On Voting as a Duty Versus Voting as a Right

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, I lived in Sydney for two years, from 2002 to 2004, long enough to get a decent sense of the culture. Australian policies are intriguing. They are either brilliant or stupid, there seems to be perilously little middle ground. For instance, they’ve done away with the penny, a coin I consider to be a barbaric wallet-ruiner (tills round up or down to the nearest five cents). They prove that the US belief that we can’t do much about drunk driving is a crock. They set their blood alcohol limits for driving under the influence much lower than ours, at the equivalent of one drink. If you are caught driving drunk, you lose your license permanently. The only exceptions are people who drive for a living (and by that they mean folks where driving is the primary part of their job, like taxi drivers or truckers). They can apply to get their licenses back in something like ten months or a year.

As a result I repeatedly saw people integrating their transport choices with their drinking. Those who had to drive really would stop at one drink, and people who though they might want to drink more would go out knowing they’d be taking public transportation or a cab back home. (Don’t get me started on the stupid parts of Australia, their idea of tax compliance places petty bureaucracy way ahead of revenue maximization and common sense).

One of their strong points was politicking and voting. Australia didn’t, and I hope still does not, permit paid TV ads. Each party (or was it candidate? I never was clear on the mechanics) who scored above a very low threshold got a certain amount of free air time. This took the big reason for fundraising out of the picture. And the result, a limit on how much TV advertising their was in total, seemed to have the effect that people got proportionately more of their information about politics via print, which allows for longer form discussion.

Another interesting feature was that voting is a duty not a right. I was surprised at about month three in my apartment there to get a sternly-worded official notice, which wanted to know who the hell I was and why hadn’t I voted. If you don’t vote, you get fined.

The net effect of these policies, in combination with native Australian skepticism, was an informed and engaged electorate. I’d go to my local pub, which had a cross-section of the population ranging from data entry clerks, former heroin addicts, a barely getting by poet of retirement age, a construction worker to marketing and IT professionals, a senior staffer in the New South Wales government, and the CEO of one of the top 150 companies. The quality of the political conversations, both on local and international issues, was considerably better than I’d get in any Manhattan cocktail party of nominally much better educated professionals.

So I’ve now become a believer in seeing voting as a duty on the theory that regarding it as obligatory, as opposed to elective, forces one to take it a tad more seriously. And in Manhattan, that duty is more costly than you might imagine. Voting pretty much guarantees you will be included on the juror rolls, and jury service is very much a duty in New York City. Given that Manhattan has a much bigger daytime population due to commuting than residents, it ensures that court cases are even higher relative to the pool of potential jurors than crime stats would suggest. Jury duty summons seem to arrive every two or three years, deferrals are very limited, and pretty much no one gets excused from service. So exercising your right to vote here assures that other duties of citizenship will fall on you as well.

So I will do my civic duty and vote later today, and strongly urge all NC readers to do so as well.

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  1. KingBadger

    “If you don’t vote, you get fined.”

    This idea always seemed pretty barbaric to me. “So which overlord do you prefer? You must vote for one or we’ll grab even more of your cash.” Having the right to not vote seems just as important to me as the right to strike. I sometimes vote, sometimes not, just like many.

    1. Yearning to Learn

      “So which overlord do you prefer? You must vote for one or we’ll grab even more of your cash.”

      not sure that’s quite accurate. we have the ability to do write-in candidates. you can always go and write your own name or a fictional character in as a sign of defiance.

      Every year Mickey Mouse gets votes around the world for various offices. I remember recently when Mr. Burns (from Simpsons) was the top write in candidate for NYC mayor.

      on a side note: it costs money for the state to count every write in vote, which all must be recorded. So writing in a vote is a true act of defiance.

      I agree fully with the farce that is money=speech in America, and the 2 party system we have is no better than Cuba.

      where I live the elections are basically pre-determined (my hood is overwhelmingly democrat). I still vote though. I often write in Kucinich for a lot of offices, even though I live in MN. when I do vote for real, I often feel like I’m picking the lesser of 2 evils as opposed to a candidate that I want. but I figure you can’t bitch if you don’t vote… and I’ve been to places where you cannot vote so I realize it really is a nice right to have.

      1. Daniel Daugherty

        Not choosing is a choice and many Americans don’t vote because they see no purpose in doing so. I personally don’t feel represented by any candidates from my state. That said, I am in favor of legally mandated voting if all ballot options include “None of the Above” next to the candidates’ names.

    2. Koshem Bos

      No one grabs your cash, as it is you don’t even pay enough for the services that you will not dream to go without. The “freedom” to stay away from the pooling booth is surrender to the power of a minority. That may not be barbarism, but it isn’t democratic either. We are at the state we are, mainly, because we allowed money to dictate our lot. Money free elections will make you equal with brother Koch and this is called freedom.

    3. NeilK

      Actually you don’t HAVE to vote but you do need to ensure that you hand in a voting slip and that your name is struck off the electoral role. If you want to write a diatribe or rude slogan all over the voting paper and invalidate it you can. But you have to actively not vote rather than apathetically not vote.

      One other advantage is that if everyone hands in a voting slip it makes it harder (not impossible, harder) to rig elections.

      Oh and last time I checked (probably early 2000s) the fine was trivial, like $30-40.

  2. dearieme

    Of all the putative reasons for the Aussies being a finer, nobler people than the Yanks, compulsory voting must be one of the less plausible.

      1. frances snoot

        Outcomes based on coercion never succeed in forwarding the agency termed freedom. They merely categorize the public into fenced postures: like statues in the Queen’s park.

        One should be enabled to vote not to vote. Political agnostics understand that the ‘choice’ offered, in rhetorical terms, binds one to state objectives.

        Writing in a candidate delineates a posture. It does not offer the choice of keeping one’s views private.

        1. Francois T

          “Outcomes based on coercion never succeed in forwarding the agency termed freedom.”

          Hmmm! Didn’t your Mom forced you to eat your veggies? Didn’t your Dad mandated bed time during school days?

          Yet…the adult you became isn’t less so because of some prior coercion applied on definite aspects of your life, correct?

          1. frances snoot

            Children are protected by adults with restraints; children have not reached the stage of life where decisions are meet with sound judgment. Why do some adults feel a propriety of parenthood over other adults? Adults should be treated in an egalitarian manner irregardless of national affiliation, race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation. That happy state makes for a free and expansive society.

        2. Anonymous Jones

          Ah, to live in a fantasy world with absolutes like “never,” “freedom,” and “coercion,” and nary any shades of gray in between.

          Sweetheart, that world ain’t got nothing to do with reality.

          1. frances snoot

            Try feeding brussel sprouts to a thirty-five year old trucker named Bart, AnyJones, and see if things don’t look gray to you. Reality doesn’t trample violets: man does. You may say violets are of no use; freedom isn’t the sweet parchment that lines a dresser drawer. But Freedom doesn’t care about your opinion; she asserts her will in man acting through the dominion of the spirit. Man may accede that dominion willingly, but it not coerced through force.

      2. dave

        Could there be another explanation for a more educated electorate. I have been in countries where people seem more informed and there is no compulsory voting.

      3. Jim Haygood

        Better outcomes? Such as Australia’s joining the Iraq war, despite the huge demo in Sydney which you joined, and the one in New York which I joined?

        Like the US, Australia is a ‘managed democracy’ where the warmongering elite gets the policies it wants, regardless of public opinion.

        Compulsory voting is merely insult added to injury. I proudly stayed home today — I do not cater to racketeering Depublicrat politicians, even to the extent of lifting my index finger to flip a little lever.

        My only message to our looter overlords is an upraised middle finger. If voting could change anything, it would be outlawed.

        1. Robert Dudek

          Somehow Canada stayed out of the Iraq war, while Australia and the UK (countries with many cultural similarities to Canada) did not. The reason was not due to the unpopularity of the war in Canada (it was, but not more than in the UK), but due to the prime minister at the time. If Ignatieff or Harper had been PM at the time, Canada would have dutifully gone to war.

          I’m straying off topic, but my point is that the decision to go to Iraq has nothing to do with compulsory voting or lack thereof.

  3. rjs

    if you vote, you are giving tacit approval to the system of corporatocracy that we’re living in…i wont be fooled into thinking that the major parties are all that much different; our government exists to protect the banks, & everyone else is secondary…the elites select so you can elect…it’s all become a circus put on for your entertainment, & voting is just the aristocracy’s way of giving the little people a temporary outlet; voting has become the new opiate of the masses, just like religion used to be used to keep people down…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      First, the act of voting is the antithesis of an opiate. Going to the polls is a nuisance.

      Second, I sincerely doubt that any but a very very teeny and deluded minority thinks a single vote in isolation has any impact.

