Ask LH: Should I Bother Being On The Electoral Roll?

Hey Lifehacker, I'm nearly 20 and I'm not on the electoral roll. I constantly forget to send the form in to join and all the current political stuff got me thinking: what's the downside of not being on the electoral roll? I get a fine, right? Is it a small enough fine that it's worth it to just pay it instead of standing in line for hours on election days? Thanks, Vote#1Apathy

Voting picture from Shutterstock

Dear V1A,

The actual penalty for not voting is surprisingly small: if you choose to just pay the fine and don’t contest it in court, you’re looking at around $20. Some would argue that an occasional $20 fine is vastly preferable to the wasted time and aggravation of voting.

On the other hand, voting in elections is one of your civic duties, just like paying taxes or jury duty. You can’t very well have an opinion on the way the country is run if you can’t even bother to vote. You should also spare a thought to the millions of people in non-democratic countries who would give almost anything to be in your position. Civilians are still giving up their lives for the freedoms we take for granted.

While it’s true lining up at the voting booth can be time-consuming, there are ways to lessen the pain. Try to avoid peak periods like opening and closing times to cut down on the wait. If you know which way you want to vote, keep your hands firmly jammed in your pockets and avoid making eye-contact with the pamphlet wavers. You can also elect to vote in advance or by post, if that’s more convenient.

Personally, I usually head down around lunch time to take advantage of the sausage sizzle. Waiting in line isn’t so bad when you’ve got a snag to munch on!

If any readers have (non-political) voting tips of their own, let VIA know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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This article has been updated since its originally publication.


    if u CBF lining up, then do a postal vote early.

    better to express your opinion & vote, then to express apathy & then [email protected]#th about the outcome.

      ^^ Been doing this and its soooooo much better.

      Postal vote is definitely the best option for the lazy!

    "Try to avoid peak periods like opening and closing times to cut down on the wait."

    I've always gone near closing time and found the polling place practically deserted, In and out in 5 minutes.

    Don't want to vote? Get the government your lazy a** deserves.

      It varies depending on the polling place. I turn up 15 minutes before it opens and go straight in, gives me a shorter wait at my local than turning up at any other time during the day. Talking to friends, their local polling place that's the worst time to turn up, midday is best for some or as you do, just on close is best.

    after COUNTLESS letters and forms, it took them 11 years to get me on the electrol role.
    every time i went in to vote, my name wasn't on the list.
    after they got my name on it, i'm in a different "section" compared to everyone else in my household!

    I wish I didn't have to vote.. Not because I am lazy just because I am uninformed.. It all goes over my head, I don't have a clue about parties or any of that, most the time I don't even know who the prime minister is..
    If all I am doing is getting my name marked off why can I not do it on line?

    This year I will have to try to work out how the damn ballots work because I want FTTP to go through, but I'll probably screw it up and vote for some loser that will destroy the benefits that we have in Australia...

    I'm not alone either I have asked a lot of friends how it all works and no one knows... especially how the ballot papers work..

      You want FTTP? Put a 1 next to the Labor candidate, then number all other candidates in order of preference.

      I don't get this; you clearly have access to the Internet, why not look up how ballot papers work? While you are at it, research the party's policies in order to inform yourself.

      Last edited 28/06/13 2:24 pm

        I have read online about it but I don't understand any of it.. maybe it makes sense to you but to me its all just gibberish..
        And for the party polices do they even stick to those?

        I just tried doing that for the Liberal party. I didn't find much valuable information...

          You don't go to the party site. That's all spin. There are some quizzes that you enter your views and it tells you which major party you align closest with. Unfortunately it doesn't apply weighting to the questions though - so you need to dig a bit more.

      @userinterface a lot of people are in your situation on election day. Go speak to the people handing out 'how to vote' pamphlets near the polling booth. They will explain what you need to do. Generally they're not the horrible partisans you see commenting at the end of online news articles. They support their party's policies but they also care about democracy, about society in general - that's why they're volunteering that day - and usually they're very happy to help people no matter who they might be voting for.

