Matthew Reddin

Hello America, From Australia: You’re Doing Voting Wrong

(Australian federal election, 2016: voting booths; Creative Commons 3.0)

Matthew Reddin highlights how America does voting wrong and lists the ways that Australia does voting right. America needs to follow Australia’s example.

 

On a holiday to beautiful Maui in 2014, I struck up a conversation with a man from your Midwest. Lovely guy named Tom, who carried pictures on his phone of his gun. His wife’s gun too—hers was pink, for she was a lady.

Tom and I are of different ideological stripes. Tom was/is conservative; a man of deep Red State America who had little love for your nation’s then-president, and who would probably have had much to say in favor of his successor. I am … not like that. Here on the political left, I often laugh heartily at what American conservatives call “socialist” (Bernie? AOC? Sure, essentially. Obama? Hillary? Pffft. Hardly.)

Being that I was in your country at the time, it wasn’t for me to say what you folks were doing wrong about anything. But I did ask Tom some questions about the gun thing. For we, as a nation, simply don’t get it. With America having successfully tamed the frontier for some time now, the enshrined “God-given right” to bear arms is, to those outside of the US, weird.

A 1996 mass shooting event in Tasmania saw our own (staunchly conservative) government ban all semi-automatic weapons in Australia; we’ve not had a mass shooting event of such scale since then. Gun ownership isn’t really a thing here, and we don’t feel oppressed as a result—we can do close to everything you can, but we aren’t burdened with the fear of being shot while at school, church, the cinema, the shopping mall, at work, a concert, or at a nightclub. Anywhere, for that matter.

Anyhow, Tom was a decent fellow and, despite our differences, we got along, and I enjoyed his company.

Now that I’m no longer at the tiki bar in Maui, I can look upon your state of politics and offer a few tips about how you’re doing it wrong.

A lot has been covered in the US media about how Republican state legislatures are doing all they can to make it harder for marginalized (mostly Democrat-voting) communities to vote. The fewer voters come out to play, the better a chance the Republican candidates have to win. It’s an odd set of circumstances that one of the world’s leading democracies would try to make it harder for people to vote. We tend not to do that here.

 

Australia is the only western democracy on earth to make voting mandatory, lest you are financially penalized.

 

Australia is the only western democracy on earth to make voting mandatory, lest you are financially penalized. Strictly speaking, voting itself isn’t mandatory—showing up at the polls is. You can draw pictures of kittens on your ballot if you like, you just show up and get your named checked off the electoral roll, then buy some BBQd sausages or cupcakes and get on with your day. Which would probably involve your kids playing sport, or you shopping for groceries … because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.

Australia’s six states and two territories have state-based non-partisan electoral commissions overseeing the ballots, and a federal equivalent for the national elections (held every three years, though sometimes sooner, depending on the whims of the government of the day). There are no rules from one state or district to the next, determining how votes are counted, or at what times, or the shape of each electoral district. The Australian Electoral Commission oversees voting, dictates the rules as to how elections are held, votes are counted, and determines the winners. There’s one rule for the entire nation.

So, this strange recount taking place in Arizona comes across as nothing short of baffling, as is how there was a sharp spike in election night votes for Biden in several states that were trending towards Trump. That wouldn’t happen here. No state legislature can dictate that mail-in ballots are counted only after in-person ballots were 100% done, because aside from it being impractical, it’s palpably nonsensical.

Those looking at the late-night spike of Biden votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania as some sort of proof of there being mass fraud, tended not to notice that these were from mail-in ballots from Democrat-leaning districts, and that not all the votes were for the Democrat … the late-night counting determined by the rules set by the Republican state legislatures. Had they just counted all the ballots at the same time it wouldn’t have been an issue. But that tends to not make as many headlines or likes & retweets, or the grounds for running an attempted coup.

Here, voting is done by hand, with a pencil. In a federal election, you vote for the federal candidates, and that’s it. No DAs, governors’ races, or votes for dog catchers. We have no ballot initiatives; everything of that nature is parceled into policy. We have no electronic voting machines; we have demountable cardboard voting booths. Voting closes at 6:00 p.m. and votes are counted by hand. This is time consuming, but accurate. Seldom is it so close that recounts are ordered, and there’s one rule about these governing all elections in all seats, all over the country.

Voting will continue to be mandatory here, done on a Saturday, and counted by apolitical bureaucrats. It’s not as high profile and newsy as an American presidential race, but as far as bicameral Westminster-inspired democracies go, I’ll take mine over yours in a heartbeat.

 

Matthew Reddin

Matt Reddin has been writing nonsense about film, TV, books, music, and live theatre for a touch over 20 years. He’s gone from the halcyon days of street press in Perth, to regional dailies, national magazines, and major metropolitan newspapers. Now, in between bouts of sporadically yelling at clouds, he vents his creative spleen at www.lessercolumn.com.au

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