      What do you think your withdrawal accomplishes? It isn’t an effective from of protest, but that seems to be your rationalization. Your stance is nihilism, and it’s your prerogative, but you seem to need to denigrate others to defend your position.

      1. M.InTheCity

        I don’t know if it’s really nihilism to feel that way. I voted here in the UK at the last election, but only after some serious soul searching. Voting isn’t an opiate, but does confer legitimacy to the method of operation of the government. As the UK is a junior partner to the terror war/Afghan war (only the 5th time we’ve been there in 200 years!), I could only justify voting by voting Green. Even then I held my nose, knowing that by voting I was legitimating a system which has encouraged torture, murder, and other barbarities (against its own citizens and of course other human beings). Yes, most systems have varying levels of barbarism, but there is a point where negotiating with the system does nothing but prop it up.

        In the US, I have even less hope for the governing system and its responsiveness. Both parties are engaging in /supporting horrific things. The total destruction of the middle class (which is a liberal – in the old way – barrier against the elites) is nearing its conclusion. Whilst I realise that voting is not a binary option (that is, just Dem vs. Repub) and that there are other parties to vote for, the level of corruption and non-democracy permeating through the system has led me to a (for me startling) conclusion. Non-conformity and non-cooperation. I believe Hannah Arendt discussed the need for non-cooperation in times of terror. I realise we are not Nazi Germany, but I see nothing that tells me that we will stop on our imperialistic path of destruction. Would those who profit from such things (not just corps, but the pols who get the power) wish to stop this? Why? I don’t think that’s really ever happened in a country until it’s been bankrupted by its own hubris (look at the UK for a shining example). When the power is lying in the streets, then it’s possible we can stop them through real democratic (I don’t mean violent) action.

        By the way, I’m not saying that I will refrain from public life. I believe in marching and supporting causes that look to help people at the grassroots. Which means I support websites like Naked Capitalism.

        1. JTFaraday

          “Voting isn’t an opiate, but does confer legitimacy to the method of operation of the government.”

          In the US, very few interpret low turnout at the polls as a sign that the public refuses to confer legitimacy on the government. At best it’s interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for whatever party seems to be on the wane, but mostly it’s interpreted as general political APATHY.

          It will be interesting to see what happens this time out, what gets said about it in supposed analysis, and the partisan spin.

          1. Daniel Daugherty


            This is a question I often wonder about: When only 100 million Americans vote, out of a population of 300+ million, how legitimate IS the mandate to govern?

      2. rjs

        yves; you’ve just given two good reasons why you shouldnt be voting; its a nuisance, and a single vote in isolation has no impact…thus i think your time would be better spent doing what you do here…

      3. Doug Terpstra

        I meant to add, we are voting today for governor and medical ganja and other local issues. In Arizona, until the Supine Court overturns it, we still have ‘clean elections’ laws for local office, and as Chris Hedges notes, local politics may be the only area where electoral politics can begin to make a difference.

      4. Juche

        Declining to waste your time is not nihilism. That label is the official thought-control code that lets you implicitly deny the existence of any form of civic participation besides electoral politics.

      5. Percy

        Yves, you may have a point about the impact of a single vote, but a mere 225 of those little things in Minnesota produced the closest thing to Gaius’s horse that we’ll ever see in our Senate.

      6. Jim Haygood

        If enough non-voters can be recruited to drive participation down to 30, 20, 10 percent, it will become obvious that the majority has withdrawn its consent from the system.

        Eastern Europeans sent this message in 1989 by downing tools and standing in the street.

        In place of being herded into ‘protest pens’ by the police state, Americans can send the same message by refusing to participate in an unconstitutional political duopoly governed by unconstitutional laws such as McCain-Feingold.

        Withdraw consent. Delegitimize the system.

        1. Robert Dudek

          I respect people who don’t vote but get involved in political activism. But that is a tiny percentage of the people who don’t vote. Most do not vote out of apathy.

          If you don’t think the system is legitimate, you should be an active participant in a revolutionary movement to overthrow the current system.

          If you do neither, I think you have no right to complain about your political masters.

      7. jake chase

        Had I voted during the past 40 years for any available candidate I would feel personally betrayed by what has been consistently unfolding. Emma Goldman told us ninety odd years ago that if elections changed anything they would stop holding them. What passes for political thought in America makes the concept an oxymoron. Elections are entertainment, candidates are stooges. If you can find one politician who isn’t a stooge my advice is to marry him. A friend from Vassar actually did that. Perhaps it worked out, but I haven’t seen her since 1980.

    2. Dirk

      I don’t understand the apathy. If there is nothing on the ballot where you live then pay some money and get you name on it or one of your friends. Do it just one election. You’ve got friends, right? There must be one of them with some free time.

  4. Jo

    Voting isn’t compulsory in Oz; attendance at the polling station, however, is.

    There is a ‘none of the above’ option……I don’t call that a ‘vote’.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I see it differently, you still are required to participate, even if that winds up taking the form of objecting to a particular set of candidates for one office or the entire slate. And the people I spoke to did seem to regard voting as a duty, it does appear to be a fairly well shared cultural value.

      1. Lidia

        I agree. Showing up and voting for “none of the above” is a completely different civic act than just staying home and watching TV because voting is too much of a nuisance.

        1. Birch

          With a compulsory vote, a spoiled ballot or “none of the above” can legitimately be counted as a vote against the system, because you showed up and actively voted against the system.

          Without a compulsory vote, it’s impossible to determine how much of the non-vote is a dissent, and how much is laziness or apathy. With a 60% turnout, 40% of the voting public may be on the verge of revolution but the media can still count it as apathy.

          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            Yes, at least the ‘none of the above’ registers some degree of public sentiment that is accurate, and I count that as no small thing.

            I lived in Oz prior to 2002 (and not in NSW), but my recollection was that the Fleet Street style news was a horror (‘dog rapes 10 women’ sort of thing). But the key bits seemed to me to revolve around: (1) the notion of duty, (2) the expectation that broadcast was to serve the **public interest** by free transmission of election-related content. The quality of info between the Fleet Street style presses (since globalised by Murdock) and the broadcast media’s better standards always intrigued me. (The Sydney Morning Herald being a notable exception…)

            If we had enough guts in DC to stare down the bandwidth spectrum and insist that US electoral content be carried free for anyone over 2% of the voting primary returns, we’d clean up some of the mess that’s weighing us down.

      2. Rupert Goldie

        Here in Australia, minor parties are often the recipients of protest votes. In our most recent Federal election, the Greens polled the best they ever have. While the incumbent left-wing Labour government suffered a heavy swing against it, most of the votes went to the further-left Greens, rather than the right-wing Liberal/National coalition.

        Voters wanted to protest, but didn’t quite want to topple a one term Labour government.

        If you really want to see how engaged Australian voters can be, have a look at the number of people who vote “below the line” in the Senate, where you get to number every candidate from 1 to 80 or more.

  5. hondje

    If my vote didn’t matter, I wouldn’t have to deal with my registration status magically becoming ‘inactive’ every election year. I wonder if it has anything at all to do with me being a registered Green in Colorado.

  6. attempter

    I’d certainly refuse to even consider voting in any of these sham “elections” unless there were a dedicated line on the ballot – not a “write in”, but a printed line – saying something like “I reject these candidates as frauds and this election as a pseudo-democratic sham”.

    Anything less is an affront to human dignity.

    I cited the Australia example in my post yesterday:


    I cite forced voting as a mechanism of the neoliberal phony election scam. Neoliberalism represents sufficient voter turnout as fraudulent “proof” that a government is legitimate. Forcing people into the dehumanizing ritual of sham voting is certainly one way to attain the levels of turnout totalitarian regimes want for their sham plebiscites.

    (Who, exactly, is there to vote for anyway? NC’s normal position, correctly, is that there’s no difference between Dems and Reps. Flip a coin, I guess. That’s some kind of “civics”.)

    Participation in this sham does nothing but diminish one, while helping legitimate the criminals who openly laugh at those who vote for them as they continue to rob and tyrannize them.

    And then there are those of us who recognize representative pseudo-democracy itself as both a Big Lie and a proven failure on a practical level. To demand of us that we vote is tantamount to forcing non-believers to participate in a religious ritual, which is all “voting” is in this kleptocracy.

    As for the idea that the cult ritual of “voting” will somehow lead, years down the line, in trickle-down fashion, to better civics and better candidates, that’s both implausible on its face and a demeaning thing to hope for anyway. It’s far better to recognize the basic fraud of the system, which is structural, not the result of some bad apples among the political class (it’s the class itself), and reject and renounce this system, including its sham cult of “voting”.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I can’t disagree with your more here. I saw vastly more engagement in politics in Australia on every level than here. The compulsory voting may be effect rather than cause, true, but to attribute it to neoliberalism, particularly in Australia, where the policy well antedates neoliberalism raising its ugly head, is utter rubbish.

