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Australian Rules Democracy

March 30, 2014 - Joselyn King
In Australian Rules football, 18 members on each team take the field, wear shorts, and seek to kick a ball through posts at the end of the field for a goal.

The goal of Australian rules democracy, meanwhile, is to have every eligible person in the country vote in elections -- and then fine them $20 unless they can produce a reason why they can't vote.

The Australian Electroral Commission says it is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to "enroll" (register to vote) and vote in federal elections. Those not voting get a letter from the AEC, and if the non-voting resident doesn't respond with a reason for non-voting or pay the $20 fine the matter gets turned over to court. The non-voters then can face a $170 court fine, plus court costs and a record of a criminal conviction.

Sounds like a way for a country to combat low voter turnout rates, but you also have to wonder if one's failure to vote isn't their own way of expressing their freedom of speech -- as sad as that might be. You also wonder how responsible and knowledgeable a forced voter is, and if they can be trusted to make an informed decision.

In Ohio -- where voters must show identification at the polls -- Democrats have been critical of Republican efforts to make it more difficult to vote. Among other changes, voting in-person absentee voting at boards of election offices will no longer will take place the Sunday before an election. In addition, a new state law prohibits boards of election from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in a county.

Voting statistics in Ohio show it is typically voters registered as Democrats living in inner-cities who typically vote absentee late in the days leading up to an election.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, the current county administrator for Cuyahoga County, has introduced to County Council his "Cuyahoga County Voting Rights Law." His measure basically says the county will -- despite state law -- "continue to promote voter participation" and mail out absentee voting applications to all registered voters with postage-prepaid return envelopes.

Speaking with editors and reporters for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register recently, FitzGerald agreed there are additional costs to counties that promote absentee voting, but that he thought it was a worthy expenditure that keeps voting lines shorter on Election Day. He disagreed the matter had anything to do with "party politics," and made it easier for voters of all parties to participate in the election process.

You wonder if those seeking more voter participation and less hindrance to voting would favor Australian rules democracy, and fine those not going to the polls?

My guess is not, and that it would be awfully hard to collect those voting fines.


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