The compulsion to vote or the freedom not to?

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On my morning’s coffee, tête-à-têtes (some with masks) with friends at Bowral Cricket Stumps cafe I was surprised to hear that many thought the law on compulsory voting was normal and mainly world-wide. I pointed out that the list of countries with compulsory voting on punishment made Australia mixed with some strange company.

Here a list of countries with compulsory voting enforceable by punishment.

Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Nauru, NORTH KOREA, Samoa, Singapore, Uruguay.

The rest of he world is free to vote or not. Some have compulsory voting but not enforced s a Egypt, Albania, Turkey, Thailand, Mexico.

While one of the freedoms of democracy is that we can eat and drink what we like, including copious Cokes, and kilos of sugar, fat, apples and much more. We have total freedom to take or leave it. We also have freedom of speech, press and so much more again. We are loaded with freedoms. Yet it strikes me as odd that we do not have that freedom when it comes to voting. We are not free not to vote.  Most of the world’s democratic countries leave voting to, hopefully a well informed population. America does not have compulsory voting , they have a ‘right’ to vote but also the freedom not to vote. They also have a ‘right’ to bear arms but no one is forced to use those arms. ( sometimes it seem like it with 40 000 killed annually by this ‘right’.)

Disgruntled Voter (@jasondulak) | Twitter

An argument against voluntary voting is that it makes people politically lazy and uninterested. That does not bear out either.

Here copied from ‘The Advocate’. During the (second) last federal election.

“New polling by Essential absolutely belled the cat on this phenomenon.

It asked respondents if they knew who the federal treasurer was, without looking it up.

More than one third (36 per cent) did not know it was Scott Morrison.

Thirteen per cent thought it was ex-treasurer Joe Hockey, 3 per cent thought it was Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and 20 per cent said they did not know.

With no disrespect to the 36 per cent, why should they be forced to the polling booth if they don’t  take enough interest to know who holds the second most important role in the government?”

I was surprised that at my café group most thought that compulsory voting was normal and all over the world, and fiercely opposed the idea that it perhaps ought to be choice. Patriotic feathers were ruffled. When asked if I thought it essential to have compulsory voting I said I did not believe it. My backgrounds and that of my dearest late Helvi, ( The Netherlands and Finland) are from very staunch democratic and liberal countries. We grew up with the freedom to vote or not.

To punish people for not voting strikes me as odd.

Of course, a disclaimer; I vote with passion at every possible election. Gerard.


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38 Responses to “The compulsion to vote or the freedom not to?”

  1. catterel Says:

    Interesting that your compatriots take compulsory voting for granted. I always hope that those who vote really are well informed, but I keep hearing ardent bigots expressing their views and I wonder. Maybe compulsory voting helps to counteract that by bringing in an element of chance due to ignorance?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. berlioz1935 Says:

    I have to object strongly. They might give us the impression that voting is compulsory, but actually it is not. What is compulsory is our attendance at the voting centre. You get your name ticked off and then it is up to you what you do with the voting paper. You can scribble a message on it, leave it blank or actually put the required numbers on it. Voting is a shamble in Australia and not secrete at all. Everyone can see what you are doing. You know how it is here, no matter whom you vote for there is always someone you did not vote for knocking off the PM of your choice. I have no idea why they call it democracy?

    Liked by 3 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Berlioz and that is exactly the ruse that those who support compulsory voting use. If you don’t believe in it just use the donkey vote or don’t vote at all and chuck the voting papers. Just get your name crossed off the enrolment papers.
      That’s not the point though, is it?

      We use the freedom of choice in almost all facets of our lives. Those freedoms often skirt on the edge of criminality, like the ‘freedom of Governments to use the law to lock up refugees for years on end, and we will defend this freedom of choice to the very end. Yet when it come to voting, we heartily accept and agree to this lack of freedom. (Not to vote)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. auntyuta Says:

    I mostly dislike the coalition government parties, and I also mostly dislike labor, the major opposition party. I think we have in Australia quite a number of very well informed smart people. But mostly they are not in politics. And when they go into politics, they have no chance of achieving much, even if they are voted into parliament. Because the progressive people with good ideas are not being supported by their party, and an independent candidate has zero chance of ending up in government or being allowed a major influence in politics. I think, even though our democracy is far from being perfectly likable, it is by far the best we have been able to come up with – so far. Well, there is always hope that the party structures might eventually change for the better with a new generation of well educated and enlightened members! And if society as a whole becomes super caring and more equal, and the rich are willingly contributing to society as much that poverty at the bottom of society can be made bearable, well, then democracy might have a better chance!
    I wonder, maybe this element of chance that comes with compulsory voting, is just the best outcome we can have right now. I doubt that we would have a better outcome with non-compulsary voting . . .