      Merely opting out is an utterly ineffective response, and it reinforces the neoliberal gestalt that you deride, that we are all isolated, atomized, and therefore powerless. Your stance actually reinforces the world view you decry.

      While single votes indeed virtually never make a difference, individuals of like minds acting in concert most assuredly does.

      1. attempter

        I have a few points in response to that:

        1. If the policy was instituted prior to neoliberalism’s ugly head, then aren’t you arguing for transplanting a template onto a totally different situation where it doesn’t apply? (For example, advocates of Obamacare claimed that private health insurance exchanges “work” in the Netherlands and Switzerland. That’s questionable in the first place, but even if that were the case, there’s no comparison between something that organically evolved in societies which still have a high level of public interest consciousness, as opposed to artificially imposing it from the top down onto a gangster shooting gallery like the modern US. I would’ve sworn you yourself made that argument once.)

        Whether or not mandatory voting was originally a neoliberal ploy in Australia is a different question from whether or not it is today, and a radically different question from whether it would be in today’s US. The same goes for the voting ideology of the civics textbooks.

        2. If neoliberalism hadn’t already achieved a stranglehold prior to the policy, it has since. True, not as badly as in most countries, but the fact is that this heightened sense of voter consciousness you describe didn’t keep the wolf out.

        3. I’ve written extensively on what I think the alternatives are to waking up once every few years, going through a mindless ritual, and promptly going back to sleep. I advocate a different way of life based on seeking alternative polities and economies, all of it based on a truly lived democracy. I live it myself as much as possible, and there are increasing numbers of people who are making the same attempt.

        And we know as historical fact that direct action always precedes gains in the ballot and in legislation, while robo-voting never accomplishes anything and only encourages the system to rescind earlier gains. Which is exactly what has happened over recent decades, the exact period we’re discussing.

        It seems like you’re saying that the possibilities which are allowed to be considered have to be those within the status quo system. Since I reject going within the system except in targeted tactical ways (for example if there’s a stark, specific Yes or No ballot question on an important subject), you achieve the debate stance of accusing me of encouraging “atomization”, when in fact I’m calling upon the atoms to recohere at gathering points outside the system.

        (To put it in the jargon of one analysis of the MSM, we’re arguing over what’s allowed to be within the “sphere of controversy”, and what’s to be outlawed to the “sphere of deviance”.)

        As I’ve said many times, I think the system is both practically unsustainable (so we cannot reform it even if that were otherwise possible and desirable; but I don’t think it’s politically possible either) and that it would be humanly undesirable to try to endure as kinds of slaves under it even if that were possible. So I don’t and can’t accept the false frame that our only options are to seek reform within the system. On the contrary, I think that’s the most unlikely, impracticable path of all.

        Now if a sufficient mass of people went to the polls to all leave blank ballots, or write in the same protest, and they forced the media to report that they had done that, that would be a powerful way to make an anti-system statement at the polls. But nothing short of that would suffice, and certainly not voting for the “lesser” of two equal evils between the “two” criminal parties.

      2. LeeAnne

        Australia doesn’t have anything like their own Rupert Murdoch destroying their FREE PRESS without which a democracy cannot function. It was called the 4th branch of government; not for nothing.

      3. i on the ball patriot

        When you play in a rigged game you deserve to lose. People who vote in a rigged system are losers and deserve to lose. You ask people to go out and be losers today. You ask them to validate and legitimize the scam system that oppresses and exploits them!

        There are other options. May the spirits of “change you can believe in” visit your mind today!

        Some thoughts …

        You are correct, I would not attribute our current corrupt and non responsive to the will of the people voting system to neo-liberalism, but rather to the fact that it is a product of the times it was created in (and now — much like software — it is outmoded and needs an update to direct democracy with more frequent local elections), and, the aggregate generational corruption that has grossly skewed it to the favor of the wealthy elite in the past two hundred years.

        And I agree with you that merely opting out is an ineffective response to the corrupt electoral process, though I would not characterize it as “utterly” ineffective as there is some value to claiming those who do not vote as dissatisfied with government as opposed to merely apathetic and “the problem”, as the wealthy elite claim that they are.

        But you do not have to merely opt out. There is another utterly effective option that I am sure you are aware of, as I have mentioned it here at NC many times. ACTIVELY boycott the vote by writing to your supervisor of elections and DEMAND that your vote be counted as a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in this scam government. When your vote is not announced you then have grounds for complaint and you reveal the hypocrisy of it all.
        It is a matter of being active as opposed to passive. And work with others along the way to fashion a new revised constitution to replace the one we have. One with more citizen participation, more transparency and safeguards, and stronger penalties for violation of the public trust. This can be done.

        All of life is politics. It is a 24/7 process and we should be politically active each and every day. There are countless internet forums to be active in and one can vote with their money each and every day by buying products that support sustainability and rejecting those, where possible, that do not Those who think they can become informed once every two years and go and vote in a rigged election are fools. They are the problem.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        1. i on the ball patriot

          Correction: That should have been “letter” be counted …

          ACTIVELY boycott the vote by writing to your supervisor of elections and DEMAND that your letter be counted as a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in this scam government.

  7. unequalized


    This is an attempt to change your mind, as it seems that you are not really fundamental behind compulsory voting.

    Your main idea is that compulsory voting has good consequences. many things have good consequences, although they oppose more important values. Punishing people for smoking is for example one such thing.

    The right not to vote is much more important than good consequences from better politically informed society. To know better does not mean to act better. If someone understands, that higher army spending means less money for other spending or more taxes (or, in usual western democratic manner, higher government debt), that does not mean that he himself will oppose such practice, if he personally gets benefit (for the sake of argument, let’s say he has shares of weapon industry, or that he works in the army).

    Intelligence or education, or any other kind of being better informed, does not correlate with sense for fiscal austerity, or any other kind of sense for sustainable public policies. For that, ethics and/or sense of appurtenance, belonging to some greater unity, is required.

    Argentina has compulsory voting. Greece too :-) Even Venezuela. You should not make conclusions on the personal feeling about political sanity of ordinary Australian.

    I feel offended if I am forced to give MY VOTE, where only candidates appropriate for the masses are available, because inevitably they are the only electable ones. For the sake of a bit better average Joe’s understanding of politics, I am not ready to give away my right to refuse to support any of those schmucks. When candidate advocating my views will be available, he will get my support. Even if he is just importantly lesser of two evils, I might support him.

    I live in a post socialist country and always go to vote, although it is not compulsory. I usually make irregular vote, voting for Margaret Thatcher or something alike. I feel responsible and willing to participate in political society, but until I have a choice between rotten tomatoes and mouldy bread, I choose fasting.

  8. Yearning to Learn

    interesting that most people are focusing on the compulsory voting aspect.

    to me that was less interesting than the idea of disallowing paid TV ads.

    I know I know… COMMUNISM!!!! The nerve, telling Americans what we can and cannot do. Especially American citizens like the Koch brothers and citizen of the year Goldman Sachs.

    but I rather like the idea of stopping the ridiculous TV ad situation that we have going here.

    one of the only ways to break the 2 party stranglehold on our system is to change campaign finance. which is why it will never be done.

  9. reason

    I think people misunderstand the effect of compulsory voting. It means that the MIDDLE counts. Those people who see the parties as a toss up, are the most important voters. Otherwise the zealots dominate.

  10. reason

    Just to assure people who think it a great impossition to have to vote – voting in Australia is easy, there are lots of booths and they vote on Saturday. And once I got a fine for not voting, and I wrote in and said “But I did vote” and they wrote back and said “That’s ok then.”.

    Big deal.

  11. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

    Thanks Yves…

    While I’m a bit leery of compelling the uninformed electorate to “participate“ in the electoral process, more participation is a good thing, even if it “slows” the process down. The Tea Party is an example of both that comes to mind.

    In any case, I will vote … even if I have to hold my nose while doing so. I sometimes wonder why but then recall my walking the cemetery above the Normandy beachhead with row upon row of white crosses as a young man. Any doubts as to why quickly vanish.

    Ridding the world of fascism was a good idea then. It still is now, especially when it’s a home grown variant! Slow the right-wing bullet train to AUSTERITY down while we still can… VOTE.

  12. Saintgermane

    It’s a mistake to conflate a requirement to vote with an unacceptable loss of freedom. In this, I am with Yves. Does jury duty, to continue her example, deny us freedom? In a sense, it does, in that service is compulsory.

    However, all too often missing from our debates is a discussion of the civic responsibility that accompanies citizenship. Citizenship costs. Freedom costs.

