A proud line of one #vicvotes
Voting is compulsory in Australia, a glorious democratic innovation if ever there was one. If you ask me, compulsory voting itself should be compulsory. Given that we compel people to wear seatbelts and happily fine them for parking a car a minute too long on a public street, it doesn’t seem in the least bit unreasonable to require citizens in a democracy to at least show up.
The civil liberties objections to compulsory voting, which I rarely hear in Australia, are actually a right-wing ruse. Truthfully, conservatives don’t like it because it delivers millions of votes to progressive and left parties at their expense. The powerless are far more likely to opt against voting than those that are full of it; and the Right secretly think this represents a legitimate expression of social Darwinism.
Because of compulsory voting, political parties don’t really have anything especially useful to do on election day itself — a quandary since this is the best day (by far) to recruit campaign volunteers. (Because everyone votes anyway, if only to avoid a fine, there is no need for elaborate get-out-the-vote efforts in the style of NZ or the US.)
In Australia, volunteers have plenty to do on days like this, but it is typically very low-octane work for such a highly-charged moment. Most activity is restricted to wordlessly distributing how-to-vote a few steps short of the polling station. It is important to do this because preferential voting would be tricky without it, but it is soul-destroying work. Not only is it dull — each hour handing out feels like a week in non-handing-out time — it is infuriating for a nervous hack like me. I cannot help but take each rejection personally — the pompous Lib, the smug Green, the haughty anarchist. Two in a row of such rebuffs are enough to convince me that Labor is set for electoral catastrophe. A couple of encouraging winks will lead to equally irrational bursts of optimism. These micro-moods swing back and forth, as if experiencing a lifetime’s worth of manic depression in 20 minutes. If my face could betray my feelings, it would be stuck on a cycling loop of bawling and giggling like an over-tired toddler.
And over-tired is right. Fulfilling my other duty as a volunteer, I was up at 4am this morning so as to “deck out” an outer-suburban polling booth in Labor bunting before the Liberals could chopper in. In more marginal electorates, this battle of the bunting requires volunteers to plaster the booth the previous night and stand guard lest marauding opponents tear it down while they sleep. In my case, I got there well in time — the two young Libs didn’t show until 7am (sidebar: is every young Lib male tall, thin and screamingly homosexual?).
There was a small altercation when I noticed a Liberal Party sign on a prime space that an official electoral commission banner had prevented me from filling hours earlier.
“Oy, Sebastian!” I called out from 50 yards away, under cover from the rain, “what do you think you’re doing?”
“The VEC guy said they don’t need the space anymore,” Sebastian lisped at me.
“Well, I don’t know how many elections you’ve done,” I barked at him, noticing how easily intimidated he seemed, “but I’ve done plenty and…” searching for a butch enough phrase…”fair’s fair!”
Remarkably, this was all it took.
“OK,” he said, “we’ll take it down if you guys agree not to put anything there either.”
Revved up for a showdown, I was a bit let down at this point.
“Sure,” I said, close enough by now to know for sure that we wasn’t my type.
Uneasy peace took hold and, minutes later, the first voter turned up; a Vietnamese woman, perhaps in her fifties. She was twenty minutes early, and marched right past the Libs with her hand outstretched.
“Labor?” She asked me.
“Good, I’ll take this one,” she beamed, forming a proud line of one.