Interdum stultus opportuna loquitur...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Strange... This One Disappeared...

Note - from June 24th 2009, this blog has migrated from Blogger to a self-hosted version. Click here to go straight there.

I am certain that I posted this yesterday, but it appears to have disappeared. I've edited it a little, but the basic thrust is the same.

Previously posted as "VoteRant: To Clarify..."

There has been some response (both in a comment from Edgey and in private) about my assertion that it is illegal to cast an improper vote in Australia. There are those who hold that it is legal for a voter to turn up and vote 'informal' by marking the ballot in a way that renders it impossible for the vote-counters to determine their preferences. Under that notion, the only denial of liberty is that the voter is forced to either attend the polling place or obtain an absentee ballot (both of which are excessive impositions in my view).

I can't bring myself to agree with that view: s239 and s240 of the Electoral Act clearly outline how a ballot-paper is to be marked in order for a voter to "mark his or her vote"; s245 makes it clear that it is compulsory to 'vote' (although 'vote' is not a defined term for the purposes of the Act, but s239 and 240 show what 'marking his or her vote' requires).

Taken together, these sections indicate that it is necessary both to attend a polling place (or get a postal vote), and to mark the ballot in a manner as described by s239-240. It is not legal to turn up and then mark the ballot in a manner which breaches those sections.

Of course, the fact that ballots are marked in private, means that it is impossible to determine whether or not a voter has failed to comply with s239-240. Thus it can be argued that those sections cannot be enforced without violating the right to vote in secret.

That is not relevant to whether or not improper marking of a ballot is illegal. Relying on the unenforcability of the law to infer that it is 'de facto' legal, is what I refer to as the 'impenitent penitent' fallacy - a line of thinking that makes it OK to go to confession and receive absolution, despite the fact that one is not genuinely penitent... after all, who is going to find out? The law (and/or the bilateral sanctity of the confessional) is violated whether the breach is discovered or not.

In an argument on this issue way back in about 1996, a correspondent advocated a way to test the hypothesis: next time you 'donkey vote'  or vote informal, or scribble 'Smash the State' on the ballot, point it out to the Returns Officer before you attempt to lodge your vote. Before you do that be aware that s238 (relating to spoiled ballots) only applies to those ballots which were spoiled "by mistake or accident".

Simply put (in response): the folks who oversee polling places during elections are not well-versed in the Electoral Act, and are unlikely to make much of a fuss about it. My brother-in-law was an AEC poll supervisor for many years, and was only required to know the fundamentals of how to run a polling place.

Anyhow -the fact that the minor bureaucrat crossing your name off the roll doesn't have you clapped in irons, doesn't mean that you're not breaking the law. An unenforced (and unenforceable) bad law is still a bad law.

The only argument for compulsory voting is that it increases voter turnout - that is a circular argument; it is like saying that conscription increases the number of people in military service. Saddam Hussein had compulsory voting. Did we think that high voter turnouts in Iraq lent credibility to his continued wins at the ballot box? (Leave aside for the moment that it is my firmly-held view that legally, Saddam Hussein is still President of Iraq and that his incarceration without representation or due process is both a Crime Against Humanity and a violation of several international Human Rights treaties).

A sensible system that produced higher voter turnout would be one in which politicians to actually frame policies to attract voters to the booths in order to obtain legitimacy rather than pretending that high turnouts confer legitimacy. More to the point, politicians would promise policies that did so - whether they would deliver on those promises, given 4 years to recant and zero 'memory' in the electorate, is another issue entirely.

Of course if you go to voluntary voting, you might wind up with a system like the US, where half of the voting age population are so disenchanted by the system that they simply don't bother. That's a great barometer of a political system which is not functioning  properly - and such a system should be overthrown and replaced with something that produces what people want.

I've stated my preferences in the past. Human rights charters includes the right to withhold assent to the political process. The right to declare 'none of the above' - to absent yourself entirely from the political process - is a fundamental human right. I would rather go to jail than vote for any bunch of self-interested parasitic vermin that calls itself a political party. I simply don't vote (although I did once - in 1992), and I refuse to pay any fines that result. I advocate - as you might already know - Randomocracy.

Under Randomocracy, political offices are filled at random from the adult population. the whole issue of compulsory versus voluntary voting goes away. Everyone's vote is worth the same (i.e., zero), there are no annoying campaign ads, no politicians (because there is no benefit to campaigning when you can't affect the outcomes... and hence no political parties). All Assembly votes on policies become conscience votes, with no 'party whip' system to ensure that party members vote a Party line. It is a recipe for near-total gridlock, which means that only issues which have overwhelming consensus ever get past the Parliament; since the Parliament would comprise a random sampling of adults, a simple appeal to the Central Limit Theorem is all that's required to show that it is better suited to reflect general social preferences than the current Party-loyalists that occupy offices.

And the average politician is no smarter now than they would be under Randomocracy - they are more grasping, more megalomaniacal, more corrupt, and more beholden to a party machine...

Ask yourself - could Randomocracy possibly result in worse outcomes than what was provided by Party Democracy in the 20th century? Consider 2 global wars with at least 30 million dead - mostly civilians - both started against the will of the electorate in the countries that declared war. Consider the massive mismanagement of public resources (hiving them off to political cronies, for example).

I will try to dig up the opinions drafted in the case where that Albie chap was jailed for encouraging people to vote informally; it is there that I first encountered the opinion that to comply with the Electoral Act a voter must mark the ballot paper properly.