    To claim that compulsory voting abridges freedom is to ignore the premise that freedom is not free. While we may rightfully decry the imposition of undue constraints or obligations by the state, it is worth noting that here, at least, WE (at least, nominally), ARE the state.

    I have no problem compelling you to act in our collective self interest if you wish to continue to be a art of this society.

    I’ll offer an alternative: if you wish to avoid the duties of citizenship, fine. Let us decide on two levels of citizenship, then: participatory, and non-participatory. If you elect non-participatory citizenship, you must then relinquish certain rights of citizenship, to be defined later in a structured debate.

    In effect, this is what we, The People, have tacitly done, in our withdrawal from the electoral process on a meaningful level.

    The outcome has been the rise of corporate citizenship, and the influence of money, far beyond the ability of individuals, or collections of individuals, to counter. By our lack of participation, we have marginalized ourselves.

    Until we wake up to the fact that, not only does voting matter, but that our participation in ALL aspects of the political process matters, our rights and real influence over our own lives will continue to degrade, to be be replaced by corporate self-interest.

    1. Lidia

      Good points, Saintgermane. I hold attempter’s cynical views, and yet I am still for compulsory voting, because it forces people to recognize that they are part of a social system, that they can never be entirely outside of it.

      Otherwise, you have just a vicious cycle: if the “smart” people opt out, we’ll jut be left with the teabag vote, which will make government worse, which will cause even fewer people to bother to vote, and so forth.

      We can recognize a broken system, materially opt out and try to create our own parallel system (or at least get out of the way of the broken system), and at the same time still operate at least minimally to mitigate the brokenness of the existing system.

      The first thing that must be done, however, is to outlaw electronic voting machines. Hand count physical ballots; who cares how long it takes? There are plenty of humans with lots of time on their hands to do the counting.

  13. skippy

    25 million pepole vs. 300’ish on a land mass comparable to the USA. Population density vs. quality of life….go figure.

    Skippy…oh vote preferences too, btw who is kevin rudd.

  14. The Bulb

    I celebrate Election Day in every cycle. Win or lose, ours is a great system that deserves to be honored.

    I must disagree with Yves, though. What is the civic value of an uninformed vote? If voting becomes an obligation, there will be millions of votes cast based upon party affiliation, cultural identification, or other reasons that have little if anything to do with an understanding of the issues facing a nation. I love politics. I love debating the issues. I agree that there is too little real debate about the serious matters facing our country. But I am not everybody. There are plenty of people who would rather watch Dancing With The Stars than to learn about the issues of the day. If they want to “opt out” of election participation, they are free to do so and I don’t see how this is a negative for our system. Again, what is the civic value of an uninformed vote?

    I also must say I am completely against voting by mail, early voting, and (God forbid) internet voting. The exercise of your vote should be something that take EFFORT to accomplish. It should MEAN something. It should be an ACTIVE civic duty.

  15. krick

    I’ve recently come to the realization that both major parties are fully stocked with corporate-owned liars and/or hypocrites owned by religious organizations. Going forward, I refuse to vote for Democrat or Republican candidates ever again.

    So tomorrow, I’m voting for this guy from the Green Party purely because he looks like a cross between Weird Al and Doug Henning. Rock on, dude…


  16. Saintgermane

    If enough of us did as Krick suggests, that would be true defiance. Note: to be successful, such a course of action requires some threshold level of participation.

    Compulsory voting might help reach such a threshold.

    1. Lidia

      Exactly. There’s no reason a plurality mightn’t show up and vote “none of the above”, except that they’d have to show up and vote to do so.

  17. craazyman

    This debate reminds of a scene in Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD when the man remembers a conversation with his wife, after the world had been utterly destroyed and roving bands of savages preyed upon everything.

    * * *

    I’m speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They will rape him [the boy]. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it. You’d rather wait for it to happen. But I can’t. I can’t. . . . She watched him across the small flame. We used to talk about death, she said. We don’t anymore. Why is that?
    I don’t know.
    It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about.
    I wouldn’t leave you.
    I don’t care. It’s meaningless. You can think of me as a faithless slut if you like. I’ve taken a new lover. He can give me what you cannot.
    Death is not a lover.
    Oh yes he is.

    -Cormac McCarthy, THE ROAD, Vintage International, 2006

    1. i on the ball patriot

      “They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it.”

      That’s where the expression “I just took a killer crap!” comes from.

      Life is death’s lover.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      1. craazyman

        you know ball I think from time to time about how Hemingway mocked “irony and pity” as engines of creative narrative. He had his own engines, as all geniuses do.

        And he was right, to a point.

        But they still work, when done well. they are eternal. ha ha.

        1. i on the ball patriot

          You know craazy sometimes I think words can be like grains of sand; beautiful and calming on the beach, irritating and provocative in your shoes, treacherous when thrown into another’s eyes, costly and maddening when poured into a gas tank, and downright depressing when discovered in a baloney sandwich at the beach, especially if you are really hungry … its the context that gives them their meaning.

          Context is eternal. I am not so sure about words … or voting.

          Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  18. mitchw

    I was in DC during its mayoral primary this summer, and let me tell you, every vote does count. Since my brother in law was working in a senior position on one of the campaigns in the District, I was able to get an insider’s view of how votes are valued by the campaigns. Voters are broken up into wards and scrutinized demographically, geographically, house by house, bar by bar, by citizen political committee, with workers and candidates walking door to door meeting voters to ask for support, and driving people to the polling places. I even met Fenty on morning as he was shaking hands with automobile drivers on Connecticut. From the point of view of candidates, every vote does indeed count. Just ask Harry Reid.

  19. Hanrahan

    As an Australian we do see voting as a duty. Even if you’re depressed, sick, disillusioned, or marginalized, that is even more reason to be heard. If you’re really pissed off with the whole political system, then you’re perfectly entitled to write that on your ballot papers. It is everyone’s duty to be heard, otherwise democracy will fail.

    Just as voters are seen to have a responsibility to vote, government has a responsibility to make voting as easy as possible. Elections are always held on Saturdays from 6am to 6pm, virtually every school, church and scout hall in the country is a polling booth, so waiting to vote is brief. Your employer is legally responsible to make sure you have time to vote. You can vote early in an advanced booth, on the day from any booth in the country or by mail from anywhere in the world.

    One good thing about compulsory voting is candidates don’t need to motivate people just to get them riled up enough to vote. So campaigns tend to be a bit more factual and realistic, with less fear mongering and false hope.

    One bad thing about compulsory voting is both major parties know the easiest votes to gain are from the disengaged who vote with their hip pocket nerves. So there are always shiny baubles dangled to entice the votes your way. This can lead to some pretty serious pork in marginal electorates.

    1. Lidia

      In Italy, it’s an entire weekend: both Saturday and Sunday. This means even people who work long hours can still find a time to go vote.

  20. Siggy

    Compulsary voting? I’m indifferent. Constrained TV adverts, I favor that very much.

    Is voting a right or a duty? It’s both. If you eschew the making of a formal choice you are, in fact, affirming whatever the outcome of the election.

    Is this piece a polemic or is it a bit of dilitant’s delight intended to arouse the animal spirits? Say it aint so Yves.

  21. K

    Some of your Australian recollections might need some refreshing, Yves.

    “If you are caught driving drunk, you lose your license permanently.”

    In New South Wales, it depends a lot on the circumstances. Typically, you’ll lose it for a year or so depending on your circumstances. Courts and the police do take mercy on people who need to drive to get to work. Only repeat, wilful offenders lose their license for good: http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/rulesregulations/penalties/serioustrafficoffences/alcoholanddrugs.html

    “One of their strong points was politicking and voting. Australia didn’t, and I hope still does not, permit paid TV ads. Each party (or was it candidate? I never was clear on the mechanics) who scored above a very low threshold got a certain amount of free air time.”

    Not sure where you’re getting this from? The threshold refers to instead general public funding a political party receives, e.g. X dollars per vote above a certain treshold. There was an attempt to ban funding of political advertising in the earlier 90s, and there’s a three-day blackout rule before the actual election, but otherwise, there haven’t been any restrictions on paid political advertising for a long time (http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rb/2004-05/05rb05.htm has a good overview).

    “(Don’t get me started on the stupid parts of Australia, their idea of tax compliance places petty bureaucracy way ahead of revenue maximization and common sense)”

    There was a very well thought-out review of the whole tax-and-transfer system released recently, but alas, the Government tried to take on the mining industry and came off second best, so the drastically needed reform in this area is not likely to happen any time soon.

    “No one in Australia I met had a problem with it.”

    Quite a few of us don’t like it for a variety of reasons, but the compulsory voting in of itself bad, but rather compulsory voting combined with preferential voting and a mass media. In the 2010 election, 5.6% of votes were “informal”, which can mean a variety of things (marking the ballot incorrectly, drawing a smiley face on the side), but a not insignificant portion of that is plain disobedience.

