Paul Lachine

Why Vote?

When voting is voluntary, and the chance that the result will be determined by any single person’s vote is extremely low, even the smallest cost is sufficient to make voting seem irrational. People may have other reasons for going to the polls, but if they don't, compulsory voting should be considered.

As an Australian citizen, I voted in the recent federal election there. So did about 95% of registered Australian voters. That figure contrasts markedly with elections in the United States, where the turnout in the 2004 presidential election barely exceeded 60%. In Congressional elections that fall in the middle of a president’s term, usually fewer than 40% of eligible Americans bother to vote.

There is a reason why so many Australians vote. In the 1920’s, when voter turnout fell below 60%, parliament made voting compulsory. Since then, despite governments of varying political complexions, there has been no serious attempt to repeal the law, which polls show is supported by about 70% of the population.

Australians who don’t vote receive a letter asking why. Those without an acceptable excuse, like illness or travel abroad, must pay a small fine, but the number fined is less than 1% of eligible voters.

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