Ward  Head shoot opening day # 4Representative Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai – Kalama Valley) introduced legislation to increase voter turnout in the state of Hawaii, which in the last election was the lowest in the nation.

“We’ve slipped to such a low-level of voter turn-out that only about 32% of eligible voters determine who our leaders will be. It may just be time to go “down under” for some lessons from Australia where you are fined for not voting; in my bill it will cost you $100 to skip your vote on election day,“ Ward explained.

Voting has been compulsory in Australia since 1912 and appears to have reached about 94% voter turn-out in most elections. For Americans the Australian model has been rather controversial; major arguments for and against compulsory voting are:

ADVANTAGES OF MANDATORY VOTING:

  • Voting is a civic duty comparable to other mandatory duties citizens performed by citizens e.g. taxation, compulsory education, jury duty, the military draft, etc.
  • Compulsory voting teaches the benefits of political participation
  • Elected officials may more accurately the “will of the electorate” (than minority controlled democracies)
  • With mail-in voting becoming increasingly popular, mandatory voting becomes easier
  • Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voter registration and voter turn-out at the polls
  • The voter isn’t actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot.

DISADVANTAGES OF MANDATORY VOTING:

  • It is undemocratic to force people to vote – an infringement of liberty
  • The ill-informed and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls and may elect the ‘wrong people.’
  • It may increase the number of informal votes
  • It may increase the number of safe seats for incumbents with low-information voters
  • Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have “valid and sufficient” reasons.

In Ward’s proposed legislation, people who fail to vote are given the opportunity to be excused from voting and not be fined $100 for not voting.

“My intent is to get Hawaii back into the voting booth and is the primary reason I’m taking this Australian model into our legislature for discussion,” Ward concluded.

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Michele Van Hessen is a local videographer and news reporter who has worked for the House Minority at the Hawaii State Legislature. Reach her at mvanhess@gmail.com