    Setting aside arguments over rights vs duties, the biggest complaint about compulsory voting here is a more prgamatic one: the big political parties can take your vote for granted and so politices becomes a knife-fight to occupy the middle ground. If you’re any shade of centre left of the political spectrum, in nearly all cases the preferential voting system means your vote ends up going to the Labor Party at the end of the day. Likewise for the right: your vote ends up with the Liberal Party. You can’t cast a protest vote, and unlike a US system of primaries, pre-selection is rigidly controlled by the party machines.

  22. Moopheus

    There should always be a choice for “none of the above.” How about this: we make the default vote “none of the above.” If you are a registered voter, and you don’t go to the polls, your vote will be counted as “none of the above.” There should also be a space marked that on the ballot. A candidate must beat “none of the above” to take office. This way, every vote counts, no one is forced to the polls unless they actually want to vote for a candidate, and the parties will be forced to present candidates that actually get people out to the polls.

  23. CaitlinO

    Voting, whether compulsory or not, really only makes sense when you believe the political process is still functional. I think our process is so corrupted that I no longer have much faith that it can function.

    Still, I’m leaving the house in about 10 minutes to vote anyway.

    Old habits die hard.

  24. Charlie

    I for one am fed up with getting the same result no matter who we put in office, Republican and Democrat seem to be slightly different wings of the same corporate conservative party. I heard some biscuit head this morning on Washington Journal saying that voters were angry because Obama was trying to install some kind of Europeon socialist government on America…No were not! I am personally angry because Obama ran as a person who would move us away from the destuctive ideology of conservatism toward a more fair prosperous society, what I got for my vote was more corporate conservatism. I feel it is my and all Americans duty to vote. The thing that bothers me most about our elections is that we have massive voter fraud going on in America, from the hanging chads and Floridas secretary of state being Bushs campaign manager in 2000 through voter suppresion, intimidation, reducing the voting hours, and especially the corrupt electonic voting machines not to mention the non-stop lies and propaganda. We do not have an honest above board election process nor do we have honest politicians and the ones we have are owned outright by corporations. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Well said: “Obama ran as a person who would move us away from the destuctive ideology of conservatism toward a more fair prosperous society, what I got for my vote was more corporate conservatism.”

      Of course we can count on overpaid Orwellian spinners to take your protest (or non-vote) as clear proof that Obama has moved too far left and must move further right — as if there is any rightward distance he can possibly go. Simply amazing.

      But voting third party and for local offices and issues still may make a marginal difference.

  25. Andrew not the Saint

    If I was in America, I’d vote for the “F*** you everyone who voted for either party” party

  26. Peripheral Visionary

    Thank you for your thoughts, Yves; I share your support for voting as both a duty and a right. Incidentally, I live in the District of Columbia, and like New York City, jury summons come at very regular intervals of two years. Service in the jury is also a duty, but at the same time it preserves the right of the accused to a trial by his or her peers. Interesting how duties and rights are two sides of the same coin.

  27. Juche

    Vote… for one of two authorized parties, with candidates of unauthorized parties blacked-out, suppressed, or even detained?

    You gotta be kidding.

  28. me

    I’m Australian and I like compulsory voting as it does make people take an interest. A large part of that is that we have preferential voting. I the last two elections I gave my preferences to minor candidates and made the major candidates wait until one of them got my preferences was finally allocated to one of the to. That way I ultimately picked but they could be in do doubt I was not a happy choice and they would have to do more to assure them self of my vote next time. Of course you can donkey vote. I also like the way it is held on a Saturday to make it easier for the majority to get to the poll. Also don’t forget giving a minor party candidate your first preference increases their claim for election support at the next election and that is how the people and help push for more voting options in the next election.

    1. me

      “I the last two elections I gave my preferences to minor candidates and made the major candidates wait until one of them got my preferences was finally allocated to one of the two.”


      “Also don’t forget giving a minor party candidate your first preference increases their claim for election support at the next election and that is how the people can help push for more voting options in the next election.”

      1. me

        “I the last two elections I gave my first preferences to minor candidates first and made the major candidates wait until my preferences was finally allocated to one of the two”

  29. ManitouMonk

    I’m not voting this year, and it’s due to two primary reasons. The first is that I have been living in my second home for the past 6 months, and it doesn’t receive mail from the USPS. The Absentee ballot got sent to my other house and I simply forgot to grab it the last time I was there. I’m not driving the 10 hour round trip to either vote at my registered location or to retrieve the ballot. The IT systems for basic civic functions are in the stone age. There is no tech reason why I can’t vote on the web.

    The second main reason is that there are simply no candidates that I would want to put my name behind. I don’t believe in the “lesser of two evils” argument and voting for the lesser turd is still voting for a turd. The lesser turd does not represent me or my interests and neither does it offer a path toward better solutions. About the only thing worth while to vote on is the voter approved initiatives.

  30. El Snarko

    Mandatory voting is a good idea I had vehemently opposed until right now. The penalty for not voting should be one days pay, up to 10k. A protest vote of “none of the above” has to be permitted of course, but you have to say so in an official vote.

    If we cannot take $$ out of political ads, how about limiting the amount of minutes per week that can be supplied?

    1. Birch

      Campaign spending in the U.S. is ghastly, and probably the most direct cause of the fall of democracy. I’m very glad in Canada that we have strict limits to campaign spending, and corporations are no longer allowed to donate to political parties. It is still common here for lower middle class people to get elected to various positions without any big money support.

      Our big problem is the winner-takes-all parlaimentary system, where our prime minister got about 25% of the votes that turned out, yet he runs his minority government like a dictator. Very disturbing.

      BTW, a friend of mine (born and raised in the Canada bush, but a dual citizen) once voted four times for Ralph Nader in the same election. She wandered around Miniapolis on election day, stopping to register and vote at every poll she came across. The U.S. voting system is so inconsistent and susseptible to manipulation it’s shocking.

      Vote early, vote often. Mock the system.

      Good luck, y’all.

  31. damaged justice

    All you folks who are in favor of “compulsory voting”: Do you have the courage of your convictions? Are you willing to walk, not just talk? Would you personally go around with a six-gun, holding it to people’s heads and saying, “If you don’t vote, I’ll blow your brains out”?

  32. Know Your Enemy

    Wow, what an exciting choice we largely didn’t have in Maryland this morning. Vote for a Govenor who is a bit less corrupt then his vicious, racist, right wing hick from the other Corporate Party. A vote for a Senator who is a warmongering witch, who largely cares less about unemployment and home foreclosures in her home state but is a far better alternative then an even further right gang of bastards. I can easily see why people divorce themselves from a money driven cesspool of pigs at election time. To call on “faith” in the Democratic process, to believe that voting for some personality who is really a front for corporations is somehow Democratic, is pure delusion. To pretend that we have a functioning Democracy, and that a symbolic ritual will somehow control the ruling class is just ridiculous.
    Call it cyncism, but the reality is you can’t bring change without serious civil upheaval. Americans should cherish their appropriate levels of contempt for public officials who celebrate what is now a rotten, deteriorated, money corrupted process known as voting. History shows quiet clearly the point where a society is “too far gone”, the inevitability of that “forces of change” can only come from an exterior power, outside the gates of the Police State. The populace no longer has the ability to improve their situations, and after years, sometimes decades of painful decline, only the royals enjoy “Democracy.”

  33. Crazy Horse

    Interesting that every commentator but one zeroed in on the “loss of freedom” represented by being forced to cast a vote and choose between a bankster and a mass murderer. Americans have a rather distorted idea of freedom— believing it consists of the ability to choose between buying a jacked up 4 wheel drive big block pickup manufactured by Ford or by Chevrolet or between a red-white-&-blue or blue-white-&-red shirt made in China.
    Mandatory voting hardly represents a loss of freedom– more like an increase in responsibility. And of course every ballot should have at least five choices– the four leading parties plus a reject tab.

    Whether it actually exists in present day Australia, the more interesting idea in the post is that of a ban on paid TV advertising. Television is the most powerful drug ever invented, and as long as it is the weapon of mental control available only to the kleptocracy, they will totally control the sheeple.

    We can talk forever about how this or that reform would make the system less bad, but the fact is that rulers dominate because they set the rules. In desperation the Lakota tried to dance the buffalo back to the plains, but in the end Mao was right– power grows out of the mouth of a gun. (and unfortunately often just begets another face of dominance)

    1. frances snoot

      You are separating the physical from the metaphysical here. Physical coercion does not bring about metaphysical compliance. Anyone who has taught school might relate the truth that the application of coercion becomes a detriment to honest outcome.

