Aussie envoy favors compulsory voting

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March 27, 2006 01:46
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Part of the reason for the poor voter turnout in Israel's local and national elections is that voting in Israel is voluntary. When Election Day is a public holiday, and no one is actually forced to go to the polling booth, people go on picnics, shopping sprees or to a movie rather than exercise their voting rights. Australians don't have that privilege, nor do citizens of several other countries. More than twenty countries have some form of compulsory elections, Australian Ambassador Tim George said this week. Prior to the change in the system, the voter turnout was quite low, reaching only 47 percent. "It's a system that has certainly served us well," said George, when asked about compulsory voting, but there have been some detractors over the years, he admitted. People who don't vote are fined, unless they have a valid reason such as illness. The Australian Electoral Commission, said George, has put out a list of pros and cons for compulsory voting. On the positive side is that Parliament reflects more accurately the will of the electorate; voting is a civic duty; governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management; candidates can focus on issues rather than concentrating their campaign energies on encouraging voters to go to the polls. Amongst the arguments against compulsory voting are that it's undemocratic to force people to vote; those with little interest in politics are forced to vote, and as a result this may increase the number of informal votes or conversely increase the number of safe, single-member electorates; and resources have to be allocated to determine whether those people who failed to vote had an acceptable reason. George refused to comment on whether it would be in Israel's interests to introduce a system of compulsory voting. "I won't comment on what is suitable for Israel or other countries," he said.

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