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, You are right. It might indeed not make any difference, Uta. But…the point is not that, but the compulsory part by punishment of voting.
      Surely, voting it is a right that most of us would grab by both hands and value very much. That is what a democracy enables us to enjoy and use. I am all for voting but to make this unavailable by choice is what I am writing about. I am for choice, and not compulsion. It should not be an offence or crime not to vote. It seems a contradiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. leggypeggy Says:

    I value the right to vote and the fact that turning up is compulsory.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. shoreacres Says:

    I was completely astonished when I learned that Australia’s among the nations that requires voting. To my mind, that put it in the company of dictatorships where the populace is forced to the ballot, often ‘electing’ leaders by such margins as the 99% I remember from a Russian election. It’s far more difficult to interest people in voting, and to encourage informed engagement in the electoral process than to force people into voting by coercion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Linda. What astonishes me is that many of my friends think that the compulsory vote is world-wide when in fact many countries with compulsory votes are totalitarian or bordering on it.
      It is our right and duty to vote and that should be protected at all times.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. auntyuta Says:

    This post shows what government should do regarding jobs. Does anybody in parliament think about this how important planning for jobs is for our future?

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Jobs, Jobs keeper, jobs taker, jobs giver, jobs seeker and the list goes on. Perhaps the answer is an income for everyone regardless of jobs. Some countries are trying that; Finland and Holland.

      The rationale is that modern economies rely on minimum employments or even without employing humans. Robots are now doing almost everything that humans used to do.


  7. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    Excellent, Gerard!
    You taught me some things I did not know.
    I believe we should vote, but to do so, or not to do so, should be a freedom…our choice.
    I grew up being told that voting is important and WHY it is important.
    Wow on the punishing people for not voting.. yikes…I never knew about this before now. 😮 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it is astonishing to many that Australia is in league with of all places, North Korea, when it comes to voting.

      It would be a brave politician to try and undo the compulsory bit from our voting rights.
      A bit like Australia still having a foreign Queen as head of state.

      There is enough on both issues to fill an entire library.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. freefall852 Says:

    The one big elephant in the room with non-compulsory voting is that while the “Left” political groups in Oz tend to “play by the rules” as far as fair electioneering go, the conservative right will employ every and any dirty, fraudulant, deceptive, as close to criminal / totally criminal activity to corrupt the hand and mind of everyday citizens and the vulnerable people to get their vote…They enter aged-care homes with agents to swindle any who are slightly uncertain, they will corrupt the postal voting process with false return address on sent papers…in short, even with the imbecilic voter actions current in our system, it has to be much better that giving carte-blanche to a bunch of crooks that is the LNP. and their prompters!

    Liked by 3 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it is a big elephant. All those levels of governments. Just imagine the benefits if Australia was just a single country with a single government. Just look at the bickering going on between the federal and state governments about the borders in lockdown over the Corona virus.

      The states behave like different countries with borders and strict controls, and the army, police, permits, fines.

      What next, passports? It is all getting so difficult.


      • auntyuta Says:

        At the moment I am quite disillusioned with our voting system and democracy as a whole. Joe (Freefall) talks about ‘ fair electioneering’. We are not a ‘fair’ democracy if it is acceptable that electioneering is allowed to go on that is anything but fair! A few times I was hopefull that some progressive people did get voted in who would be able to achieve doing something for a bit more equality in society. But then people in the rich or super-rich establishnent found ways to get rid of these to them ‘dangerous’ people. The problem is that the ‘haves’ do want more and more to the detriment of the majority. Still the majority in Australia supposedly does live better than anyone else on this planet. So who am I to be complaining? I just keep voting, even though I know for sure that most of the time my vote counts for nothing!


