When President Obama spoke of mandatory voting yesterday in Cleveland, he made specific reference to compulsory voting in Australia which has been place down under for nearly a century.
While I can see how the mandatory aspect of Australia’s electoral system would appeal greatly to Obama, I’m not sure if he would be so enamored with other aspects of it.
Unlike the ballot in American elections in which one votes for a single candidate, Australia has a preferential ballot for both its House of Representatives and the Senate. So instead of voting for a single candidate, one would list his or her preference depending on the number of candidates on the ballot. For instance, if you’re a conservative voter in Australia and were voting for the House of Representatives you would likely put a 1 next to the Liberal candidate, a 2 next to the National Party candidate, a 3 next to the Green Party and a 4 next to the Labor Party. Failure to do so would result in an incomplete ballot which would not be counted. There’s a little more flexibility in voting for the Senate. Each party typically has a list of candidates for the Senate. It is not unusual to have 20 candidates on a Senate ballot. You can list your preference from 1 to 20, but are generally only required to list from 1 to 5.
The party that gets the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives forms the government, sometimes in a coalition with a smaller party like Tony Abbott’s Liberals does with the rural National Party.
But unlike American Presidents, the job security of Australian Prime Ministers can be rather tenuous as Kevin Rudd found out when challenged for the Labor Party leadership by Julia Gillard. A couple of years later, Rudd returned the favor before losing to Abbott in the last general election in the fall of 2013. Earlier this year, Abbott very nearly faced the same fate following a Liberal caucus revolt which I wrote about here.
Somehow I don’t think Obama wishes to adopt this feature of Australian politics.