      If you want to vote based solely on FTTP (even though it's only one issue you'll actually be making more of an informed and rational voting decision than many other people) you'll want to get the Labor or Greens how to vote pamphlet. If you're worried people will see you taking the Labor how to vote card (thus knowing your voting intentions) you could take a how to vote card from each person handing out and just discard them after you've voted (or bring them back for the people handing out to re-use).

        I vote in Redfern and I have not seen these people before.. It is possible that I just mistook them for people handing out flyers so will look closer this time.
        Thanks for the tip!

        I know that it is a bad way to vote that is why every time I just do a donkey vote hoping that people really know what they are voting for and trusting to the greater community of Australia..

        This time there is something that I care about so I will vote just based of that one issue, but I can assure you that next time I will be doing a donkey vote unless I have learned something new between now and then.

        This is where I feel the system falls apart. Most people I speak with don't know that they can just get there name marked off and go so they fill in the ballot randomly thus giving power to people who may not have Australias interest in mind. I also find that most of these people vote for the greens as they feel it is a safe bet thus giving power to people based on a whim..

        What they really need to do is ensure that people understand what they are doing.. maybe people did this at school but I bounced around between schools my whole life so missed a lot of common things.

        But some of the people handing out HTV cards either lie or have no idea. I've previously seen a Family First person tell someone that said they were going to vote for Greens, that the Greens plan to legalise child pornography and only pedophiles would vote for them.

      Easy, go to
      Answer their questions, it'll tell you where your your views stand against Liberal / Labour / Greens

      Then find your local MP's and read what they are promising to do FOR YOU in the area.

      Instead of complaining about how uninformed you are... try getting informed?

    I'm pretty sure you only get fined if you are already enrolled, and fail to vote.
    In V1A's case, I believe he's saying he's not enrolled at all. In which case the only downside
    is that you cannot vote.

    Having said that voting is pretty quick, usually takes me about 15mins. And if you're lazy as others have suggested you can do a postal vote or pre-poll voting.

      Legally, not so. It's also an offence to not be enrolled if eligible. See:

      Likely. I don't see the Government wasting time and money cross referencing people for $20 fines.

      Last edited 01/07/16 3:29 pm

    As someone that has worked at several elections, early morning is always extremely busy. Near the end of the day very short queues. Some booths have an hour plus wait in line, when a booth 2 minutes away, only has a couple of minutes wait.

    "wasted time voting"

    Are you fucking kidding me. It takes 5 minutes of your existance and is one of the most important things ANYONE can do if they actually care about ANYTHING.

    So fucking dumb that I am actually aggrevated.

      "one of the most important things ANYONE can do if they actually care about ANYTHING."
      So I'm guessing you're one of the people that actually believe that politicians actually care about the little people? They don't, at all. It's all about business and lining their own pockets. (I'm sure there's a few exceptions out there)

      "It takes 5 minutes of your existance and is one of the most important things ANYONE can do if they actually care about ANYTHING."
      If i go to the polling place it takes at least that to get there 10 to 120mins lining up, so your looking at 20 to 140mins depending, for what, all we end up doing is voting as to how we want to get screwed.

      We can vote labor who changes leaders more often than i change my underwear and so have no stability, you don't know who your really voting for (come on, does anyone think that changing leaders the way they did would have any kind of positive impact). I'm sure they have other issues as well but that is the major one (not that the leader means much anwyay, since they dont really have much to do with the policies, they are just the figurehead).

      Or we can vote liberal who have even less of a clue about the average Australian than they do about technology, and who only care about getting into power and have no problem blatently lying or selling us short ($29billion on a half assed NBN now and another $20 billion in 5 to 20 years when the copper network completely shits itself/proved unviable, instead of $34 billion now), and many more issues.

