Padraic P. McGuinness, column titled “McGuinness”, The Weekend Australian, March 17-18, 1990, p. 2.

I am thinking of voting informal next Saturday. Indeed, I am thinking of not voting at all.

This is not because I am disillusioned with the major parties, nor because it does not matter that the democratic right to vote should be exercised.

But I am getting tired of the way in which the right to vote has become more than a right, but a requirement, and the fact that the Parliament through the Electoral Act has presumed to tell me not only that I must vote, but also that I must vote in a particular manner.

Moreover, I am prohibited from advising people how to vote informal, or in a way which avoids the necessity to give preferences to parties or candidates whom they disapprove of.

This is the current state of our electoral law. An anarchist candidate in Victoria has been actively threatened by the authorities for proposing to recommend that people who sympathise with his positions should not vote, or should vote informal.

Indeed, he has been told that if he shows people how to vote informal he can be subjected to a fine or a prison sentence.

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of the donkey vote in elections. This is not the vote for the Democrats or the greens (not always, anyway) but the way in which many people forced to the polls under threat of a fine or other harassment simply number the boxes down the ballot paper, starting at the top and then voting 1, 2, 3 etc.

The top spot on a simple ballot paper is always worth a lot of votes of this kind. It is clear that these people have no especial interest in exercising their democratic right of choice.

Why should they be forced to? It seems that the compulsory vote is the result of politicians who felt slighted by the fact that, once upon a time, a lot of people stayed in the pub instead of going to vote.

The social workers do not like it when ordinary people simply want to be left alone — they have to be forced to participate. If there are any fundamental political and human rights, surely the right to be left alone to mind your own business is one of them.

(The great philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once wrote that all the problems of the world derived from a man’s inability to stay at home and mind his own business.)

And surely the right to advise people how to vote informal, to vote for a single candidate of their own choice, or not vote at all, ought to be pretty basic. But not according to our electoral laws.

There are lots of things you can do with a ballot paper once you have had your name ruled off the electoral rolls. One of them is simply to tear it up. Another is to scribble insulting remarks about politicians and politics on it.

Another is to cross out all the names, and vote simply or preferentially for Mickey Mouse, Batman, or Blinky Bill according to your own taste.

Another is to vote 1 for a single candidate you happen to like, and number every other box 2 so that your preferences will not be able to be distributed — but, according to the existing law, your first preference will be valid.

Another is simply to put an x in every square. Another might be to do nothing whatsoever to the paper, but fold it and put it in the ballot box — but blank ballot papers are very tempting to some scrutineers.

In the case of the elections for the ACT Legislative Assembly, voters were presented with a metre-wide paper (or it might have been a yard wide, but for years we were not even allowed by law to use non-metric measures in publications).

The only sensible thing to do with that piece of paper was to pin it up in a lavatory, but many Canberrans were silly enough to write numbers on it.

I would never advise anyone to do anything but what they are told by law with a ballot paper.

Imagination is not permitted. The provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which allow a certain variation from the traditional numbering of a preferential vote are designed not to allow people more freedom, but to provide for those voters who are either dyslexic, or too stupid to fill out a ballot paper correctly.

I wonder which political party could have thought that it would benefit from such provisions?

Now if you put a clear 1 beside the name of your favourite candidate (with party name attached) in the House of Representatives election you can be sure that he or she will get your vote, no matter where your pencil or ability to count might wander afterwards.

The Senate paper is, of course, much more complex, and would tax the attention of most people trying to record a formal vote which does not follow a party ticket.

This is why you can now vote a simple party ticket by putting 1 in one of the boxes at the top of the paper as recommended by the party you happen to favour for the moment.

If you feel particularly happy about having a party tell you which of its candidates you should put first (do all Liberals prefer Bronwyn Bishop to Chris Puplick in NSW? Do all Labor voters really want to vote for Steve Loosey?) you can establish your own order of preferences, wandering all over the ballot paper.

With care this is a formal vote, though I have often wondered whether my preferences are fully distributed when I do something like this.

I am not going to tell you how I am going to vote, or even whether I am going to vote formally next Saturday. That is one of the glories of democracy, the secret ballot.

I happen to be enrolled in the electorate of Sydney, so there is no doubt at all that the person re-elected will be Peter Baldwin, one of the more intelligent Labor members of parliament though not noted for the courage of his public positions. (Yes, I know about the bashing.)

But I suspect that this electorate might be just about ripe to fall to an Independent candidate, if not to the informal vote.

If Nick Greiner goes ahead with the most popular of all his proposals, to reduce the number of politicians in NSW, Dawn Fraser, the Independent member for Balmain, might find herself unemployed and having developed a taste for politics, inclined to contest Sydney.

Since most of the traditional Laborites in the Sydney and Balmain electorates have been stolen from them by the left-wing, middle-class carpetbaggers, Dawn would probably have a pretty good chance.

But when it comes to voting informally or not voting at all it is a quite unacceptable state of affairs when peaceful philosophical anarchists are not allowed to put forward their views and their advice as to what qualified voters should do on election day.

Democracy and the democratic vote are too precious to allow them to be perverted by the number-crunchers and the Tammany Hall politicians.

Implicit in the right to vote is the right not to vote, and the right to spoil one’s vote.

Implicit in it also is the right to tell, advise, beg, persuade or nag other people about the way in which they vote — though occasionally most people would like a rest from this.

However, might I suggest, without advising, that if you are fed up with the major parties and are not really keen on wasting your vote on the irresponsible and fascistic Democrats or greens, you might consider the alternatives?
-=-=-=-
Further reading:
Neville Kennard, “I Don’t Vote,” Economics.org.au, August 17, 2010.
And don’t forget to check out our Paddy McGuinness archive page.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  29. Why not pay for the ABC?
  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  31. Sometimes the truth hurts
  32. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  33. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  34. Genocide with kindness
  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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