Compulsory voting in Australia: Turnout with and without it

Jonathon Louth, University of Adelaide
Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide


In this paper we address claims made by those supporting the abolition of compulsory voting about the relationship between turnout levels and compulsory voting. Via a critique of the methodology used, we query estimations of the effectiveness of compulsory voting laws and dispute common assertions about how high Australian turnout would be under a voluntary system. We then show that projected comparisons with places like Malta, New Zealand and The Netherlands are questionable. We also challenge other projections, that are based on data that has been insufficiently disaggregated. We conclude that when compulsory voting is properly administered in a congenial setting (such as Australia), it is the best means for guaranteeing high and socio-demographically equal rates of voting participation. Without it, Australian democracy would be experiencing the same citizenship crises currently being experienced in most other industrialised, voluntary voting settings.

Jonathon Louth <> is an Associate Lecturer and PhD candidate in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide. His research and teaching interests are Australian electoral politics and international relations theory. He has a forthcoming book chapter ‘Coping with asymmetry: The complexity of the post-September 11 international system’, in The United States and the World beyond September 11 eds F. Patrikeeff and G. De Cure (forthcoming 2006). From 2003–2005 he was a research associate for The Compulsory Voting Project, and he recently won an APSA postgraduate travel award for a paper he submitted to this year’s annual conference. Lisa Hill <> is a Senior ARC Fellow in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide. Her interests are in political theory, intellectual history and issues in electoral law. She has published work on compulsory voting in Political Studies, Federal Law Review, Australian Journal of Political Science and Journal of Theoretical Politics (forthcoming). Lisa is currently working on a book about Adam Smith’s social thought and has just published The Passionate Society: The Social, Political and Moral Science of Adam Ferguson, Dordrecht: Springer/Kluwer, 2005.

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