At some point in the five gruelling days of the recent US elections, a friend turned to me and said: “We’re so lucky to be able to vote in Australia.”
She might have been right. The last time I voted in the Australian federal elections, the entire process of me waiting in line to have my identity verified before casting my vote took precisely 15 minutes.
I even had time to enjoy a cupcake and chat to a fellow voter as I waited for my next appointment. The Australian electoral system works. Even Former US President Barack Obama is a fan. Here are four things we can learn it:
Mandatory voting ensures that everyone over the age of 18 has the power to exercise their most fundamental right to vote. In fact, approximately 96% of Australians are registered to vote.
All voters can cast their ballots by mail prior to the election, and all states allow for 13 days for ballots to be received if posted on polling day.
Those who have no affinity towards a particular political party or representative can simply leave the voting ballot blank, write “None of the above”, or else get more creative. Anything, so long as they turn in the ballot. Every voice matters, and a lot is said even when the box is left unticked.
Am I at the voting bank or a carnival?
In order to ensure that voting is made as convenient as possible, Australia typically holds its election day on a Saturday, when most people are off.
Typically, Australians vote at local public schools, which almost has a carnival-like atmosphere. An Election Day standard is a barbecue with sausages sizzling and cake stalls featuring all the Aussie favourites. You can grab a treat by providing a gold coin donation ($1 or $2) which typically goes towards local public schools or charities.
As a result, Australia enjoys voter turnout rates of over 91% — the highest in the world.
Voting is as easy as 1, 2, 3
Australian ballots are also a little different to that of the United States.
If no-one wins a majority of the votes cast, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and their supporters’ votes are redistributed according to these voters’ second choices. This process of eliminating candidates and redistributing those candidates’ supporters continues until one candidate has a majority.
As a practical example, a left-wing voter, could have cast a ballot for a Greens candidate (left wing party) in 2007, and still been able to play a role in electing the Labor candidate (centre-left party), by means of a second preference vote. Ultimately the vote is for the policy/ideology and less the political party.
Preferential voting makes it less likely that a candidate can split the vote on one side, thereby delivering victory to the other side.
Independent and impartial electoral commission
Unlike the United States, where a Republican or Democrat office holder influences electoral roll and voting booth locations, the entire electoral process in Australia is undertaken by an impartial Australian Electoral Commission.
The Australian Electoral Commission is an independent national body that maintains an impartial and independent electoral system for eligible voters through active electoral roll management, efficient delivery of polling services and targeted education and public awareness programmes.
The AEC also has a critical role in mitigating gerrymandering and its effect on competitive elections and democratic accountability, by determining electoral boundaries for federal, state and local jurisdictions.
It’s well respected for being neutral, with a good track record of keeping politics out of the redistricting process.
Australia is not the oldest democracy in the world, it makes democracy work, and fun, at the same time.