      Vote greens/independant and you've got other problems to contend with.

      We can have a Tool or a Smarmy wanker in power ... yep cant wait to choose.

      If only we could co-ordinate a massive donkey vote to tell them both we hate them so much.

        Also @ijustknowstuff - No, i'm not some dreamy eyed teen.. I realise fully that politics is fucked up.. Which seems like all the more reason to have ANY say you are AT ALL entitled to, not to do nothing and hope for things to get better by magic.. Your vote alone may seem insignificant, but if you think this way, imagine how many other people do and just don't vote.. So then only the Christians who organize to vote their representitives to the top end up voting and everyone complains they don't like the decisions they make..

        As a people manager I also realise that the reasons behind some decisions can be so entirely complex you could spend a year explaining a single thing to an average consumer, and have it still not fully make sense to them. Not a statement on the intelligence of people by any means, it's just a matter of effective information communication.

        Hell.. Vote for an independant if you're that opposed to the two party system.. It's literally up to us to make or break our own future and not taking any action then complaining about politics is complete bullshit. Take action or shut the fuck up, and given the latter option will never happen - best to go with the former ;)

        As for it taking so long - it's done on a Sunday, and if you call them they will literally post you a postage paid voting slip 2-3 weeks before the election, and you just put it back in your mailbox to be collected... What I personally do though is just turn up 5-10 minutes before closing time.. Never ever have I waited in a line. And even if you did... ITS YOUR CIVIC DUTY!!

        I guess if you do decide to just pay the fine - at the very least never ever expect any progress and certainly never have the gall to complain about a decision a government you could have had a say in electing or not, makes. Unbelievable to me, quite honestly..

          Just FYI I do vote (via postal, it really is a better method for busy people). Was just pointing out your comment about "the most important thing" made you sound a little silly.
          If only we could have more control over how this country is run than the way it is now, instead of voting for the (hopefully) lesser of two evils.

          Last edited 29/06/13 1:14 am

      Really ?
      Tell me, which one has ever significantly improved nurses pay, invested in education infrastructure, made concerted efforts to reduce crime - and by that I mean also reducing the amount of people we have in prison, and initiated programs for the disadvantaged and the homeless on our streets ?

      You're getting the same car, your vote simply decides what colour it is.

        Obviously you didn't read my post above where I explain every single factor of your post away..

        But to summarise for you since you're clearly too lazy to inform yourself by even reading what you reply to, let alone to vote: "Politics suck. Politicians suck. At least have a say if you are going to complain".

        For my money, as long as you vote, you have every right to be upset about every one of those things as loudly as you want. As a voting citizen, it is your right. As a non-voting one, it is not. End of discussion.

          No, I was responding to your first post, which just a foul mouth-frothing rant.

          My cynicism of politics aside, here's what your vote does - it pushes a cart. The more people push, the faster and further it goes. You have no control over the direction of the cart, who is in the cart and once it reaches it's destination, your job is done. Pat on the head, there's a good boy.

          As for deciding whether to vote, that's their decision. We enjoy many freedoms in this country, including the right to vote. Getting mad over some one choosing not to exercise that right is as silly as complaining about the weather, and your foot stamping is just powerless impotence.

          As for the complaining, apart from it being a national pastime, here's why your analogy fails.
          You're in a store, and the store manager informs you that you have some store credit, but it is only valid whilst you are still in the store.
          You look around, see nothing you like and choose not to buy anything.
          Later on, you are complaining to a friend that the store was full of junk, and they ask you why you did not buy anything despite it being free.
          You blink, look at them like they are stupid and you reply "As I said, it was full of junk"

          There. We've exchanged opinions, and no one got thrown into prison or tortured.
          We're more fortunate than we know.

            To continue your analogy further, this is the reality of the situation in Australia:

            Your friend replies, 'If you think it's all junk, why not become a shareholder and try to make some changes to the junk that the store sells? Even better, run for a position on the board and actually be the person who makes the decision about what sits on our store shelves. OR start your own company with your own products and offer whatever wares you like."

