Voter turnout is a form of political participation. The level of voter turnout can indicate a strong democracy and how representative governments are of the electorate. However, this measure can be difficult to interpret. Low turnout might represent a weak democratic system or alienation of the electorate from the electoral process. Alternatively, it might represent widespread contentment among voters (IDEA 2002).
In Australia enrolment and voting in state and federal elections is compulsory, so voter turnout is not necessarily a good measure of progress in our democracy, and it is perhaps more informative to consider the proportion of informal votes cast. Voter turnout in federal elections has remained at 94% or higher since the 1925 federal election when it was about 91% (AEC 2010b).
In June 2009, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) estimated around 92% of eligible Australians were enrolled to vote. There were differences in enrolment across age groups, for example, a lower proportion of eligible 18–25 year olds were enrolled (81%) than eligible Australians in general (AEC 1998-2009).
Comparing the voter turnout rates for compulsory and non-compulsory local government elections, in the 2008 local government elections in New South Wales and Victoria where voting is compulsory, the turnout rate was 83% and 76%, respectively (NSWEC 2008; VEC 2010). However, in other states where voting is not compulsory, turnout rates were much lower. For example, about 56% of enrolled people voted in Tasmania's 2009 local government elections (TEC 2010), and 33% did so in Western Australia's 2009 local government elections (WAEC 2009). There is concern from some parts of the community about the relatively low voter turnout at local government elections. For example, increasing voter turnout at local government elections is one of the targets embodied in South Australia's Strategic Plan (SA Government 2007).
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