      Tagging Americans seems to be the failsafe for poorly wrought arguments. The stance is a derivative of the mindset that humans need parental supervision.

    2. T. Rex Bean

      I have a question: how many here who see voting as an unfair burden would be willing to surrender it? Or even have it taken from them? Voting should be a duty, if for no other reason than that some of our fellow citizens have given their lives to safeguard it (not since WWII, though).

      1. frances snoot

        “Duty to State” is one of the pillars of all good fascist societies. The state has a duty to the individual, and the individual has a duty as a human to operate in a way which does not harm other humans. The human has not ‘duty’ to the state outside compliance to ordinance and law.

        Have we reached “all for the state-nothing outside the state-nothing against the state”?

        Shall we wrap it all in an American flag and claim sanctimonious democracy-spreading goo in the form of armed mercenary aggression as the glue to cohesive status objectification?

        1. T. Rex Bean

          Ow. No, I don’t want to put “duty to the state” above all. But I think a requirement to vote is not unacceptable in a democratic society. And, again, how many who deride voting as a useless and even pernicious act would surrender that right?

          1. attempter

            1. This is not a democratic society, even in principle. It’s “representative democracy”. And by now it’s been proven that this form is really manipulative pseudo-democracy. It failed at everything it claimed it would accomplish. And if you read James Madison, e.g. Fedealist 51, you’ll find that it was intended to fail.

            The triumph of neoliberalism, or “soft fascism”, “inverted totalitarianism”, to give a few other terms used for it, and now its transformation into Bailout America, represents the end stage of pseudo-democracy, which is really a transition back to feudalism.

            2. Although I didn’t make this clear above, I agree completely that citizenship imposes responsbilitities and duties before it bestows rights. That’s why I say the citizen has the duty to reject this illegitimate system and work to build a new one.

            I of course don’t regard voting in the system’s rigged elections as fulfillment of any citizen duty, quite the contrary.

            And I have nothing but contempt for the notion, characteristic of pseudo-democracy and of shallow liberals in particular, that brainlessly pulling a lever once every few years is sufficient to fulfill a “civic duty”. Man, is that a characteristically entitled, lazy American attitude or what?

            Being a citizen is a way of life.

            3. I’d love to see the kleptocracy throw down the mask and rescind voting “rights”, and not just in targeted ways from minorities the way they already have (though you seem unaware of that, or don’t care).

            I’d love to see them revoke the privilege from smug middle class good civics types. That might actually finally smack some sense into them about the real nature of this system.

            (I chose the words rescind, revoke, privilege, to emphasize how, according to this attitude, the elites magnanimously “give” us the right to vote, or to do anything else.

            Of course, if enough people had my concept of citizenship, there could never be any question of “surrendering” the vote or anything else. We’d know all rights and power and social wealth (i.e. all wealth) belong to we the citizens, that sovereignty reposes in us or nowhere, and it would never be possible for a handful of criminals to force us to surrender anything. They’d have to surrender everything they’ve stolen.)

  34. sandorgb

    The concept of preferential voting or instant runoff voting is far more important than compulsory voting. The US system is the worst possible form of democracy if the idea is to “represent” the will of the populace. It is systematically designed to marginalize outsiders and make people think they are “wasting” their vote by not voting for the D/R corporate clown car. Of course, the “winner take all” mentality is distinctly American and is fully appropriate to the sociopathic narcissism this culture epitomizes.

    Yves comments idealize reform through existing structures as both possible and preferable to the destabilizing decentralizing relocalizing political revolutions that must take place beyond the ballot box. The primary political issue is debt-based money, period. If you vote for any candidate that doesn’t understand that and is willing to do something about it, you have voted for the parasite that is sucking the lifeblood of your family and community. When people haven’t even got the first clue about what the issue is, encouraging them to vote is a tragic farce. At this stage viral education is necessary and urgently needed. It may mean losing the bread and circuses before political revolt is probable.

    I tend to think the solutions lie more in the direction of communitarian eco-villages that develop self-sufficiency, off the grid, off the debt-money system. Purchasing power can be stored in gold, silver, platinum and palladium, and exchanged for the debt-money units when needing to trade with the infected global exchanges. Ideally, these efforts would take place in states which have no debt and minimal overhead. Unfortunately, the federal terrorist police state remains a constant liability to all such efforts. There are no easy answers, no guarantees of life, liberty or property, and the only safe haven is awareness.

    1. attempter

      Excellent point. Anyone who realy believed in representative democracy and really cared about the sanctity of voting would be fighting to render the system better representative. The data shows that turnout is higher in systems set up to achieve more proportional outcomes. I’d vote if the advocates of greater true democracy would be proportionally represented.

      But America’s winner-take-all system is intentionally set up to be as unproportional and unrepresentative as possible.

      It’s sort of like those who claim to care about the “sanctity of marriage” but have no problem with liberalized divorce laws.

  35. frances snoot

    The title of this essay is to assert one very simple principal, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion or control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principal is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot be rightfully compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to defer him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign.” John Stuart Mills/ Essay on Liberty (Library of Congress, page13)

    “neoliberal gestalt”?

    1. vlade

      Harm to others is so vague a principle as to be of no use.
      It encompasses everything from direct bodily harm, to smoking in your presence to chucking a banana skin on pavement so that you can slip on it. Who decides what is and isn’t harmful? Is only an immediate, observable, direct bodily harm a harm?

      Ultimately, as a human society we make tradeoffs. One of them is having “rights”. It used to be traded for duties – unfortunately, it seems that most of the mankind forgot that a society cannot function long term without reciprocity (one’s rights are other persons duties – and vice versa).

      About not forcing – well, if you really want to get metaphysical, there isn’t a way of forcing anyone to do anything anyway (except for physically operating the muscles for them). Every time you do something you, as a person, make a choice. When someone’s “forcing” you to do something, it’s just a complaint that you chose to do something else than you’d want in the absence of some external factor. Even in the worst circumstance, people can usually chose death (and there are good examples of it say in concentration camps in WW2). Regardless, it is still a choice – and as free a choice as any, realistically speaking. When it’s a blizzard outside, I can chose to go out naked – I’m not forced to wear suitable clothes. I weigh the outcomes and choose.

      1. frances snoot

        “Harm to others is so vague a principle as to be of no use.”

        The principle is the basis of the English common law system we term justice, Vlade.

  36. frances snoot

    The ‘warrant’ enabling the Aussie decision is sovereign digress. It has its point force in a tyranny which forwards the idea of ‘honest money’ in an attempt to deny the public the means of independent exchange, not only of money but of ideas and words. There is no warrant applicable even through force to engage thusly with the human spirit.

    One may destroy the flesh but the spirit remains unviable to coercion and unmolested.

    Yves: show us the warrant.

  37. LJR

    I hold my nose and vote but I can constantly hear George Carlin saying, “At least when I get finished I have something to show for it.”

  38. linda in chicago

    In Australia they have pubs where people from all walks of life go and talk seriously about politics to people whom they don’t necessarily know?!? I have got to go and do some field research on this!

  39. Psychoanalystus


    The Australian system sounds like something we could use around here. The free ads and limited fundraising in particular. However, I am puzzled that you could vote shortly after moving into the country. Unless you’re an Australian citizen, do they also allow residents to vote?

    1. skippy

      Nay…as a permanent] resident you receive all the trappings of citizenship’s save the vote.

      On another note our last PM was ambushed for doing what he said he was going to do. And now many of us that voted labour or supported them in my case are barracking for the Greens now, both traditional sides have started concerted efforts to diminish the party.

      Yves remember the old adage “just like America 20 years ago” well its more like 10 years now and the time compression is being brought forward at an increasing rate, thank you corporate American media template. BTW did you see that the RBA raised its interest rate during the Melbourne cup race…lol…and after the public fracas between the banks and government.

      Skippy…some times its like watching an old TV rerun…sigh…the American lying glass multi media mind control tool conquers all! They even say *buddy* now, rather than mate! Hay BUDDY! arrghhh!

      1. i on the ball patriot

        I don’t know about that ten years behind us number Skippy. Scamericans gave African Americans the right to vote in 1864 but in Australia you guys didn’t pony up until 1967, and I have heard that the Aboriginals still need permits to leave their reservations. Do they force the Aboriginals to vote?


        * A Constitutional Referendum overwhelmingly approved the amendment of the Constitution. A YES vote was registered by more than 90% of Australian voters with all States voting in favour of:

        A. The words other than the aboriginal race in any State were struck out of Section 51 xxvi so that the Commonwealth Parliament could now make special laws for Australian Aboriginals.

        s.51 The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

        xxvi The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.