            You say that the political parties all serve junk. The reality of the situation is that membership of a political party gives you a say in the people who stand up for election on days like tomorrow. If you want to really have a say in how the country is run you are MORE than capable of putting yourself out there as a candidate to parliament yourself. You can do this in a few ways. You can become a member of an existing party and try to get endorsed for a seat. You can run as an Independant and put your political beliefs out there for others to judge whether you are worth voting for, or you can start your own party.

            If the last election showed anything, it's that small people can have a LARGE say in how this country is run if only they would actually put themselves forward.

            OR you can just be disaffected, saying, 'They are all junk and no one deserves my vote.'
            With thoughts like these, you'll get exactly the government you deserve, not the one want.

      If you're responding to my post, please note I said "Some would argue..."

        Fair note, I suppose I did single out the contradictory statement a bit. Apologies

      I am the same - do these people know how many people have died trying to get the RIGHT TO VOTE??? Read up on the suffragettes, aborigines only got to vote in 1962. You owe it to everyone who has helped get to the point where everyone in Australia has the right to vote!

        Who died to get the vote?

        Last edited 01/07/16 3:35 pm

          Google "Women Died to Give You the Right to Vote"
          Google "Apathy Alert: Remember How Many People Died for Our Right to Vote"

            The links do not show Australians dying for the vote. They say that Australia was the first country in the World to grant women the vote.

    I've got a mate who's never enrolled to vote.
    He's 30 and so far the government hasn't caught up with him.

    That said every time he whines about the government I remind him that since he doesn't use his right to vote he has no right to complain about politics.

      I had an American mate who used to whinge about G.W Bush but didn't vote. He copped the same abuse from me.

    I'm a big believer in voting being compulsary. We have many rights and privelages, and few real responsibilities. Voting is one of them.
    Billions of people around the world can't imagine how arduous it must be for us poor Australians who have to express an opinion anonymously once every few years.

    Plus - sausage sizzle :P

      Er, it is compulsory. It's just not as strictly enforced as it should be.

    On the other hand if you don't believe in voting effect your life directly, I think you should have the full freedom to use your time to stare at the wall in a daze.
    Have a wonderful weekend. :-)

      For the majority of people who live in safe seats it will have no impact at all.

    " keep your hands firmly jammed in your pockets and avoid making eye-contact with the pamphlet wavers"

    That's takes away half the fun, asking the people handing out family first/liberal/[insert stupid candidate here] propaganda the best way to ensure their candidate doesn't win (the other half being the sausage sizzle).

    You can make your wait really short if you go to a different booth than your electorate. They always have this contingency for people who can't make it to their area on the day. There are virtually no lines if you do this.

    In terms of knowing who to vote for, I've found it really difficult to compare each party's policies. The Greens so far has the easiest to understand structure -- if only the other parties followed suit.

    Last edited 28/06/13 3:56 pm

    Here Hear! Get a sausage and stand in line, I've never waited too long.

    If you're really worried about standing in line, drive to the nearest poll both that's not in your electorate (might be only 1 suburb away) walk to the front of the line and tell them you're absentee voting. Usually they'll put you in another shorter line. (I've been away from home and voting, standing in line like a doofus for 20 min before I realised I was in the wrong line and could waltz up for an absentee vote)
    "Will I be fined if I haven't been enrolled in the past?

    No. Even if you have not enrolled before, you can do so now and you will not be fined. The AEC encourages all eligible Australians to enrol to vote and keep their details up-to-date on the electoral roll."

      yep, they can not fine you for not being enrolled because at moment you can be removed enrollment. i wasnt able to vote at the 2010 federal election becaue i was removed from the electoral roll despite being on the electoral roll for the local council election that happened a few months before hand.

