…but you can show them how

WHAT IF ballot papers had no political information, no party identifications, just names?

What if voters had to actually learn about the candidates seeking to represent their views, their family, their financial interests, their freedom? This video (just 108 seconds) poses that great question.

We need significant electoral reform. Our goal must be to give every person an opportunity for a well considered vote.

Reluctant (compulsory) voting is RARELY well thought out, if at all. If one can’t be bothered going to vote, one is hardly likely to prepare to vote by researching their local candidates, or comparing their positions on important issues.

If one is reluctant to vote & unprepared to vote, one is highly susceptible to blunt appeals to emotion instead of intellect, a strategy masterfully employed by both major parties. Nuanced, sophisticated debate cannot happen via mainstream media, & so the reluctant, unprepared voter is armed by the media, information is filtered by someone else’s agenda & values, & complex issues are reduced to slogans, slurs & spin.

If one is reluctant to vote, unprepared to vote, & informed largely by mainstream media groupthink, one is highly unlikely to have considered ones preferred order of local candidates. One to two percent of voters will go to vote still not having decided who to vote for, their intellectual indifference further facilitated by the propaganda available at the polling place.

There, the biggest budget & most aggressive volunteers can win many more votes by handing out the most flyers & wrapping the fences in the most slogans, slurs & spin. This inevitably makes it a contest of funding & donations, instead of intelligent arguments & ideas.

Polling places in Australia are messy, confusing, intimidating, and opportunistic. They advantage good funding, not good ideas. They diminish the quality of representation.

Polling places in Australia are messy, confusing, intimidating, and opportunistic. They give electoral advantages to good funding, not good ideas or well articulated, intelligent arguments. They diminish the quality of representation.

WHAT IF we made voting OPTIONAL; BANNED parties & candidates from decorating or campaigning anywhere near polling places, & used enforcement resources to EDUCATE & EMPOWER informed, enthusiastic democratic participation instead?

The quality of democratic representation would be higher because people only thinking with their diet of media-fed groupthink wouldn’t have to vote, and because the party with the biggest union/corporate donors wouldn’t have as big an advantage out spending other equally valid & useful ideas / issues. Whole governments have relied on just one or two seats, which are often decided by less than 1% of votes. “Donkey” votes, or votes that are valid despite being intentionally wasted, can often exceed 1, 2, or even 3%.

Equip, Empower, Educate, Equalise

WHAT IF we had a universal resource people could access from any computer, smart phone, or public library? A website. I’ll call it, “AustralianVoting.info”. On this website, every single registered party & candidate will have a bottomless page they can edit at their discretion. It will be broken into sections, with an index at the top that people can use to jump to the information they are looking for. Because every page is organised the same, and logically, and without distractions, it will be easy for people to compare between candidates.

At the top, a very brief (<50 words) summary of each policy. Beneath that, a short (<300 words) introduction to each policy. And finally, a long explanation with as much detail as they want for each policy.

Another section will be devoted to criticising or arguing against other parties’ & candidates’ policies, followed by a section where they can rebut or counter-argue the sections on other pages attacking their own policies and ideas. This could be in the form of comments by competing candidates only, facilitating a kind of deliberate, written debate. Voters could hide or show these comments depending on their personal preference.

For ease of use, people could search for the policy information they’re looking for by free text searches (like any search engine), by tags or keywords, or by each page’s index of policies ordered by the page editors (presumably most important/popular up top). Voters could subscribe to any candidate’s or party’s page to be notified of updates, & could also be notified on social media channels they follow.

ADDITIONALLY, the website could explain the realities of the voting system federally and of each state – optional / compulsory preferential, above the line / beneath the line etc. Many parties, especially the majors, deliberately confuse the issue with slogans like “wasted votes”, which erodes the quality of true representation. Getting advice on voting from a political party is like asking the fox to guard the hens.

How do we improve our quality of representation?

Remove the obligation to vote for those who don’t want to, for those who don’t care about politics. Just because we’re forcing them to participate in freedom (ironic, no?) doesn’t mean we’re forcing them to think. It’s an unreasonable expectation. In fact, it’s illogical. Resentment replaces indifference in those common cases, which is more destructive than helpful.

Remove the ease of emotional campaigning, and create a culture of careful consideration – patriotic participation. By allowing the indifferent voters to stay on their couch spectating, we help prevent the media-fed groupthink that allows facile slogans like “stop the boats” and “the science is indisputable” to manipulate the fears of those unwilling to think for themselves.

Remove the exploitation of indifferent voters who have long lists of excuses why they haven’t considered their voting intentions until the last minute, if at all. Instead of promoting parties (biased by funding & popularity), promote equalised information resources at polling places via internet, but heavily prior to election day. Election day is too little too late to empower representative, informed voting.

People will (and must) learn to do their research before coming to vote. It’s not critical to have this information on the spot, but the information that is currently available is certainly not helpful, let alone detailed. At least with an internet resource, most people will be able to have a better quality of information, even on the spot.

It is harmful, and the height of hypocrisy, that a country boasting freedom and democracy like ours compels and penalises failure to participate in that freedom.