Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Australian vs. American Democracy

We had a fascinating conversation with John Hirst, an eminent historian, and Sally Warhaft, editor of The Monthly, about Australia's system of compulsory voting. Australian elections are held on Saturday and are easy to get to. All eligible voters are required to vote. If they don't, they must either get their excuse approved or pay a fine. This system is very unusual in the world. Belgium is the only other high-income country to have it, and the other countries don't enforce the rule. I have been surprised that we have encountered so little discussion of it, one way or the other. It is just accepted here as the way it is.

We agreed that the United States is not likely to ever adopt such a system. For us, democracy means that each individual has a choice, including the choice not to participate. We were also assured that Australia is not likely to drop their system. For them, democracy means that each individual has a voice, so must have (and use) a place at the table.