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If Australia has compulsory voting, why are over 628,000 people missing from the electoral roll?

By Michelle Coxhead - posted Monday, 12 November 2018

An often- stated fact about Australia is that we have compulsory voting. Sure it's thanks to compulsory voting that Australia boasts a voter registration of 96.3% of the eligible voting population. Compared to other countries, this figure sounds impressive, until you consider one rarely stated fact - the 628, 547 voters missing from the electoral roll.

So why are so many people missing from the voting rolls?

  • Some voters have never registered.
  • Non-voters who have fallen off the electoral roll due to homelessness or renting.
  • Some people are registered to vote at state but not federal level.

While the Australian Electoral Commission requires all eligible voters to register and vote- there is no automatic process for updating voter details. And for this reason there is a large hole in Australia's electoral roll. When people move house, or become homeless they often fall off the electoral roll.

Admittedly, there is some provision in the electoral act for allowing people with no fixed address to vote. But you have to ask: How many homeless people ensure they vote while homeless?

Why does Australia have compulsory voting?

Australia is one of a relatively small club of nations that makes voting compulsory. Other countries with compulsory voting are: Brazil, Argentina, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

We made voting compulsory in 1924 after the disastrously low voter turn out in the 1922 election. The vote at this election was so low that the result was called into question.

And although our rate of electoral enrolment and voting is much higher than many other countries, I would argue that Australia doesn't really have compulsory voting, and that what we have is compulsory attendance at the polling booth if you're registered to vote.


Young voters

So let's look at the three groups of people who, due to their circumstances often aren't registered and so, don't vote. First, many young people are still missing from our electoral roll and so don't vote. While some may assume young people are apathetic, they are in fact the opposite.

There's a large cohort of young people are agitated on issues of importance. It's just that many from this age group don't see their concerns reflected in the national debate. Discussion about house prices, negative gearing, and other topics generally caters to an older demographic. Further, when politicians tour electorates they often don't talk to the concerns of young people.

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About the Author

Michelle Coxhead is a Carer, Student, Volunteer and Blogger. She previously worked for the Australian Electoral Commission and the Electoral Commission of NSW as a polling officer.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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