Monday, 6 June 2016

The new voting rules for the Senate

are causing some confusion. 
I knew this would happen. For some elections now it has been my unfortunate task to try and ensure a group of people with disabilities  understand how to vote. This is not as easy as it sounds.
It also has nothing to do with who to vote for. 
The same problems occur every time. It is even more difficult this time.
Let me explain from the beginning. Downunder has a system of "compulsory attendance at the ballot box". It doesn't mean you must vote because nobody can ensure you actually mark the ballot paper. In practice of course it means that most people do mark the ballot papers.  
The problem is getting people to mark the ballot papers in such a way that their vote actually counts. It is a particular problem when people have problems with understanding the instructions. That might be because they don't speak English as a first language. Material gets translated into the "community languages" but it would be interesting to know how people who aren't able to follow an election campaign at all choose to vote.
And then there is the group of people I help. They have disabilities. Some of them are unable to read the ballot paper. They barely understand the entire process. Someone has chosen to ensure that they are registered to vote. Someone has claimed that they are sufficiently aware of the process to be able to make an informed decision of their own. I wonder sometimes who has signed their forms because I doubt they have.
But, they have a vote. They want to know "who" - something I can't and mustn't tell them. They want to know "who" I am going to vote for too - again, something I can't and mustn't tell them. It frustrates them - and me. They ask "why" they have to vote. I explain. "Your name is on the list." I go back to what they did at school when they chose someone to do something. Even that is difficult because some of them never participated in the process at school.
I know why some of these people are on the electoral roll. Other people planned to use their votes. It is often done with the best of intentions. "He ought to have a say too" and "Well I know how she would vote if she could" and "I've asked him and that's what he wants" and so on. Sometimes it is family members who do it, sometimes it is friends. There are "carers" - especially in group housing - who do it with the intention of getting the best for those they care for and, a few, who simply use the vote for themselves. 
It is all possible because of the "compulsory" nature of the voting system and the fact that there is no need to show ID at the polling booth. 
I have said elsewhere that voting is a right - but it is also a responsibility. This election has seen this household targetted by automated voting messages, a call from the ABC programme "Q & A" (declined to comment) and more than one call from a polling company (also declined to comment). There has been material in the letter box both via the post and via hand delivery. There is "information" out there but it actually tells you very little. How do you make a choice?
The people I have to try and help appear to make a choice on whether they "like" the people involved. One of them met a local candidate in the shopping centre and told me "he's nice". He will probably vote for him on that basis. 
Those who support compulsory attendance at the ballot box will probably say that's enough, that the right to vote - something people have died for - is so important that people should be compelled to attend the ballot box.  Perhaps they are right but as I struggle to explain what people need to do to have their vote count I wonder if this isn't the lazy way of doing things.
Wouldn't it be better to educate people about who and what they are voting for? 


Melodye Traupel said...

Living in a country where generally less than 15% of those eligible vote in presidential elections, I've always thought the Australian voting requirement was better. I still think it is, although you've raised some very important issues, Cat. We both agree it would be wonderful if citizens educated themselves and voted because they consider it a civic duty and one of the most amazing privileges in our world.
Melodye from Up Over

Allison said...

"Wouldn't it be better to educate people about who and what they are voting for? "

Not just who and what, Cat, but how get the info for making those decisions. How to listen to campaign accusations and ferret out what's really being said. How to find out a candidate's record if s/he has one. How to listen to what is said and hear what has actually been said. How to ask questions and hear the actual answer.

I wish I had learned all of that.

catdownunder said...

I suppose I think the "how" ought to come into a lot of other things as well. I remember seeing an advertisement as a child which made the claim that 8 out of 10 dentists (or something like that) recommended a certain type of toothpaste. I had a vision of ten dentists lined up but two of them had their backs facing me. I remember saying this to my paternal grandfather. He was quiet for a moment and then he said something like, "Yes, you're right child - just ten, not all dentists. Always read what it really says." I didn't of course but law school taught me a lot about reading what was actually there. Unfortunately not many people get that sort of chance.