Exemption on Religious Grounds

Australia is about to have an election, voting is on Saturday 21 August, but not everyone can make it to a polling booth on that day so we have a system that allows certain people to submit a postal vote before the election day. Like a lot of Australians I received a Postal Voting Information leaflet in the mail this week, which contains two postal voting forms and tells you how to fill out the form. Not everyone is allowed to submit an early postal vote and the leaflet contains an eligibility list, this is the exact wording:

Eligibility for early voting

You are eligible to vote before election day if, on election day, you can’t get to a polling place because you:

  • are outside the state or territory where you are enrolled to vote
  • are more than 8km from a polling place
  • are travelling or can’t leave your workplace to vote
  • are seriously ill, infirm or approaching childbirth (or if you are caring for someone who is)
  • are a patient in hospital and can’t vote at the hospital
  • have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
  • are in prison or otherwise detained
  • are a silent elector

OK, most of these are fair enough and quite self explanatory, if you physically can’t get to a polling place (and they have thousands of them) on election day then the government has to provide you with a system to let you still vote; hence the early postal voting scheme. [For those non Australians reading this, in Australia it is compulsory to vote, if you don’t vote you get fined (it used to be about $50, not sure what it is these days)]

Why is a religious belief an excuse to not attend a polling place on election day? What religious belief could prevent you from voting on a Saturday?

I’d love to submit a postal vote, heaps easier than having to make sure you put aside 1/2 an hour or so in the day, physically getting to a polling booth (where you often have to queue for a while) getting inundated with all the ‘how to vote flyers’ and then standing there and filling in the massive ballot paper; but I don’t meet any of the above eligibility criteria so I can’t. Why can you get away with it just because of a religious belief? Why, yet again are we pandering to the religious?

Knowing that some polling places are actually inside churches (schools, community halls and churches are the common places used for polling booths) perhaps I could claim eligibility by saying that my atheism prevents me from attending a polling place within a church? What do you think are my chances of getting away with that excuse?

Oh, and one last thing, what the heck is a “silent elector”?

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7 Comments

Filed under atheism, religion

7 responses to “Exemption on Religious Grounds

  1. You can find a school in your area to vote. In Newcastle you can anyway.

    Maybe Jewish people who can’t walk to their local polling place and are too religious to use transport stuff? Is that somewhere in the ballpark?

    Go, vote, buy lamingtons.

    • I think it’s only council elections where you get very little choice where to vote. I have a school near me where I usually vote, but I remember a recent election where I couldn’t vote at that school and had to go to one specific polling booth, which just happened to be in a church. Still alive to tell the tale, god didn’t strike me dead. 🙂

      I was also thinking Seventh Day Adventists (or whichever religion it is) whose Sabbath is on a Saturday, they might want an exemption. ??

      Though bottom line is: why should they?

      • Though bottom line is: why should they?

        Why should they not? It’s a non-issue for me. The State compels people to vote, and the State has made an accommodation to allow people who would otherwise not be able to do so to cast their vote.

        There is no harm in this provision, at least none that I can see. It’s not like being able to claim a religious exemption from voting, which I do disagree with.

  2. Is a silent elector like having a silent number? Like you don’t appear on the rolls for safety issues?

  3. simmy

    I chose not to vote at the last federal election as I did not like any of the candidates. From memory, I was fined around $130. There was a section on the back of the page asking why you did not vote. I answered honestly, but I was tempted to write “member of exclusive bretheren” to see if I would still be fined as their kooky beliefs apparently exempt them from having to vote which is patently unfair.

  4. I agree that
    a] voting in a democracy must be mandatory and
    b] voting must be on a weekend or public holiday, in order that the working poor don’t get their wages docked for taking off time during the working week.

    But if voting is done on a Saturday, all those who keep their sabbath on a Saturday could not turn up to the polling booth. Thus Jews, Seventh-day Adventists and others would either have to be excluded from the right to vote or.. must be given postal voting alternatives.

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