To say the 2013 Federal Election has left some people less then enthused would be an understatement. So unenthused are many that all I seem to be hearing from friends and acquaintances lately when it comes to voting is: ‘Do I HAVE to?’.
For many, the choice between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is so dissatisfying that the only motivation to head to the polling booth this Saturday is monetary. Compulsory voting in Australia means that failure to vote can attract a fine of up to $170. Therefore frugal and budget conscious apathetic individuals tend to attend their local polling station to get their name marked off the electoral roll and then submit a blank or partially completed ballot.
Officially these votes are known as informal votes. Australia Electoral Commission (AEC) data shows that in the 2010 election 5.5 percent of the votes for the House of Representatives Australia wide were declared informal and not included in the final tally. It is important to note that all of these individuals may not have intended to cast an informal vote. Some may have accidentally incorrectly completed their ballot. However it was still the highest level of informal voting recorded since 1984. Unfortunately I have a feeling the dispirited election campaign we have witnessed this year will only lead to a higher percentage of informal votes this year.
Informal votes are only a small part of the picture when it comes to voter engagement. In the 2010 election more then 3 million of eligible Australians did not vote. 1.5 million of these were not enrolled and nearly a million were enrolled but did not vote. That is 20 percent of eligible voters.
This decision by many to exclude themselves from the political process by many Australians is often driven by a lack of engagement and a belief that an individual cannot make a difference. When you consider that there was a difference of just over 30,000 votes in the 2010 election importance of voting becomes more apparent. Every vote counts. Literally.
The AEC has identified informal voting as a major issue in western Sydney, particularly among young people and the indigenous community. According to the AEC quarter of young voters between 18-24 failed to enrol to vote in time for Election Day and will not be able to vote this Saturday. It is estimated that half the Australian indigenous population is not enrolled to vote and that only half of those enrolled to vote will show up on Election Day.
It is somewhat ironic that informal voting is such a problem in western Sydney. Western Sydney is a key battleground in this election. In fact you would be forgiven for thinking that only people voting the election are those in western Sydney. Both major parties are constantly jockeying for positioning in Sydney’s west and trumpeting their working class credentials. Julia Gillard even famously ran the country from western Sydney last year. Such is the electoral importance of the area. Yet the top 10 seats with the highest percentage of informal votes in the last federal election were all in Sydney’s west.
The problem is that political engagement in western Sydney often comes across as artificial. It leaves the election feeling more like a circus act then the great contest of ideas it should be. A circus that whirls into town every three years and then pulls a disappearing act without any genuine engagement with the issues that matter to people.
I understand the inertia. I am a political nerd- a person known to stream ABC24 when on holidays. Yet lately, so uninspired by an election campaign in which both major parties have converged on so many issues and in which sound bites matter more then substance, I have found myself contemplating what a delight it would be to not have to vote. Wishing I lived in America where my right to apathy would be just as protected as my right to vote.
But then I think of this woman- a woman who can only be described as a baller- who at 100 years of age waited hours in line, braved bomb blasts, violence and intimidation to cast her vote in the Pakistani elections earlier this year and I realise that it’s never ok not to care.
Not motivated to vote? Channel this woman. (Image Courtesy: Twitter)
We all have a responsibility to vote. Whether it is to keep the worst party out or to send a message about our dissatisfaction with the status quo.
So go on.
Be a baller.
Get out and vote.