The outcome of the US presidential election provides a
convincing argument for the benefits of compulsory voting. Because
voting is not compulsory in America, Donald Trump will be president
of the United States, even though just one in four Americans voted
Millions of Americans fail to vote in presidential
Despite the enormous consequences of electing a man who
displayed such obnoxious behaviour to the most powerful office in
the world, only 57 per cent of eligible voters bothered voting in
the US election. This is well below the 61.6 per cent turnout that
saw Barack Obama elected in 2008. Ninety-five million Americans
I have travelled extensively in the United States and seen what
happens to people who don't vote. Basically, if you don't
vote, you don't count. If you don't vote politicians can,
and do, ignore you. I saw whole tracts of America struggling in
poverty, left behind by the growing economy. It hit the less
educated, socially disadvantaged parts of the community, and they
were the largest proportion of Americans who didn't vote.
Voters swayed by Trump's claim to be
Interestingly, Trump won this election when many angry
non-voters suddenly turned out and voted. They voted against the
powers in Washington that had ignored them for far too long. Trump
promoted himself as being "anti-establishment" and many
disenchanted Americans hoped that he would shake up Washington.
Many Democrats, especially young supporters of Bernie Sanders,
didn't vote and Hillary Clinton lost crucial states, although
across the nation two million more people voted for her than for
Trump. Whether Trump does help those who voted for him is another
matter, but it shows what happens when people use the ballot box to
I very much doubt that Trump would have won if America had
compulsory voting like we do in Australia. If every American had
been obliged to vote, the result would have more accurately
reflected who the country really wanted as president.
How did Australia come to have compulsory voting?
Fortunately, the compulsory voting regime we have in Australia
saw 91 per cent vote in the last election. We owe this state of
affairs to someone most people have never heard of. He was a
senator from Tasmania, Herbert Payne, who introduced a private
member's bill for compulsory voting in 1924.
Payne was shocked that just 59 per cent of Australians voted in
the 1922 election. He said parliamentarians had to represent all
Australians, not just those who voted for them. He felt voting was
both a right and a duty for every citizen.
Indigenous Australians and the right to vote
Unfortunately, the segment of the population that was overlooked
in these reforms was Indigenous Australians, who did not acquire
the right to vote in federal elections until 1962, when the Menzies
government amended the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
Today, because everyone has to vote, Australian politicians
can't afford to ignore the needs of the disadvantaged. It means
a fairer society and avoids the anger and frustration that saw
In 2024 we should be unveiling statues of Senator Herbert Payne
around the country to honour the centenary of his contribution to
democracy and a fairer nation.
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