Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Elections and food - the Australian system of compulsory eating.

I was just going to reply to Arevanye's comment down there in the comments, but I thought the issue she raised was so horrifying and so serious that it deserved its own entry.

Does anyone remember that ad from back in the 1980s with the catch phrase 'in some countries they don't have advertising'? The ad backfired horribly, because it pretty much made everyone in Australia want to move to those lucky countries, instead of making us realise that advertising meant we could choose nice sofas. At least I think that was what the ad was trying to say anyway.

But Revie's message about sausage sizzle free elections really slugged me with that horrified feeling of 'O no! How the underprivileged Other is suffering. O I do thank my lucky stars that I am Australian and able to scoff a snag on the way home from the voting booth!'.

But then, of course, this morning I caught the bus to work. Action Buses should really get their timetables sorted, because otherwise my brain is going to frizzle (like a sausage at a sizzle). So I started thinking about compulsory voting. Now, I am aware that the people from democracies other than Australia consider compulsory voting to be a little bit, well, undemocratic. They think that citizens should have the political power to choose whether or not they vote as well as who they vote for. Of course, if we got to choose who to vote for really I probably would've voted for Queen Latifah after watching Chicago at the movies, which brings me to the the real nature of Australian compulsory voting. It's really compulsory turning up to the voting booth, having your name crossed off the list, accepting a piece of paper with writing on it and then disposing of the piece of paper thoughtfully in the appropriate cardboard box. They can't make a person actually vote for someone standing in the election. I know for a fact that one of my grandmas had a habit of writing rude comments against all candidates rather than numbering the appropriate boxes. It's called a donkey or informal vote. If 45% of people decide to do this the country explodes and the remaining 55% of people get the day off work (or something like that).

To an Australian the idea of not being compelled to turn up seems odd. How can you be sure that the vote genuinely reflects the desires of the community if a whole bunch of the community members can fulfil their dream of Video Hits instead of fronting up to fill in the appropriate form?

So back to the sausages. I am in two minds. 1. It's only worth holding community fundraising events on election day because absolutely everybody in the area absolutely has to turn up, which creates a decent sized market for your snags, lammos or second-hand books. OR 2. Maybe a sausage sizzle and lamington drive would actually be a top-hole, non-political incentive to get people away from Video Hits on a Saturday morning and into the polling booth? And help the kiddies at the local school at the same time.

I think it's important in either model that no political candidate or party ever benefits directly from the fundraising at the polling booth. No one wants to eat political sausages.


Kimi said...

I'll admit that your compulsory voting continues to shock me every few years (You'd think I'd be used to it by now). I think it's in part because our countries are alike in so many ways that when we're hit with such a fundamental difference it's far more shocking than it would be in a country that we think of as less like us. We do have to enrol here, and voting is made very easy (for instance you can vote anywhere in the country, or even out of it [we voted in Sydney one year], without bringing a note from your mother to say why you're not at home). Enrolling is very easy here, too, compared to some countries.

I've never seen food stalls at election booths here. I have a feeling it would be frowned on, as you're not supposed to "hang around" outside the booths. There's a long-standing tradition of avoiding anything that might smack of trying to influence the outcome on election day. The same philosophy means we don't allow exit polls.

This comment is possibly longer than the original post. Sorry about that.

Penthe said...

Do people hand out how-to-vote cards in NZ? The distance you have to stand from the polling booth varies here, but mostly you are allowed to stand reasonably nearby (say, 30-100 metres) and hang posters and hand out leaflets.

I think a political party having a sausage sizzle to fundraise at the booth on election day would be seriously frowned upon. It's usually the school or community group that the hall belongs to that hold the stalls. Because they are not political and they own the land I guess they are allowed to do whatever they like.

Arevanye said...

I think Americans are missing a huge fundraising opportunity here, unless there's some sort of election law I'm unaware of.

So you don't have the option to "write in" a candidate of your choosing? In our small, local elections, sometimes the write-ins can pull off an upset or at least get their name in the newspaper the next day.

How much are the fines if you don't show up to vote?

Kimi said...

Handing out how-to-vote cards anywhere near a polling booth on election day would be a breach of NZ's electoral law, so the answer is no. :-)

I must say I like your description of the cheerful atmosphere of saussie sizzles and the like. Our nearest polling booth is at a school a two minute walk away, and I'm sure they'd put on a good sizzle.

Penthe said...

Nope, no write-ins, Revie. Amazing to even think of it. Perhaps we need to exercise our imaginations a bit more here.

The fines for failing to turn up are very small, about $50. It makes me think that people only need a small tweak to vote. But we're just used to it being compulsory. We raised up to it, you might say.

I forgot to vote in a council election once, so they sent a fine notice. I wrote back saying, 'sorry I forgot' and the waived the fine. I guess it generally works without actually needing to be enforced?