tip off

ACT shirks the polls

It appears Canberrans had better things to do than vote for a new government on October 20, reports student journalist Alexandria
Caughey Hutt.

In the ACT election, almost 11 per cent of enrolled citizens failed to vote.  This startling figure has increased since the 2008 election, where 9.6 per cent of constituents chose not to have their say at the polls.  Unfortunately for the ACT, this ranks the territory amongst the worst states when it comes to adhering to Australia’s compulsory voting laws.  Western Australia is slightly worse, with 13.5 per cent of voters not showing up.

Percentage of people enrolled who did not vote at the last state election

ACT Electoral Commissioner, Phil Green, said that a number of factors contributed to the comparably low turn-out rate.  Mr Green said the ACT electoral roll may be out of date due to the highly mobile population, with people who moved over the border forgetting to update their enrolment, which negatively affected turn-out figures.

The nation’s capital is also disadvantaged by a small geographic area, as voters who found themselves away from home on voting day did not have the option to vote at a nearby polling place as their larger-state counterparts would.  Mr Green conceded there could still be an element of anti-self government amongst voters.

“At every election, some informal ballot papers are marked “no self government,” he said.

“I get the impression that this gets less every year, but I suspect that there are still people who decline to participate in ACT elections because they question the validity of self-government.”

Canberra was ‘forced’ into self government when it was imposed by the Federal government in 1989 despite an earlier referendum, which clearly showed Canberra’s opposition to becoming more politically independent.  However, the federal government did not want to hand over all of its power and retained the ability to veto the ACT Legislative Assembly decisions until 2011.

In stark contrast, ACT has one of the best turn-outs for Federal elections; in the 2010 election, both the Canberra and Fraser electorates were below the national average number of no-shows.  Mr Green said this could be attributed to the greater publicity surrounding Federal elections and interstate or overseas ACT voters being better supported by a strong postal voting system.

Federal elections also allow 13 days for the receipt of postal votes after polling day, compared to the five-day period allowed for ACT elections,” ”Mr Green said.

“Federal elections also provide voters with the ability to vote at overseas missions; a facility the ACT does not provide as we do not have the weight of numbers to support this.”

The Electoral Commission released a report in 2008, recommending the penalty for ’vote-evading be increased.   Mr Green said it may not be a deterrent anymore as the $20 fine had not kept pace with inflation, but the recommendation was rejected by the Legislative Assembly.  This penalty is in line with the Federal Electoral Commission, which also fines non-voters $20.

With the percentage of people choosing to vote with their feet increasing every year, the Assembly may need to revisit a penalty increase, or one day nobody may turn up to vote them in at all.

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