        B. Section 127 was struck out in its entirety.

        s.127 In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other parts of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”


        Beef baloney, kangaroo baloney its all the same …


        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The US had Jim Crow laws and substantial disenfranchisement of blacks till 1965, that’s why there was a civil rights movement. So using the passage of the 14th Amendment as the basis of comparison with Australia is misleading (although it is true that the treatment of aboriginals is still shabby, but again, you’d need to look at US revervations to benchmark directly).

          As for blacks, they were disenfranchised at least as recently as the 2000 Presidential election. As Greg Palast has documented in gory detail, Florida chose the most expensive bidder to scrub its voter rolls of felons (Florida is one of those states where former felons can’t vote). The firm appears to have been directed to scrub every black sounding name (like first names like Lakisha or Tyrone) that bore a resemblance to a felon’s name. The number of voters scrubbed was a huge multiple of actual felons. The minimum number of black voters incorrectly removed was at least 90,000 and as much as 180,000.

          90,000 black voters x 30% turnout x 90% propensity of blacks to vote Democrat = 24,300 votes for Gore, nearly ten times as much at issue with the hanging chads.

          1. i on the ball patriot

            Drop that past tense, it is not “had” Jim Crow laws …

            Scamerica still HAS Jim Crow laws — mountains of them — and in fact I sometimes think they should change the name from scamerica to Jimcrowica.

            Yes, the disenfranchisement of blacks is horrendous in Florida, but the disenfranchisement of ALL scamericans through the corrupt electoral process is, I believe, of far greater importance. I am feeling lonely tonight with my little boycott given the overwhelming stream of electoral bullshit on the tube. I am like the hope filled acorn buried under the winter snow waiting for the nourishing warmth of spring.

            Treatment of native populations in both countries is WORSE than shabby but rather than looking at the effects of maltreatment and bench marking them one against the other I think time would be better spent benchmarking the causative maltreatment of the global super rich and their influence and benchmarking them one against the other.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        2. Skippy

          Can’t argue with your point iotpb, nor would I. It has been a feature down here that I personally struggle with when trying to inform anyone I come into contact with, whence the subject is broached, to include close family members.

          Alas the world is full of colonialism’s indigenous social experiments, like how do you take a society that has evolved over 40 thousand years, and in a blink, in the generational eye kill their gods/beliefs/honour/connection to the very ground that from birth they are charged to protect. Relegating them to the lowest level of society, hell create a new lower level just for them and then lambaste them for their obviously self inflected ignorance.

          Skippy…funny you break a plate and then blame *IT* for not conforming to your new design. BTW when in the bush I prefer the company of an accomplished indigenous person than to having a financial strategist at my side.


          I not really here…

          PS. still working on that hot spicy mustard…using native bush ingredients of course…should go great with roo baloney ha.

          1. i on the ball patriot

            Nicely said …

            Love that flick trailer Skippy, looking forward to the mustard, I still want to be Mel…

        3. jael

          Late but two things.

          1) there are no indigenous reservations in Australia; nothing like in the US. This ties to a non-recognition of sovereignty back in the day; but the short answer is: nah, doesn’t exist. it’s either crown land, or land under native title. And you do not need any permit to leave.

          2) you’re only compelled to vote if you’re registered. Most people are registered to vote – city people, anyhow. Many remote indigenous communities don’t register births, let alone register to vote. 6 hours drive from Sydney, you can come across communities with low birth registration.

          So the answer to the “do they make Aborigines vote?” is – the make anyone registered to vote, vote.

  40. LAS

    What’s interesting about your essay is the description of the Aussies breaking down social barriers while at the pub, talking across social groups about what might be best for the country. If it takes mandatory voting to get people to share with one another policy pro and cons across social groups, that’s pretty positive and very much what’s lacking here. Here so many people are closeted into their little realms and don’t see all the ways a policy or politician could affect other people who happen to be in a slightly different situation from themselves (older, younger, richer, poorer, healthier, disabled, etc.). WHAT’S WRONG WITH MORE PUBS AND PUB TIME, FOLKS? Sounds great to me!

    1. LeeAnne

      Please notice that we no longer have a FREE PRESS in the US.The FREE PRESS is referred to as the 4th branch of the US government because, without it, there is no representative government, no free people, no free republic or democracy.

      We have a media owned and run by the corporatocracy; and now, thanks to a totally corrupt Supreme Court, the corportatocracy owns and controls the election process as well.

  41. Hrm

    Different solution: make all official ballots include a “none of the above” option, rather than relying on write-ins.

  42. Mitch

    Excellent idea! Give the thugs in charge another gun to hold up to the heads of all the debt slaves and human livestock and face yet another demand to “Comply or die.”

  43. Jeff65

    As a dual citizen of the US and Australia, I find the most important difference to be instant run off voting. I can vote for the Green Party and not feel like I’m enhancing the chances of those parties furthest from me on the political spectrum. The Greens have been making inroads here in the state of Victoria in recent elections.

  44. Septeus7

    I always vote in the hope my vote will contribute to gridlock and disruption. But I would like to have an option for none of the all i.e. a legally effective no confidence vote.

  45. Bob Watson

    Very Interesting Discussion :
    Its surprising no one wants to discuss the original chosing of the candidate.
    If the public only raise 20% of the money and vested interests 80% ,its a no brainer that the elected person has to follow the 80% money.
    Until the vested interest money /Television advertising is limited to the public contributions ,nothing will happen.
    Compulsory Voting may be of some assistance as well as “None of the above” but at the end of the day ,what has been accomplished?
    As long as the corporate world provides the 80%,what chance does an individual elected member have to support local opinions on policy matters. None as far as I can see…..

  46. soloduff

    Smith’s suggestion is preposterous, and not coincidentally “forgets” to mention the quality of the electoral system that Smith wants to force-feed. I’d go to jail before being forced to participate in the corrupt farce that passes for Democracy, USA. Preposterous II: Presumably Smith would force school kids to vote in student body elections. Preposterous III: Smith sets the lowest standard possible–namely, the politically retarded US citizenry–in order to plump for the Aussies. Smith conveniently “forgets” that the Aussies typically support the imperialism of Uncle Sham, and the corporate globalization pushed by same; while incurring a record of abuse of the Australian aborigines every bit as despicable as that of Uncle Sham toward Native Americans and Africans. Hypothesis: Smith’s sloppy reasoning is a product of Smith’s desperation as to the political degeneration of the USA. What’s next, faith healing?

  47. Bob Watson

    As there are both Canadian and Australian family members
    in my family,I can say I look with some envy at Australias voting ability to have a choice of several candidates and most important the ability to vote the candidates ,in a preference of 1,2,3,4,5 etc.
    Ensuring that my vote always counts to some degree.
    If it didnt elect my first choice,it could have elected my second choice locally.
    A far better system than Canada,s “First past the post”.
    where your vote becomes lost in the shuffle ,if you dont vote for a mainline party,your personal opinion has no impact on the outcome. Now if only 25% of the Federal Seats were by proportional representation with a 6% minimum, we would really have something..

  48. Hanrahan

    The electoral system is not perfect here, but it does seem to work more in the people’s favor.

    On the other hand our mainstream media is dire. Three families; Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax control about 90% of the commercial media with two public broadcasters to, supposedly, counter balance them (ABC and SBS). The Murdoch media made a huge push to get rid of the current Labor government and nearly succeeded. But it backfired hilariously. Our Federal government now consists of a coalition of Labor, Greens and Rural Independents that will probably be well to the left of the previous plain vanilla Labor party. Media ownership regulation and electoral funding reform are high on the new government’s priority list. So somewhere in New York a media mogul is silently screaming.

    As an interesting footnote Murdoch is flying in in a couple of weeks to have a “private chat” with our Prime Minister. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one.

    1. skippy

      Did you see the move by the Packers and Murdoch’s via their kids to buy Channel TEN and install themselvs as board members.

      MARK COLVIN: Fresh from buying a large stake in Channel Ten, James Packer and his friend and former OneTel business partner, Lachlan Murdoch, have been offered positions on the Channel Ten board.

      Mr Packer paid $280 million for an 18 per cent stake in Channel Ten last month. A position on the board would allow Mr Packer to make big changes to Channel Ten. One suggestion is that he would stop showing sport on Ten’s digital channel ONE HD in order to force viewers to take up pay TV subscriptions.

      David Mark reports.

      DAVID MARK: James Packer’s takeover of Channel Ten has moved one step closer. He’s set to take up a position on Ten’s board alongside Lachlan Murdoch.

      Mr Murdoch doesn’t own any Ten shares but he’s been in talks with Mr Packer to buy some of his shareholding.

      ROY MASTERS: Well what is going on is a typical win-win situation for both the Packer and the Murdoch family.


      The OneTel boys ride again!


      Skippy…out to buy total control…full stop.

