Regardless of your political leanings, there are few who would regard the recent Australian Federal  Election as anything more than farcical. Not the voting, or the campaigning, and not even the length of the election season. The madness lay, in one of the reasons behind a series of almost/or completely hung parliaments. The nation is again condemned to a lame duck government, which will be held to ransom by the Senate and have trouble keeping any of its major promises, or have an excuse for not keeping them, depending how cynical you are.

The reason for this – what will become even more consistent – outcome is compulsory voting. Australian citizens, are held to ransom under threat of fine if they choose not to vote. Only 22 countries around the world still have compulsory voting on the books, and many political pundits regard it as an outdated and ineffective tool for enforcing democracy.

Regardless of the arguments against compulsory voting –  including that in many countries, refusing to vote is seen as a democratic right –  the system itself encourages conformity to one’s perceived political leanings, and if not, to the status quo. In other words, compulsory voting, forces two key groups of voters – those disenchanted with politics, and those not interested in politics, to cast an uneducated and perhaps even disinterested vote.

This creates a protest base, which can unintentionally sway the result of an election. Political strategists discuss ways to swing the absentee vote – people that will vote by mail, and create political hot buttons for the disenfranchised, usually through fear or unrealistic promises. These are people who, in a non-compulsory voting environment, would be ignored and distracting hollow promises or fear mongering would be reduced.

Voter turnout, a key measure in most countries is not an indication of people’s interest in democracy, but their attitude to the politicians and political parties of the day. If someone chooses not to vote, this should be seen as a protest vote. And if people have no interest in the political processes and no passion for any particular candidate, then surely they should be allowed to be absent from the polling booths.

Without the need to educate those who have no particular interest in policy or legislative changes, politics, campaigning, and the business of running the country can be carried out in a far more dignified fashion. A democracy is not a right to vote, it’s a right to freedom and through that a right to choose – not voting is a choice, and a vote in itself.