        They shouldn't ever be able to remove anyone for any reason other than beurocratic error. It's possible something happened like, someone with an identical name and middle initial died (as an example).

        Constitutionally, you have to vote, and you have to be enrolled. They cannot fine you if you aren't enrolled in most cases because they will not have accurate information on who you are, nothing more.

          lol. government doesn't have accurate information on who you are - that's a good one!

          total and utter delusion.

    Can't you enrol online now? Can't be much more effort than emailing lifehacker. I've also never had to line up more than 5 mins to vote.

    Wow, I'm guessing Aussie laws are quite a lot different than here. Just to compare to New Zealand law, it's illegal to not be on the electoral roll here, with a fine of upwards of $250 compared to Aussies $20, but the difference being that voting is not a civil duty here, so we don't have to vote if we choose not to, even though we're on the roll. Arguably you also can't be called for jury duty or anything like that if your not on the roll either...

      It's the same here. It's just they generally cannot find you or know with a certainty who they are fining if they do not have your details. It would be improper use of government authority for them to request this information from another branch of government, and even if they did so - they would have nothing to compare it against to ensure that who they were fining, was in fact you and not someone with similar details.

      The fines CAN be up to $250 or something here too, but USUALLY they are very low, and it also depends what the vote is for I believe (a federal election would impose a different penalty to that of say, a referendum vote).

        Pretty sure it is around $20-$40 and only goes up if you take it to court. I had a look at all the cases taken to court and pretty much any argument will not work. Even when it does, a higher up judge will overturn it.

    I'm 26 and I haven't ever voted or enrolled or whatever, but I haven't gotten any fines or anything so what's up with that?

      The AEC don't know you haven't voted if you haven't enrolled to vote.

    I'm 38, I was removed from the roll because of an error when I moved house, tried to get back on, but they kept making mistakes and was never put back on, now I could care less, I refuse to vote for a broken and corrupt system filled with people who are also corrupt and broken.

      Well if you don't like the people who are candidates, why don't you become a candidate yourself?

        And get involved in a corrupt and broken system? Nah, I'd rather slam my genitals in a car door.

    Never enrolled to vote. And I only will once I find a party with a remote chance of winning that I actually agree with. By the look of things it doesn't matter who you vote for because they can just change the leader anyway? seems kind of pointless to me. It's my right NOT to vote, this is in protest of the whole system being flawed imo. If you want to vote then vote, if you don't want to, you shouldn't have to. I can concur that you need to be enrolled to be fined; That is my experience anyways

      The 'leader' as you put it isn't really any more important than any other member. You vote for your local MP not the PM.
      Don't focus on a party you like 'winning', just having a couple of seats can give them a huge opportunity to make a difference.

      Finally voting for the people you want in, even if they don't get the seat, still sends a message to the winners about what policies they should adopt.
      Like if the Voluntary Euthanasia party got 5% of the first votes, one of the big parties could pick adopt that policy in the next cycle hoping to pick up those votes, meaning the reform you're after still makes its way through the system.

      Also: If you hate one party more than the others, then you have preferences, and should do your best to make sure those worst guys don't get in.

    When I turned 18 one of the first things I did was enroll to boat. It was a rite of passage into adulthood. Now I wish I never had. When you are on the electoral roll you can never get off. It also means they will be up to track you for jury duty.
    So it's really only worth enrolling to vote if you feel civic-minded. Once you do it you can never undo it.

    I vote but CBF about council elections until I copped a fine. I wish council elections were not compulsory, I'm not a ratepayer or a land owner.

    Last edited 29/06/13 10:45 am

      ... so local council issues don't apply to you? Nope, that's not how it works.

    To the OP... sure - don't vote. But then you better STFU and never complain about the results. Your choice buddy.

    I have no problems with voting. If fact I feel privileged that I can do it. I always vote a few days days before the election to avoid the line up. What I hate is that once you enroll anyone with a few spare dollars can look up all your private information. The AEC makes money on this.

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