  49. Hanrahan

    Depressing, isn’t it Skippy.

    Then again it could be an omen. The OneTel boys do have a talent for jumping on to a wave just before it crashes over their heads. (Casinos have for centuries been a license to print money, until the day Jamie Packer decided to start buying them). So maybe it’s a sign that traditional media is on the way out (keeping my fingers crossed).

  50. Norman Evans

    Not only am I opposed to compulsory voting, I am opposed to get-out-the-vote campaigns. I do not want people who have little understanding of the issues or the qualifications of the candidates to be dragged out to vote. Leave the couch potatoes on their couches and leave the voting to those people who care enough about the issues to get to the polls on their own initiatives.

  51. mytwosenseworth

    I can really understand the frustration of the election cycle, as it has become progressively more a matter of outspending one’s opponent to win. Too much negative campaigning by amorphous entities who are barely identified in the subscript of a TV ad. And we never hear a peep from those selected until they need another ballot.

    Frankly, the system doesn’t work. No matter which party is in office, its member politicians must toe the line or risk punishment for their chieftains. So we swap out Democrats / liberals for Republicans / conservatives constantly but don’t get better results. A whole new framework for our Federal Government is needed that isn’t married to a cabal that’s in control at the moment.

  52. Jason

    I’m Australian and I am against compulsory voting for many many reasons, but one is that it is unfair because compulsion favors the type of political party who supports compulsion, by perpetuating the myth that freedom is a gift to its people by government. Where possible the government should take its hands off our right to vote. It’s the people’s opinion we want, not the government’s. If people wish to abstain, then that is exactly the result we need to hear so that the government is the most accurate reflection of the people’s true free will. Compulsion propagates political apathy by reducing freedom – don’t believe Australians are not apathetic because one American met a few affable fellows in a Sydney pub! Government’s can’t and shouldn’t try to force people to be free.

  53. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I am for holding elections more often.

    Imagine a relationship where your lover says to you, every 2 years, let’s have a talk and I will listen to you have to say about our relationship.

    Imagine a customer service rep asking the customers every 2 years, how do you like our service?

  54. RGF

    I lived in Oz for a few years and acknowledge that political discourse in an ordinary pub is as Yves Smith states it. But I suspect the causal effect has little to do with compulsory voting, if anything. It is more the integration of cross sections ( from destitute poet to CEO ). Besides, when I was there I watched HRH Queen Elizabeth II, using her Governor General, sack the PM and dissolve the government.

  55. Ric Fetter

    Only about half the eligible voters go to the polls. And those who do vote understand to some degree that they vote for one of the two wings of the US Capitalist party and that their choices mean little.
    Those who own it run it; those who run it own it. If you think you’ll change a predatory social system by voting for one capitalist politician or another, you understand neither politics nor capitalism.
    Nevertheless, I vote. It takes half an hour every two years. It’s an amusing, informative way to spend thirty minutes. The judges, rarely busy, are interesting to converse with. Most of all, I feel right at home among the other voters excercising their free choice to be patsies and dupes. We knee-jerkily push one button or another — doesn’t really matter which, altthough we’re made to THINK it matters.
    Those who don’t vote save fifteen minutes a year, of course.
    Thus, I’d argue that the ‘uninformed’ citizens are voters, those with the fantasy that voting makes a difference. The ‘informed’ citizins are those who won’t waste their time on an exercise in futility.

  56. Daniel

    Very interesting discussion. One of the best things we have here in Australia is out voting system (that and the weather). The combination of a compulsory visit to the polling station on election day (you don’t have to vote, just say your name and have it crossed off the electoral role), preferential voting (instant run-off), and relative small electorates that are not gerrymanded does create a good environment to keep the population engaged in politics.

    I also think a strong point us having a parliamentary system where the government is elected by members of parliament. To stay as PM you need to keep your party members on side and as KRudd found out if you don’t you will be kicked out. This keeps the government on their toes at all times – a situation like the last few years of Bush II just don’t arise.

  57. Jack Thomsen

    I want clean water and air – so I vote Dem and get gay marriage.

    I want Wall St and Big Banks regulated, taxed, and controlled – so I vote Democratic – and get House bills asking for free education for children of illegal aliens – and the banks and Wall St run wild.

    So I decide to vote GOP – to get smaller government – and get more war on more of Israel’s “enemies” – even as they murder their neighbors children.

    I hold my nose and vote for another GOPer – so that government will control spending – and I get tax breaks for multi nationals who send jobs overseas.

    these are my choices???
    I hate them … hate them … hate them

  58. Jack thomsen

    and another thing —

    Did anyone notice that every time gay marriage is voted on by the electorate – we say NO. A gay judge said yes.. so it’s yes.

    Every time we are asked about illegal immigration .. voters say “throw em out!” – so 2 of the 3 judges on the appeals court are Latinos… and they will decide the legality of Arizona’s prescription for their invasion from the south.

    We simply cannot win… we have allowed ourselves to be taken over by various minorities who are placed where they can manipulate the government to advance their causes… and we – the people – simply don’t matter.

  59. kevin

    Yves, As an Australian the other aspect of Australian democracy is that elections is that they are run and organized by an independent commission, not politicians. And elections are always held on a Saturday, not weekday. A very civilized attitude.

  60. Hal Robert

    Worthless Voting System People and Machines In U.S.A. election

    Well I just went to the National Gard Armory to vote the poll worker’s were helpful and kind.

    But when I went to sign in for the vote my name was not on the roll. I have had the same address for the last 29 years and a registered voter in 1978. After a phone call and a little bit of time we filled out and form that the poll worker gave me and waited my turn to cast my Vote.

    The process with the touch screen went fine up until it was time to review my choices. I was the told to cast my vote I had a choice I could use the touch screen vector button or the hard wired red button on the top of the voting machine. I chose the vector button on the screen this was to finalize all my votes.

    Well when I did this another screen came up it said I did not complete the ballot and if I wanted to go back and complete my ballot to press the red hard wired button on the machine.

    OK I thought I had voted in all the races but I choses to go back and check. So I pressed the Red Hard wired Button All of a sudden the machine sounded out a beeping alarm and the screen went black nothing there.

    Keep in mind when I pressed the red button it does not cast a vote according to the directions on the machine it should have retrieved my ballot.

    When I brought it to the attention of the poll worker he ushered me my vote was cast. I was already mad so I walked out.





    John H. Robert Jr.
    Hal Roberts
    Georgetown S.C.

    It’s 5:30 now and I’m thinking about my options

    This all went down yesterday.11-03-10

  61. Hal Roberts

    I decided to go back to the poll and explain the situation to the poll worker he still would not let me vote

    I called the sun news the last time this happen to me they would even return my call also made a personal call to miss Kelly Birch I found them both to be worthless when it come to reporting the

    Maybe they will be at the count to night I Know I Will

    Hal Roberts

    3rd post

    Just got back from the count at the Health Dept. When I got to the door there were 2 men there that told me they were closed I told them I was there to watch the election count again they told me that they were closed. I them told them that the public had the right to go in and watch the election they shook there head yes and let me in the room .

    I went in and sat down and watch some results. Then I watched someone get up and go to the teller window at the office an somebody came to the window and talked with them when they sat down I decided that maybe they could help me to. So I went up to the window an a man was there he said how can I help you.

    I told him that I got a bad voting machine at the polls and the poll worker would not let me recast my vote. He then told me the polls were closed and if I did not get out of there he would call the Cops and have me arrested .

    My reply was yes some one like you part of the administration can call the cop and me a man who has just got a bad voting machine an been denied the right to vote arrested. But when a man like me calls the cops about someone working illegal labor and steeling money out of our pockets the cops can’t do nothing. ( there something way wrong with that).

    At that time I turned around and went out the door. Outside the door parked on the side of the walk way was a reporter from the local rag,he the reporter was standing outside of his car on the edge of the path way as I walked toward my vehicle I had to go right pass him and as I did I said hey Scott you need to go to Marty’s web site the citizens report and read the post I put up there about a bad voting machine.

    It made him mad he said he was on a important phone call and that I needed to get out of his face and he was going to get me arrested .( by this time I was across the street .It wasn’t like I stopped to talk with him or anything it was a statement in passing and he was standing on the walkway in my path I could not resist)

    He went on to comment that he he was on the phone with someone reporting a Murder that just happened.( thats sad)

    My rebuttal was that people get murdered every day and the state of things in the Country were important to. I then got in my vehicle an drove home.

    I hate here that a murder may have happened but it doesn’t change the fact that bad voting machines are doing gosh knows what to our country and community

    Is our vote worth fighting for? I think so

    Jesus said to speck out against injustice.

    I’m a labor please excuse my spelling
    John H Roberts Jr.

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