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Compulsory voting was introduced in Australia:

for state elections in Queensland in 1915, excluding Indigenous Australians. Victoria introduced compulsory voting in 1926, New South Wales and Tasmania in 1928, Western Australia in 1936 (excluding Indigenous Australians), and South Australia in 1942. It was introduced for federal elections in 1924 for British subjects aged 21 and in 1984 for Indigenous Australians.

How did compulsory voting impact the partisan balance of election outcomes in Australia as it was rolled out in that country?

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  • Is their None of the above option?
    – Roger V.
    May 11, 2023 at 7:27
  • 5
    @RogerVadim, apparently not. But since ballots are secret you can hand in an empty or spoiled ballot. About 5% of voters did so in 2022.
    – xyldke
    May 11, 2023 at 8:00
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    @RogerVadim No, spoiled or unmarked ballots will not factor into the result (just like not voting at all).
    – xyldke
    May 11, 2023 at 8:12
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    @RogerVadim Per Australian Law, ballots that can be linked to a registered voter but are not marked with a vote for any candidate or are marked in a way makes the ballot uncountable are considered legally valid for the compulsory ballot law to be satisfied. Doing such is called "Informal Voting". A joke told among Aussies goes "Never informally vote. I once wrote 'Useless Gits' on my ballot, and they've been in power ever since!"
    – hszmv
    May 11, 2023 at 16:11
  • 1
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica The relative support for different political parties in electoral results.
    – ohwilleke
    May 12, 2023 at 2:10

1 Answer 1

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Compulsory Voting has absolutely no impact on voters who were already commited to vote. No matter which party the majority of these voters were going to elect, Compulsory Voting would not change that count.

What needs to be addressed is the impact of the disinterested voters who would not normally have cast a vote. Typically this would be a minority of voters in an Australian election. From this cohort you can eliminate all voters who cast informal votes or did not cast a vote. Although it would be compulsory to vote there is secret voting and a failure to complete a valid ballot paper is not checked, reviewed or enforced. Even with Compulsory Voting there is never a 100% turnout with a percentage of electors not casting a vote.

What you are now left with the even smaller percentage of voters who were forced to vote and submited a valid vote.

Disinterested voter who have been forced to vote but have no interest in the election outcome can submit a Donkey Vote. Traditionally this is assumed to be a vote straight up or down the ballot paper. These voting patterns basically provides the advantage to the Candidates at the top of the ballot papers. With the random allocation of candidates on a ballot paper there is no bias to any political party. Although previous analysis of Australian Federal and State election results typically finds in the region of a 1% to 2% Donkey Vote this can bias results in close elections. In Australia there are three layers of government in order Federal, State and Local Government (typically called Councils, Rural City Councils, Shires and Boroughs). In theory the impact of this Donkey Vote introduced bias that was unrelated to political parties. Catch was some ballot papers were in alphabetical order therefore an advantage could be obtained with suitable names. In other words the inpact of the Donkey Vote on Australian election results with Compulsory Voting is actually a complex subject with a highly variable impact. See the Wikipedia 'Donkey Vote' page plus the associated Donkey Vote Talk page for further details.

The assumption going forward here was that with random ballot papers the Donkey Vote does not favour any political party. Even if a ballot did permit a political party to gain the advantage in the election of one Candidate it was open to other political parties to gain an advantage for a different Candidate in another election.

Another electoral practice to gain an advantage for a political party is Gerrymandering. This usually rewarded an encumbent political party. Refer to the history of Queensland State elections. In this case the impact of the Compulsory Voting of the informal and Donkey Voters would not have an impact on results of the gerrymandered ballot papers.

Now down to the balance of voters who have been forced to vote under Compulsory Voting and provided a formal vote not using a standard defined Donkey Vote or one of the Donkey Vote variants (refer to Wikipedia Donkey Vote's Talk Page, Victorian Local Government elections for further details).

These voters are making a considered choice for Candidates based on the information available to the voters. This could be as simple as How-to-Vote cards provided at to voters at each election booth, election flyers, media such as newspapers, election meetings, cornflutes, etc. The better organised and larger political parties have the advantage.

Refer to the Wikipedia List of Australian Federal Elections for an overview. Eventually it became dominated by two political grouping 'Labor Party' and the 'Liberal coalition'. Minor parties still exist but typically don't form government.

The Labor Party had roots in the worker's unions and was positioned more Left of centre and more radical. The Australian voters tended to be more conservative.

Compulsory Voting initially enhances the advantage of encumbancy. Catch was political issues such as World War 1 (Compulsory Conscription issue), Great Depression, World War 2, Vietnam War (Compulsory Conscription again), etc., were all major factors in elections. Compulsory Voting basically forces only the disinterested voters to make an informed decision on their ballot paper. Generally lack of attendance or informal votes have no impact on the election results.

Due to their impact on results there have been some attempts to reduce the impact of Donkey Votes. Refer to changes from alphabetical order to random ballots, rotation of ballot papers, above the line voting, etc.

Introduction of Compulsory Voting initially entrenched governing party encumbancy but that did not guarantee re-election to government. Refer to the historical record provided in the referenced Wikipedia article.

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