Differences between America & Australia

Differences between America and Australia: voting

Every time I sit down to post about the elections and the state of play here in LA I end up discarding it. Sometimes because I end up on a tangent and other times because: “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all”. 

That could very well explain the lack of posts for some time.

But with a new lease on life and people asking me about how voting works in Australia I thought that now would be a perfect opportunity to talk about the differences in voting between American and Australia.

In Australia …

Voting is compulsory

That’s right everyone who is legally able to vote, must be legally registered to vote and therefore turn up and vote in an election.

Voting is on a Saturday

Voting in Australia is on a Saturday. And it’s an event. Every local primary school, scout or community hall and places in between are open for polling. It’s very rare to wait long and there is always a sausage sizzle.

A sausage sizzle is when local community groups set up a BBQ and cook sausages and serve those sausages in plain white bread and BBQ’d onions. You get to choose between barbecue or Tomato sauce (ketchup) and it’s a national dish. Sausage sizzles are also popular on Saturdays at kids’ sporting games and are often also seen with Egg and Bacon rolls.

Not only that but there are often also bake sales. All this is in the name of fundraising for the school that opens its doors to the voters.

And because the local community often walks to their nearest polling places armed with kids, bikes and dogs, you often run into friends and it becomes a social outing. It’s actually really fun. I love voting days: it’s very social.

Just outside the voting grounds you’re greeted by banners and representatives from each party who hands you a “How to vote” card. This card shows you how to vote for the party you choose. Of course you don’t have to follow it but if you don’t then you risk votes going to opposing parties. 

This is because the ballot has the list of all the people going up for election in your electorate. Each party agrees who they want to give their votes to if it doesn’t look like they’re going to win. These are called preferences. Because it gets complicated those how-to-vote cards come in very handy.

These party representatives are not allowed on the grounds or in the voting hall.

And remember, we don’t vote for our Prime Minister (PM). Our Prime Minister is elected based on which party or coalition got the most seats in the House (of Representatives) and the leader of that party becomes the PM.

Voting is available early

Voting is available early and there are plenty of clear options. And there’s no going to the Courts to challenge these options. 

The most common option is still voting in person.

But you can also vote by mail. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website, “After an election is announced, you can apply for a postal vote to have your ballot papers sent to you in the mail. You can apply online via the AEC website, or by completing a postal vote application form available from AEC offices at election time.”

If you’re not a fan of voting on the day, or you know you’re going to be away from your local area on Election Day you can vote early. Early voting centres are set up—usually at the local Council Chambers or Town Hall—and are staffed by local councils. 

Absentee voting

You can also do what they call Absentee Voting which means if you’re away or out of the area for the day you can pop into any voting centre and say you’re not from that area but you want to vote at their location. 

They also set up mobile voting options for people who can’t vote in person on Election Day. “Mobile polling facilities are set up in some hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and remote areas of Australia. Mobile polling is carried out around Australia during the election period.” I actually didn’t even know they did this.

It’s very easy to vote in Australia, probably because you have no choice but to vote. Your vote has to count. And be counted. It’s funny how I’ve just grown up with voting day as a way of life. I knew we were one of the few countries where voting is compulsory but you don’t really think about it being special. Or that the system is so carved in stone that there’s no room for misinterpretation. 

And you definitely don’t think in your wildest imagination that a country so advanced as the United States has so many question marks over its voting system. It’s a democracy after all. 

On that note.

In the US …

Election Day is every four years and is held on the first Tuesday of November. Yes this coincides with Melbourne Cup Day so that would never be allowed in Australia. 

Popular vote v Electoral College

Votes are made for the President and is decided by the Electoral College. The “Popular vote” is basically the total number of votes each candidate gets but that doesn’t mean the electoral college votes that way. Most people in LA still have a hangover from the fact that Hilary Clinton won the popular vote but didn’t win the electoral college vote which effectively made Trump the 45th Pres of the US. 

The Electoral College is the system where each state is allocated a number of votes (under the Constitution). According to the Archives.gov website, “Most States have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the Presidential candidate who wins the State’s popular vote. However, Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of ‘proportional representation.'”

