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Voting Su£ks

‘Bits from the two ‘Chaser Dec[1]des’ episodes for the 2007 federal election’

**CAUTION: Lots of disengaged young people, with mild language which might offend!**

You might like to think Australia is a laid back place, with a ‘she’ll-be-right attitude’, as you ponder on which lot of neighbours to invite over for a BBQ, week after week:

… actually it’s not.

It’s really a land of rules, signs and a plethora of fines for those who don’t comply.

Try riding a bike without a helmet, and you’ll land yourself an £85 fine very easily.  Result, it normalises safety equipment and arguably saves lives, despite looking a little less cool (or maybe not).

Try throwing your cigarette butt out the window  and you’ll get you a £152 fine or £304 if it’s still lit.  Think no-one will see you hey, then you might like to know there’s even a download for an app to ‘dob in’ litterers.  Result: clean streets, despite … well, is there really any downside?

Try nudging the speed limit and 2 weeks later, you’ll get a letter in the post demanding £95 for just 4 Km/h over the limit, even if a 60 Km/h zone, or even more at £380 for high speeds.  Victoria raised over £152 million in 2012/13, often with a discretely parked car on the side of the road.  Result: the annual road toll has more than halved in that state since the introduction in the 1980s, despite a rise a significant rise in cars, even though it hurts financially to be caught.

Try not voting, and the result is you’ll pay an £11 fine.

Yes, it’s compulsory, but you are really only required to attend and mark a paper.  Result: 93-95% of people consistently ‘vote’, and despite appearing very undemocratic, perhaps Hill (2004: 482) has something for you to consider:

‘Significantly, voting is only a habit among certain social groups. A substantial body of comparative research indicates that there are strong negative correlations between voting and socio-economic status characteristics like low levels of education, residential instability and homelessness, youth, being a new immigrant, being a member of an ethnic minority, economic marginality and unemployment.

Maybe this is one reason for its high level of social mobility, and why The UK’s Electoral Commission examined it following poor voter turnout in 2001 61.4% and 2005 59.4%, and then did nothing.  A law with a small fine for such participation is perhaps not such a big deal, when TEC (2006:7) informs us that not voting in some countries may cause you to lose certain political rights, prevented from banking or even taking professional exams.

Yet when compared to above fines, why is this rule, so considerably well followed?

Well, Hill op. cit. goes on to suggest that from research ‘a compulsory voting law may act as an effective surrogate for the social norm of voting’.

I don’t know what it was like before the introduction, but voting is now part of Australian culture.

All elections are held on a Saturday, and out come the ubiquitous BBQ and sausage sizzle to raise money for local schools.  You still won’t find an Aussie who loves having to vote, but it’s now part of the life since it was introduced in 1924.  Compare voter turnout from Australia to United Kingdom and you’ll see just how many are missing out on having a say.  Who knows their reasons: apathy, indifference, defiance or shear boredom of it all.

Compulsory voting doesn’t mean you’ll have more informed people, but you can never have any say if you never, ever attend to mark a paper.  Compulsion is almost like, ‘look, I’ve got you here in front of this paper, either do nothing and spoil your paper or think for a sec and nominate someone either to help yourself, or if that fails you, maybe someone to help others’.

Ultimately, compulsory voting works to ensure everyone’s opinion can be heard, and in a strict sense, nominate an overall winner of the majority.  We can’t afford to leave anyone out, as we don’t really have a general consensus.  With the cost to an individual only 5 minutes of your life every so often, just be thankful you don’t do it every 3 years, as it is in Australia.

So what does compulsory voting have to say to our industry?

Well, a libertarian voting model is arguably a proxy for retirement saving.  You can never have an average/good/ok/fantastic retirement, if you never ever save (same goes with voting for a government).  Give the people a choice, and most of us will step up and put something aside in our basic self-interest to avoid poverty in retirement: cue Auto-Enrolment.  Unlike voting though, where all of us have time and the means to mark a piece of paper, Auto-Enrolment doesn’t even ensure we actually have surplus income to participate.

Maybe compulsion can be used in a positive way for individual and collective good after all, whilst giving a person room to exercise choice.  Doing the same old thing, changes and improves nothing.  If the result you are hoping for on Thursday doesn’t happen, maybe you can now see how it could have been very different.

For now, it seems most of us will vote, and a good many of us will save, but who really cares enough about the rest, to change the system?

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