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, these are the nations that, along with Australia, have compulsory voting in national parliamentary elections and enforce it through fines, sanctions and other penalties. …

Some argue that democracy confers rights and responsibilities, and if you have the right to vote, then it is your responsibility to do so. That may be so, and we also have a right to free speech but that doesn’t mean we are compelled to exercise that right.

In my view voting doesn’t equate with other intrinsic obligations. It doesn’t seem fair to force people to vote for candidates they don’t know or care about or want to support.

Australia’s first nine federal elections were held under voluntary voting, with compulsory voting first enforced in 1925. Since then, Australians have become used to compulsory voting.

Turnout has never been below 90 per cent and while the number of informal votes can vary, there is little evidence as to what extent this represents acts of error, apathy or protest.

Numerous surveys and polls reveal strong public support, with generally more than 70 per cent in favour of compulsory voting. That is not so surprising given that Australia has had no other system for the past 85 years. …

Those against compulsory voting argue that it is inconsistent with the freedoms associated with democracy. It is argued that political parties and candidates take the public for granted and rely on laws of compulsion and enforcement to get voters to the ballot box, rather than enticing them through attractive policies. …

What I’m also against is the compulsory preferential voting (full allocation of preferences) which is used for the lower house elections across most states in Australia and for the Federal Election. Why should one be forced to number every box, when perhaps only one candidate stands out (and the rest should get nothing)? Last federal election my electorate only had 3 candidates and preferencing wasn’t so attractive…

In comparison, in the New South Wales state elections, there is optional preferential voting. You can choose to either number ever box or just allocate a 1 to the candidate you most prefer. This is a huge difference, and makes it harder for the political parties to simply rely on preferences to get their candidates elected. Voters should have the chose to allocate or not to allocate, if indeed they choose to donate time from their lives to vote in the first place.

It is clear that our voting system in Australia is anything but perfect. A serious debate is needed, and we have every right to question existing systems.

~ Scott

2 Responses to Australia’s compulsory voting system to be challenged at High Court

  1. Jason says:

    If you compare our VAP (voting age population) voter turnouts with other countries, our turnout at 81% is lower than many countries where voting is voluntary – Sweden, Denmark, Icealnd… This is because when voting is voluntary politicians need to inspire people to vote rather than relying on threats and fines. We should have the same free and equal right to vote, free from government coercion. Our decision to vote should be democratic.

    • scott_reeve says:

      Hi Jason

      Thanks for posting on my site. I completely agree about Government coercion. Unfortunately it seems to be that Government’s are pushing it in more and more areas through concessions, mandates, handouts etc. The taxation system is all about manipulating everyone’s decisions which they would normally not make.


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