How important is voting? Today we went to the Returning Officer of the Electoral District of Manly to get our ballot papers for the September 13 local government election.
Clive and I share the longstanding belief that it’s a privilege and a responsibility to vote, whether in person or long-distance. We’ll be away for the this election and we’re leaving before the pre-poll voting centres open, so we need to vote by post ahead of time.
The biggest differences for me between voting in the U.S. and voting in Australia are:
- in the federal election, voting is for a party, not a person; the party with the most elected members to the House of Representatives decides who will be Prime Minister
- there are multiple paper ballots, and some are huge – the one on top in the photo is about a foot high and two feet wide, for a local election
- the process is much shorter and quieter than in the U.S.
- voting is compulsory in Australia; there are accepted reasons for not voting; e.g., illness or emergency, but not feeling like it, not liking any of the candidates, or not being interested in politics are not acceptable; and if you don’t vote, there are penalties
To be technically correct, it’s compulsory to show up, have your name checked off, receive the paper ballots, and put them into the appropriate ballot boxes. You can leave the ballots blank or write in anything you wish, but you must receive the ballots and put them into a ballot box, or in our case this week, post them in.
In the current local election, the fine for not voting and not having an acceptable reason starts at $55. If you fail to respond or pay the fine, an additional $50 fine is charged, and if that doesn’t get a response, there’s a potential cancellation of your motor vehicle license. New South Wales discovered some time ago that tying unpaid fines to license and registration renewal was an effective way to collect large sums.
For our local election, the ballot for 11 councillor positions has 58 names across 9 columns. There are 3 smaller ballots: 1 with 9 candidates for Mayor, and 2 with Yes/No questions, one a Constitutional Referendum Paper about reducing the number of councillors from 12 to 9, including the mayor, and one a Council Poll Paper about a 4.4% Climate Change Levy to minimise the impact of climate change on Manly.
The whole process of voting and participating in the process feels different in Australia; everyone votes, it’s expected, it’s done without much fanfare or drama, and even with all the usual jokes about write-in comments and candidates, the overall ‘psyche’ is – there’s an election, so you vote.
The Australian Electoral Commission reported national voter turnout for Australia’s 2007 federal election was about 95%.
A quick Google search led me to the Washington Post , which reported turnout for the U.S. 2004 Presidential election as the best it had been since 1968, about 61%.
Clive has mixed feelings about being in the U.S. in the run-up to this year’s Presidential election. On one hand, he’s dreading the blanket coverage which excludes all other news, so he’s identified additional ways such as Internet television to ensure we still get world news while there. On the other hand, he’s looking forward to witnessing first-hand the hype that surrounds the process.
Voting early is included in our travel planning checklist, which I describe further in “A Passion for Travel, Part 3: Travel Planning Checklist”.