Is It Illegal To Not Vote In Australia?

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Voting in all federal elections in Australia is a legal obligation for citizens aged 18 and over. Failing to vote can result in a fine and potentially land you in court. Voting has been compulsory since 1924, and enrolling to vote in federal elections has been compulsory since 1918, whereby voting is governed by the Electoral Act 1918

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is the federal body ensuring elections are run fairly and abide by the law. Political parties and independents who promote their messages to the public must abide by AEC’s jurisdiction, whereby they also have organisation and management of enrolments for voting. Countries such as the United States opt for ‘Elective voting’, meaning there is no penalty for not voting. Australia has ‘Compulsory voting’, making voting compulsory for citizens who meet the requirements to be eligible to vote.

What Is The Fine For Not Voting In Australia?

Failure to vote in the federal election initially results in a $20 fine as per section 245 of the Act, which can grow if left unpaid to a $220 fine and court fees. The AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) has registered 17.2 million voters for 2022. If an individual is registered to vote with the AEC and has not checked off the electoral roll, the AEC will provide them with a letter asking for an explanation as to the failure to vote. Once receiving the letter, it to possible to:

  • Provide details as to the booth location and date if they have voted;
  • Pay the $20 fine imposed; or
  • Provide a valid reason for not voting.

It is possible that the reason given may be rejected. If an individual is prosecuted, they may incur a $220 penalty plus court costs. Further failure to pay the penalty will incur further action taken by the court according to circumstances such as:

  • The State or territory the individual resides in; and
  • Previous failure to vote

If you’re in court for failure to vote and wish to seek advice on the matter, be sure to seek expert advice from a lawyer here.

Ineligibility To Vote

Individuals who cannot vote in Australia are:

  • Permanent residents, only citizens are allowed to vote;
  • Prisoners serving a sentence of 5 or more years;
  • Of unsound mind, in that you’re incapable of understanding the nature and significance of voting; and
  • Individuals convicted of treason and have not been pardoned.

All other Australian citizens who are of the age of 18 and above must vote.

Can You Go To Jail For Not Voting In Australia?

Failure to vote isn’t likely to end with imprisonment. However, charges such as electoral fraud, which can be committed by casting more than one vote, may have the accused face up to 6 months imprisonment as per Section 339 of the Act.

The section states that a person shall not:

  • Impersonate any person with the intention of securing a ballot paper to which the impersonator is not entitled;
  • Impersonate any person with the intention of voting in that other person’s name;
  • Fraudulently do an act that results in the destruction, defacement or other corruption of any nomination or ballot paper;
  • Fraudulently put any ballot paper or other paper into the ballot-box;
  • Fraudulently take any ballot paper out of any polling booth or counting centre;
  • Supply ballot papers without authority; or
  • Do an act that results in the unlawful destruction of, taking of, the opening of, or interference with, ballot-boxes or ballot papers.

What are valid reasons to not vote in Australia?

The Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) evaluate whether a reason given for not voting is valid and sufficient, also utilising precedent to maintain fair evaluation. Valid reasons for not voting can include:

  • Being overseas and unable to access an Australian Embassy;
  • Natural events; or
  • Physical obstruction.

Reasons such as not liking the selection of whom to vote for are not a valid reasons for failure to vote and will incur the penalty of a $20 fine. It is imperative to note that if your reason given for not voting is rejected, court proceedings may occur against you.