      • gerard oosterman Says:

        You are right Uta,
        That is the curse of many democracies. The rich get richer and the poor poorer.
        The best hope we got is perhaps right now. Do you think that this corona virus and the coming economic downturn might shift the economic tectonic plates into a new and more equitable direction?
        In any case many think that the world will be a totally different place in a very short time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • berlioz1935 Says:

        You need a permit now already to enter some states


      • auntyuta Says:

        To your question, Gerard: Yes, I think this virus has brought about a lot of changes already, and it is going to keep changing a lot of things. Unfortunately the ongoing economic downturn is going to effect the poor nations the most.
        In an earlier comment you say: ‘Robots are now doing almost everything that humans used to do.’
        I ask myself, if the robots release us from a lot of drudgery work, what is society prepared to use the freed time for? Are we going to become a more and more caring society? Are we prepared to do all this drudgery work in looking after disabled or very elderly needy people that no computer can do?
        And another thing about our modern society. We seem to depend a lot on industrial agriculture. Here is explained, how horrible this really is for mankind:
        Maybe the corona virus is going to make us rethink a lot of things. . . .

        Liked by 2 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        I would not call looking after the elderly drudgery. Of what makes work meaningful I would think that when, after a day of work we end up feeling that we have, no matter how small, reduced the misery or improved contentment of others, can be very satisfying.

        Looking after sick or elderly is one area where I think manual and caring work makes a lot of sense. So is driving school buses or sweeping the streets, making gardens look nice.

        So little thought is given to our frenzied labours. It is a great pity that our need to serve and make lives of others better is so little appreciated. Instead we think that the profits of large companies are really what matters.

        We have yet to work out how to accumulate wealth through the production of poetry or beauty.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. freefall852 Says:

    Y’know, Gerard and Uta…I really don’t think things have changed much down through history…at least the human part…

    Ode to Machieavelli’s discourses of Titus Livy :

    Y’know..I can sympathise with ol’ Machiavelli,

    Seeing how things at this moment are not very

    Agreeable..somewhat friable..if’n you’ll allow…

    And HE did avow to explain with a lengthy refrain

    The deeper meanings of one : Titus Livius..THE man.

    I have picked over his “Discourses” as one does pick,

    Thread-bits from a new coat..or the currants, thick

    From granny’s fruit loaf..very nice..’til she thanks

    You with a rap of the wooden spoon, you’ll soon

    Learn to pay close attention to such indelible rune..

    And wonder, like he, whether such honour indeed,

    Bestowed upon those ancients, and their seed be

    But an impersonation of admired esteem,

    Less one’s smarts be seen as hollow sincerity, given as trope

    To impertination so vain as to promenade that path again and again….and again?

    Wisdom admired..but never imitated, even diluted, you may plea,

    So that WE, who have gained this Earth and now lost our soul,

    Given, on the whole, as fuel to the false god of intellectual flattery.

    Assault and battery on lost integrity exchanged impressionably

    For mutual back-slapping and the odd “gold insignia”.

    I wouldn’t be kidding yer if I was to say, with an underbreath ; “Ole’”

    That the measure of intellect today is, sadly, awry, Y,

    ‘Tis enough to make one cry..given what history has bequeathed

    So each generation in turn could turn over a new leaf.

    With so much, so ample that we have more than’s that simple.

    “For our civil laws are  but decisions by ancient Jurisconsults,

    That teacheth our present Jurisconsults systems by which to judge…”

    A drudge with nought to follow but example and re-assemble

    Forebears preamble on things “socially medicinal”, as an endocrine?

    Should work out fine ..if we but listen, not descend to vicious hissing.

    The biggest mistake being; not understanding history,

    But make mystery of what we WILL NOT see..Is it just me?

    Or is it thee who takes more pleasure from the infinite variety

    Of incidents in this or that society and such scandalous pleasure

    As your measure of understanding, rather than demanding

    We take heed to the answers to those deeds, as if these

    Times have changed the behaviour of men and then of women too

    It’s a shoo-in to see ; the Sun the Moon, the sea and thee

    Have not changed their motions and power, hour on hour

    From ancient times, I’d avower and from such error; allora!

