Cultural Politics: Give me votes or give me freedom

Here is a thought provoking blog post from my friend, Heidi:

Last night on Twitter, we had a worldwide discussion about voting and the differences in voting practices among countries.

I was really surprised to learn that Australia has compulsory voting. If they don’t show up at the polls, they are fined $100 each!

People wondered why I would raise strong personal objection to this …. and so we’re kicking off a world-wide round-robin blog discussion. Everyone is cutting and pasting each blog entry onto their blog, and then replying with their own thoughts. I volunteered to go first. 😀


Why wouldn’t compulsory voting work in the United States?


As much as voting is a right of an American citizen, having the choice NOT to vote is equally important.

We’re taught from as far back as we can remember that in our country, we’re allowed to make our own decisions.

We can say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Or we can burn the American flag and tromp on it and spit on it.

We can volunteer to serve in the armed forces.

Or we can protest our involvement in a war and curse servicemen.

We can throw our weight of support behind government leaders.

Or we can voice negative opinions about them without fear of retribution.

It doesn’t matter, either way.

Everything is fair game.

That also applies to voting.

Voting is a fundamental right.

And choosing not to vote is also a fundamental right.

To force people to go the polls takes away from the original intent of the founding fathers — that each person has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You can red the rest here and I encourage you to do so.

It’s now my turn in the round robin discussion!

Compulsory voting is neither inherently wrong or right.

Should compulsory voting be introduced in the US? No
Should compulsory voting be taken away in Australia? No

Have I lost some of my freedom because I have compulsory voting? A loud, resounding NO

Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia in 1924 over concerns of low voter turnout. We gripe about the inconvenience of having to take 15 min out our day very 4 years to tick our name off a list. However, it’s on the same level as griping about having to do the laundry or grocery shopping that week. It’s never a question of our freedoms being taken away. Australians are free. I am free.

The arguments in favour of compulsory voting are:
– Voting is a civic duty similar to other duties e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty
– Election results more accurately reflect the “will of the electorate”
– Governments must consider the total population in policy formulation and management
– Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll

Arguments against compulsory voting:
– It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
– Resources are used to determine whether those who failed to vote have “valid and sufficient” reasons.

To me the 2nd of the two arguments against is the most powerful as it is always good to question whether the benefit outweighs the extra “bureaucracy” involved in the enforcement or implementation.

It appears that there is a fundamental difference between how freedom is viewed or defined between Australia and USA. To me, it appears that freedom in the US is being able to do what you want, all the time (or close to it). And to be honest, it seems like there is a very real fear that one’s freedom can be taken away.

In Australia, freedom is that while we live in a collective society with responsibilities and obligations for the good of many, freedom to exercise our basic human rights is freedom.

Taking 15 min out of my day is not an interference of my liberty but an inconvenience to my day at worst. I can still choose not to vote (by either ticking my name off and walking out again or choosing to pay the fine), choose who i want to vote for, burn the Australian flag, not serve in the armed forces, and speak out against the government.

One thing is sure, who runs our countries is important and Australians and Americans are privileged to be able to decide who does it.

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20 Responses to Cultural Politics: Give me votes or give me freedom

  1. Servetus says:

    Shades of Montesquieu, who also argued that the “right government” is a matter of context. However, not all Americans would say that freedom = the right to do what you want whenever you want, and not all of us are afraid the government exists to take our rights away. (I certainly don’t.)

    • Yes, I found it a lot easier to define a typical (not universal) Australian definition and not completely happy with what I’ve come up with for the US (not surprising really). I think the concept of freedom touches more aspects of life in the US than Australia??

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Servetus says:

        I’ve never lived in Australia, so I can’t say. 🙂 The political mood in the U.S. is odd right now because of the election and causes people to say all kinds of things in much more extreme terms than they might if they were thinking for a bit; and the media tend to suggest that the prevailing mood is one of libertarianism, which I don’t think it is (even if libertarians tend to be very vocal on the web).

  2. Servetus says:

    oh, and freedom = freedom to exercise the rights you have — that’s basically Rousseau. 🙂

  3. Servetus says:

    I probably should say, I’m basically a Rousseauvian — for me freedom = the capacity to live according to the laws I have made. (Which includes moments when they happen to inconvenience me, or points at which the law that is made is something that I despise — I live here, I consent to the system by my presence and the fact that I am the beneficiary of the government we have in so many ways.) In that sense, you are only unfree if you are not allowed to participate in making the laws. In that sense, the non-voter is the epitome of the unfree person, because he voluntarily sacrifices all his capacity to help make law. That squares basically with your definition. But I don’t think it’s so unusual in the U.S. to believe that we have social responsibilities and collective obligations to each other. What’s contested, I suppose, is whether government should be the mechanism for fulfilling them.

  4. Katie, this was so fun! Thanks for doing the counter point. I’m waiting to see whether Kristi or Meri or Fran is picking up the roundrobin torch next. 😀 Really cool post, and it was cool hearing the Australian perspective and history on this.

  5. Sus says:

    I liked it very much; guess what’s in the center of this discussion is link to the comprehension of freedom as an exercise of educated and socially aware people. The conscience of being part of a community and seeking the good of it above all. It involves clearly a social group willing to put the other before oneself. This is what I’ve understand from both posts Heidi’s and Australian; you’re lucky that the majority of people in you’re society thinks this way, while there are countries in which this is the core for the failure of the democratic system and the freedom to choose our government compulsory or not. If it lacks the sense of community it’s a false freedom.

  6. Lisa says:

    Katie, you are right about the fear of freedoms being taken away that many American possess. For the most part, it’s a healthy fear, and one that has been with us since our founding. The Bill of Rights came into existence due to that fear and based on the forefathers’ very real experiences with government overstepping itself.

    As for compulsory voting, I agree the context of government, i.e., the collective psyche of a people, matters. Compulsory voting wouldn’t work here, and especially not when I consider that showing id at our polls is now considered discrimination. 😉

    • Hi Lisa
      It makes perfect sense, particularly when you look at the history. I’m glad you agree though because it’s really just an impression I get more than anything else.
      Interestingly, we don’t have to give our ID when voting, just a name!

  7. Lisa says:

    The discrimination is supposedly against people who cannot obtain an id due to finances or logistics.

    • triski says:

      And see, an ID is needed for most things anyway. Even if one doesn’t have a driver’s license, more than likely one has a state id. Looks the same, just said ID instead of DL. And if they need that for some things, then I think the “argument” is flawed.

    • Aah, I see. Although if the issue is finances surely the real and larger problem is that there are ppl in society who can’t afford such a basic necessity (as Triski pointed out).

      Either way, unless there’s a real and compelling need for it I think it’s always worth questioning whether the bureaucracy is warranted, IMO.

      • The ID issue, in my opinion, is an orchestrated attempt by one political party to shut down the votes on the other. But this post isn’t supposed to be about a fight between the GOP and the Democrats … it’s supposed to be about voting, period.

        That said, the ID issue alone raises my ire and blood pressure. It’s an outright attack against the rights of poor people to vote.

        *Heidi puts a clamp on her tongue and slams her fingers in the car door to prevent herself from saying or typing one more word, or else this is going to get ugly in 0 to 60*

  8. Pingback: To Vote or Not to Vote | diaryofacurlyhairedgirl

  9. Pingback: I cast my first US vote « DistRActed musings of one ReAlity

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