in Downunder. The Electoral Commission actually says it is compulsory to vote but of course it isn't. Nobody can tell you what to do once you take the papers and go to the point where you can mark the ballot paper without other people watching. Whether you actually mark them at that point and how you mark them is entirely up to you. What is extraordinary is that the vast majority of people do actually mark the ballot papers - and that they mark them in a way which means their vote counts.
If we are to do our civic duty in a democracy we should vote. It is our responsibility to vote. At the same time I am wondering more and more about the "compulsion" to do so.
Our current election, one which has proven to be particularly nasty in terms of the "campaigning", has been a topic of conversation for days now. As such I have been waiting to get accosted by some of the more radical elements in the local electorate.
It happened yesterday. They arrived at the front door. There were two of them from one of the most extreme elements. I told them I had already voted and to go away. They did not leave. They wanted to know how I had voted - none of their business. They wanted to know if I supported the views of their party. I told them to leave or I would call the police. They left but not before telling me what they thought of me, one them using the best Anglo-Saxon.
These two young people will be voting for the first time. I wonder whether they will go on voting for a party with such extreme views or whether they will eventually grow into an understanding of what can and cannot be done. (If you want a million new houses someone has to pay for them.)
Then I began to wonder yet again what would happen if people in this country were not compelled to attend the ballot box. Would people vote? More importantly, would a majority of people vote?
It is said we get the government we deserve in a democracy. It is said that a democracy is the least harmful and most representative form of government. Both these things are making assumptions which may not be true.
We are assuming that people know something about how government works and how the voting process works. I suspect that there are far too many people who have no idea that the Senators are supposed to represent their states - not a political party. I am absolutely certain most people have no idea what our Constitution says or how it works. If they had then the nonsense which has been peddled about our present PM and his actions in certain matters would not be tolerated. I doubt anyone understands the iniquities of the "compulsory preference" system. No, don't tell me that is "more democratic" than "first past the post". It isn't. It can be manipulated, especially if you have the money to do it.
Last year I was asked for some help. The person who asked me is not very articulate. They needed help. I tried phoning, emailing, mailing their local federal MP because it was a federal matter. There was no response at all. It is a very, very "safe" electorate. I went to the electorate office - and was told to put it in writing. When I pointed out I already the electorate secretary simply shrugged and suggested I try again. Not interested? No, not at all interested.
So I contacted a Senator I know slightly - a Senator from another party. I told their secretary what had happened and asked if they could help the person in question. Now it is not really their role to do this. It should have been dealt with by the local federal member. The reaction was quite different. The problem was solved a fortnight later - and the local member, who had done nothing, was taking taking credit for it last week.
What I would like to see is a system which required those who want to represent us actually have to work to do so. Yes, some of them work hard but the compulsory attendance at the ballot box means those in very safe seats can do nothing - and still take the credit for what happens.