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18 August 2013
Against Australian Democracy – In Defence of a Right to Vote
It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting. Tom Stoppard
On 17 August, just
three weeks out from the 2013 Federal Election, the Guardian Australia website
reported that ‘17% of Australians aged 18-24 are not on the (electoral) roll,
compared with 7.6% in the wider population.’ This amounts to more than a million eligible
Australians who are not on the roll.
And I’m one of them.
So why is a middle-aged,
middle class Australian, with a near life-long interest in the practice and
theory of politics and without a (criminal) record, not on the roll?
I believe in the right to vote; and having a right to vote means having the
right not to vote.
I’m not talking here
about intentionally informal voting
(with or without gratuitous depictions or commentary on the merits of the
candidates), or about attending the polling booth, having your name marked off
the roll, and using the voting papers for a bit of ad hoc origami. While those may be meritorious political tactics,
my strategic focus is on not attending the booth at all.
There are lots of
ways lawfully not to vote when residing in Australia, other than just being too
young: be in prison for a sentence of three years or more; don’t be an Australian
citizen; be of unsound mind or intellectually or physically incapable; oh…or have
a religious objection.
Yes, a genuine
religious objection will get you off; but only a religious one – a non-religious philosophical objection won’t do.
So, for example, holding a sincere and well-considered belief in the right to
vote, as opposed to the duty to do so, will not cut it.
Trust me; I know.
I debated it in the
NSW Local Courts over the trifling matter of a local government election; arguing
that, as local government is not constitutionally recognised, we shouldn’t be
required to vote in their elections. I went down with a fine reduced from $110.
(The magistrate, it seemed, was partly moved by my arguments – maybe she
thought it was all pretty trivial, too).
I have a record of some sort, I guess, to accompany the $50 fine.
My well-considered response
(I had a while as the next election was some way off) was pretty similar to the
other million or so unenrolled people. I took the easiest way out in my quest
for civil disengagement – if you can’t beat ‘em, don’t enlist in the battle.
I haven’t been on
the roll now for nearly two years. It’s easy.
Whenever you move
house, and you notify the state licensing/motor registry office and other
government bodies of your new address, they tell you that they advise the Australian
Electoral Commission (AEC) of the changes, and ask if you would like to
formally change your address on the electoral roll.
Guess what you do
You don’t inform the
AEC and you don’t respond to their cute letters inviting you to update your
records. The AEC knows where you now live, but under current law can’t do
anything about it. Being good bureaucrats, they hate that.
The AEC hates it
because they don’t believe in, or enforce, the right to vote. They try to
enforce the duty to vote. They’ve
been seeking for some years a change to the law to require you to update your
AEC records or to allow them to do it without your concurrence. So far, without
Of course the only
problem with my strategy is that you can deny yourself the right to vote on
those occasions when you otherwise might like to do so. Naturally you could re-enrol
before an election of interest, but then the buggers have got you enrolled at
your correct address until you move again.
I tell you, there
are some advantages in being itinerant.
Of course, if voting
wasn’t ‘compulsory’, we wouldn’t have to worry about this nonsense. But until this
country grows up, treats us all like adults, and acknowledges that the right to
do X entails the right not to do X,
get with the million.