This is a guest post by Philip Lillingstone.
You can find more information on this subject on his website, www.compulsoryvoting.org, but no further pictures of Paris Hilton.
Of all the reasons given to us why Australia (and the exceedingly few other countries that have compulsory voting) should retain it, I think the most spurious one is the one that informs us we ‘have a duty to vote’.
In times past when Australia was at war, women with white feathers might approach able bodied men on the street who were not in uniform, to suggest to them that they should heed a call of duty to their country. We are supposed to believe today is that each citizen similarly has a patriotic duty to his fatherland/motherland to do his ‘bit’ by making that great sacrifice and proceeding to the ballot box.
The fallacy of this argument I believe, is that of semantics. It would hardly be a stretch to define duty as an obligation to undertake a tangible service. We may be happy to perform our various duties but that does not belie the fact that the very nature of a duty is to do something primarily defined as that which the receiving party views as having value. Whether it be to give someone comfort in times of distress, to pay monies to the national revenue or take up arms in times of war. We may joke with our friends by declaring that the reason we are helping ourselves to the hot chips on their plates is because of our duty to test their food for poison, but in reality, an act done for self indulgence that can in no way benefit anyone else, can simply never be described as a duty.
In a contemporary Victorian court case, Shire of Beechworth v A.G.  VR, the court held that the policy decisions of the Attorney-General, because of their democratic nature, cannot be subject to administrative review. In other words political decisions, those that reflect the constituency the parliamentarian represents, cannot be right or wrong, moral or immoral. This is hardly news. When we go into the ballot box to vote, we should not be constrained by mandated criteria defining what is right or wrong. Our vote should be completely at our discretion, influenced only by whatever criterion we should so choose.
This cannot be compared to that of voting in a jury. At the end of a trial the judge will often thank the jury for its efforts. There is reason for this: members of the jury are directed to make the right decision according to law, after careful deliberation of the facts and arguments. The judge cautions them not to allow personal feelings to influence their decision, but only to come to what they believe is the right and just result by deliberating over everything they have learned in court, no matter how long it takes. To best achieve justice, potential jury members may even be denied the opportunity to serve if they are deemed not suitable.
For an upcoming election however, voters are not warned against letting personal feelings sway their decision, forced to sit through hours of political party promotional material, or prevented from voting if they have personal ties with any candidate: a cornerstone of democracy is that no potential voter can be denied the right to vote. This is because voting is not so much about making ‘right’ decisions as about making decisions that personally reflect the beliefs and values of the individual voter. It is merely about what the voter wants.
A voter therefore does not have to justify his or her vote to anyone. Thus if it is discretionary and without justification, how can one person’s want be a value to anyone else, especially the whole country?
Ironically, for the sake of keeping somebody’s cholesterol count down, stealing chips off a plate might actually be performing more of a duty to your fellow citizens than voting.