    I’d therefore call thee to hark to the wisdom of Titus Livy

    And give time to study the erstwhile text of Machiavelli

    Written in testament for us to understand such history

    For ; Zanobi Buondelmonti and Cosimo Rucellai..

    Which for this pleasure I now bequeath to thee…from me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • freefall852 Says:

      Please excuse the typos!..

      Liked by 1 person

    • auntyuta Says:

      It seems to me, Joe, that we do need good teachers to open our eyes to other cultures and to teach us the meaning of history! 🙂
      I really like people the way they are. It is just what is good and moral in people should be sustained, and no way should excessive greed be worshipped. We are meant to look out for each other, and that includes all mankind! It is all a matter of life and death. To save lives is commendable, for a good death we can only pray: It is not a given!

      Liked by 3 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        Teaching too, is one of the most satisfying activities that we can enjoy. Uta is right. We are meant to look after each other, and in some or perhaps even often, those instances that does happen.
        The coffee group that I go to almost daily are caring people, and I feel so grateful for that. Of course, the ham and cheese croissant helps too.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. petspeopleandlife Says:

    I must have had m head in the sand because I had not heard of required voting in any country. I feel most ashamed to admit my ignorance. Wonder how that would go over in the states? Many folks are just to lazy to want to do their civic duty and just don’t vote. Two years ago I assisted a good friend in getting her voter registration card. I think she was kind of happy when she was among several folks who were announced as first time voters at the poling station where she and I went to vote.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. algernon1 Says:

    It is not compulsory to vote in Australia, its compulsory to have your name crossed off the electoral roll. What you do with the ballot papers is entirely up to you.

    Everybody is given the opportunity to vote, there is pre polls or postals or voting in the day.

    Compare this to say the UK, elections are always on a Thursday, which is a disincentive in itself, they also have first past the post. Where for example someone depending on the amount standing in an electorate could be elected with way less that 50% of the vote, for example five could stand in a seat all getting similar votes and the winner could very easily be elected with 20.1% of the vote.

    The US system is hardly democratic, given the widespread gerrymandering that goes on where seats are put together by how people vote.Then they could elect a modern day Hitler like Trump, based on gaining what the vote of 20% of the population not to mention overseas interference.

    I’d sooner have the Australian system than what many countries seem to call democratic.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. gerard oosterman Says:

    Voting in Australia is a legal requirement and dumping the ballot paper is besides the point. I agree we have a good voting system and the fact we vote on Saturdays with the aid of the barbequed ‘democracy sausage’ makes voting a fun event as well.

    I have trouble with the lack of choice and freedom not to vote. Of course we all ought to be compelled to vote but not by the threat of punishment. It is our duty to vote and we all should.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Forestwood Says:

    This is a topic I have thought about and discussed at length. I am not surprised by the ignorance of the cafe community. We are somewhat isolated here and they think the current state of affairs is just, until they are given another perspective. I was a diehard believer in our constitutional right to vote, and always do conscientiously, but now I have changed my mind on making that compulsory, as democracy is fundamentally flawed if we force everyone to vote, especially those who have no clue about who they are voting for and are influenced by the biased media. An interesting discussion and I totally agree with you on the punishement for not voting.
    Northern dragon had an interesting post where we discussed compulsory voting some time back.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. gerard oosterman Says:

    Yes, this Voting compulsion by punishment is what most accept as being the norm. It is not, and as I pointed out before, we are in bad company with countries that have compulsory voting by punishment.

    You had quite a discussion, Amanda on the links you showed above.
    Well done!


  15. rangewriter Says:

    I, too, am a compulsive voter. I’ve participated in every election since I turned 18. That said, I’m a sad minority in America. I bemoan that fact. But I don’t think compulsory voting is the answer. And of the countries which have compulsory voting, do all of them offer real choices, or are people forced to the polls to verify the station of a dictator? Much as I want more of my country people to be involved and to vote, I do not want to see mandatory voting here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Australia is in bad company when it comes to countries with compulsory voting on punishment.
      The answer that voters can spoil their vote in any case after having their name crossed off doesn’t really do away that to take the choice away ( to vote or not) for this democratic right doesn’t make it very democratic.

      What next? Compulsory wearing of long trousers or playing cricket on Sundays?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. colene Says:


    The compulsion to vote or the freedom not to? | Oosterman Treats Blog


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