Voters choose convenience over democracy sausages

The Victorian State election is still four days away, but more than 500,000 people have already voted. The Victorian Electoral Commission says a surge in postal and early voting it is possible a quarter of eligible voters have cast their ballot before election day. “Convenience voting” is designed to improve democratic participation by ensuring citizens aren’t prevented from voting by illness, work commitments or travel. However, while convenience voting has rapidly increased over the last decade, VEC statistics show voter participation hasn’t improved. The University of Queensland’s Graeme Orr is concerned that this trend towards convenience voting is changing our democratic culture: “[T]here is a baby and bathwater dimension to the relationship between convenience voting and the role of polling day. If delivering convenience voting becomes our main goal, polling day will be diluted. … Polling in person on election day is more than an empty ritual; it may be a richer form of participation. There is an important distinction—both symbolic and real—between polling day as a communal event, and the elongated process by which individuals vote over many days or weeks, ensconced in their own homes or pre-polling in electoral offices.” Indeed, early voters will not enjoy a “democracy sausage”—supporting schools and community groups—as part of their voting experience. In addition, convenience voting may have an impact on the outcome of elections, as votes are case before the parties have fully outlined their positions on key issues. (Teachers: the current issue of the AltLJ includes classroom activities based on Orr’s article.)