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Enrolling To Vote Should Be Compulsory By Age 18

RiotACT is covering [1] a press release from ACT Minister for Youth Katy Gallagher urging young people to enrol to vote [2]. Whilst I agree with RiotACT that the embargo on the press release it a bit suspicious, I think they have completely missed the point of the press release.

For once I think Ms. Gallagher is actually making sense, she is reminding people that the federal government changed the law in December so that electoral enrolments close on the day the writs are issued for an election, rather than having a seven day “grace period” as used to be the case. Katy seems to be concerned that the people who are covered by her “Minister for Youth” portfolio are going to miss out on voting because they might not already be enrolled, and as an election could be called at any time, it is prudent to enrol as soon as possible.

RiotACT are right that the electoral law changed in December, but are wrong when they claim Katy should have made this announcement back then. December is hardly a month where the majority of the population will take notice of a minister babbling about what we should be doing, and on the off chance that somebody does take notice, they will probably forget in the lead-up to Christmas anyway. January is a much better month for such an announcement, and Katy has waited until after most people are back in sensible mode following the Christmas/New Year festivities.

Whilst I think Katy is making an honourable effort to remind people of their democratic rights and responsibilities with this press release, I am baffled that we need the reminder at all.

The Australian Electoral Commission allow people to enrol on the electoral roll when they are 17 years old. Whilst you can’t vote until you are 18, enrolling at 17 means you can’t miss out on your legal obligation to at least turn up at a polling place. ACT Secondary Colleges encourage people to enrol to vote at 17, they even hand out the enrolment forms, so I can only assume that the AEC runs similar programs with educational institutions in other states and territories.

I enrolled at 17, even before Dickson College tried to remind me to do so, I enrolled under my own volition, and whilst I was unable to vote in the 2004 federal or ACT elections, I keenly observed it all. I don’t expect everyone to take as much interest in the democratic process as I did at that age, but surely it isn’t too much to ask for people to enrol to vote.

It is a legal obligation to get your name ticked off at a polling place, and from memory it is also a legal obligation to be enrolled to vote, so why is it that enrolling is voluntary until the electoral roll closes? In my opinion it should be compulsory to enrol by the time you turn 18, and failure to do so should result in a growing fine for each day you are late, $10 for the first day, $20 for the second, $30 for the third etc.

There would have to be exceptions in place for people with a good (most likely severe medical) reason for not enrolling, but in general, this stage of the democratic process should be better enforced with better legislation.

I still can’t understand how people forget to enrol under the current system, it’s not as if you have to actually cast a valid vote, but people do forget, most likely due to apathy, and so I think it is about time that we got serious about the enrolment process, and simplified the only remaining ambiguous part of the electoral process, by making it a legal obligation to be enrolled by the time a person turns 18 years old.

Samuel