Australia remains one of the few modern democracies that still legally requires that all citizens vote at elections.
There are complicated social and political arguments for and against this. These range from fundamental questions about the meaning of democracy, to consideration of the consequences for the humble election sausage sizzle.
What is interesting is the enforcement framework behind these laws.
After an election, the Australia Electoral Commission contacts each person whose name was not marked off on the roll as having voted. Those people are invited to provide a “valid and sufficient reason” for not having voted, or otherwise pay a $20 fine.
If a person does not so satisfy the AEC and does not wish to pay the $20, they can make a court election and have a magistrate consider how the matter should be disposed of. A court could find the person not guilty, find them guilty but dismiss the charge, or find the person guilty, fine the person up to $180 and record a conviction against them.
If the matter does come before the court, it is dealt with in the same way as any other criminal prosecution. The case against an alleged non-voter needs to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. This raises some practical question around whether the prosecuting authorities will be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a person did not actually vote.
The other issue is the frequently repeated statement that “You don’t have to vote – you just need to go and get your name ticked off.”
That is not actually true. The law requires that each person “vote”.
Having said that, there are obvious practical difficulties with proving that a person did not actually vote in the above circumstances, not least of all the secret nature of one’s vote. If, however, a person was to boast on social media that they had not voted in accordance with law, then it may well be possible to successfully prosecute that person for failing to vote.
Whether the authorities have any interest in prosecuting such a person is another matter entirely.