NOT MANY COUNTRIES compel their citizens to vote, but
Australia is one. Voting is compulsory in nineteen of the world’s
166 electoral democracies and only nine strictly enforce it.
None of Europe’s most influential democracies has it, and none
of the countries in the mainstream of Australia’s political
development: not the United Kingdom, the United States,
Canada, New Zealand or Ireland.
People from our sister democracies are often astonished that
Australians are compelled to turn up to vote: it seems an
affront to freedom. We in reply are appalled at their low
turnouts and the election of leaders and governments by a
minority of voters. In the 2016 American presidential election
the percentage turnout was in the high fifties. Donald Trump
did not have the support of the majority of voters, but neither
would Hillary Clinton had she won.2 Britain’s disastrous 2016
decision to leave the European Union was carried by a slim
majority of the 72.2 per cent of voters who turned out.3 At
Canada’s 2015 election, which brought Justin Trudeau to
power, the turnout of 68.3 per cent was the highest in twenty
years.4 These are percentages of registered voters, not of all
those eligible to vote. In none of these countries is it
compulsory to be on the electoral roll. In Australia registration
has been compulsory since 1911. Turnout in Australian elections
is always above 90 per cent of registered voters, and in the
high eighties of those eligible to enrol.
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