So in order to win candidates and parties end up playing with states that swing between Democrats and Republicans and it becomes a strategic, complicated analysis as to which combination of State votes will win them the Presidency.

There may also be voting for Senators and the House at the same time but these only dictate who has the numbers in each, not who becomes President like it is with the PM in Australia. 

Voting is not compulsory

Voting is not compulsory and there are many people who have never voted in an election. It is said that this is changing and this year, 2020, is said to be the most important election in our lifetime.

I don’t know what people mean by this but to me it suggests people have to take an active interest in politics and vote the current guy out of the White House. Of course that’s my personal opinion and I’m sure there are plenty of people thinking it’s important because there are plenty of people trying to get the current guy out of the White House so you better front up and vote so that plan doesn’t work. Either way it’s definitely a stunning moment in US history. 

And, with huge “Get out and vote” campaigns there are record numbers going to the Polls this time around making it a huge deal for the Country and the election.

Vote by mail

Voting can be done by mail although that has become controversial this time around. For a first-world democracy this is stunning to me because If it’s always been an option why should this year be any different. 

Absentee voting is also available and is by mail. Even though voting by mail and absentee voting are the same (by mail) they are being argued and politicised. I think it’s because it’s got something to do with absentee voting being requested and many states sending out ballots (because of corona) to everyone in some states who are registered to vote. It may or may not also have something to do with scamming. 

Voting can also be done ahead of time as polling places often open around 10 days before actual voting day. This varies per state. In fact all the rules vary per state. 

There are many cases where voting rules are going before the courts at the moment. They’re questioning things like when do they stop counting votes, when votes must be in (is it the date they’re posted or is it the date they’re received. Yes, in Australia it would be the date they’re received but in the US many things—like tax payments—are judged by the date they are postmarked.)

In Houston, Texas, to make it safer to vote they set up drive-through voting to collect people’s mail-in ballots. This was challenged–and upheld–in the Courts but they’re still mucking around with who is right. And these people have already voted. Legally. It’s crazy.

To me it’s bizarre. Aren’t these rules carved in stone? Why are they being put before Courts to argue and dispute? Why aren’t ALL votes going to be counted as long as they’re received on time?

For a country that’s supposed to lead the “free world” it definitely doesn’t feel like it knows what it’s doing. And no matter who you want to be President surely the rules shouldn’t change because they’re all of a sudden being questioned. From my Australian perspective if the rules are in place then the rules are the rules. 

Differences in voting between America and Australia

So there you have it. The vast differences between voting in Australia versus voting in the US. My rough draft blogs may never see the light of day but I get to be right in the thick of history in the making.

There are many places boarded up, including very close to where my baby girl is in New York so it’s very nerve-racking to this Mumma Bear as she’s just too far away for the first time ever. Here in Beverly Hills and Downtown LA–even some stores in our local area–are boarded up. Rodeo Drive and much of Beverly Hills is closed Tuesday election day and Wednesday. How utterly strange and distressing that a first-world country is preparing for trouble in a free-world election. I’m getting massive memories of following elections in the Philippines. The Philippines–a third-world country run by a Dictator for years and years and riddled with corruption.

So spare a thought for us. I know the world will be watching and so I hope that means everyone will be on their best behaviour.

My thoughts and prayers are with my American friends who have to live with the result and the division that has been happening right before their very eyes. I hope this isn’t the demise of their country.

God bless America. 

xx ItStartedinLA xx






Photo credit: Shutterstock


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  • Reply Christine Mason November 4, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Well said and explained Gwen!

  • Reply wozbrownyahoocomau November 4, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for another great post, Gwen. Just so it is clear you might want to amend the bit about compulsory voting in Australia to include – if you don’t vote in Feberal, State OR County elections, you will cop a $138.00 fine. And that you need while you must be registered to vote with Australian Electoral Commission, you DO NOT need to show any ID when you vote. You simply have to know your full name and registered address.

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