Could a man abstain from voting because it went against his personal religion of “freedom”? Which case won?
Registered voter served with penalty notice for failing to vote in federal election
A registered voter failed to attend a polling booth to vote in the 2016 federal election. He was subsequently issued with a penalty notice by the Australian Electoral Commission, inviting him to pay a fine or give reasons why he failed to vote.
Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, voting is compulsory in Australia unless an elector has a “valid and sufficient reason” for failing to do so.
Man abstains from voting intentionally and refuses to pay fine
The non-voter replied to the penalty notice by letter, informing the commission that his failure to vote was intentional. He also provided several reasons for not voting, including that:
- Australia prides itself on being a democracy and that forcing him to vote was inconsistent with his democratic right to choose.
- None of the candidates were worth voting for, as they were either too radical, could not form a stable government or did not make it clear what they stood for.
- He was less than impressed by the behaviour of politicians and saw abstaining from voting as a tool to encourage politicians to behave better.
- He had a genuinely held moral code that required him not to vote.
He refused to pay the penalty, and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions charged him, bringing the matter before the court.
The magistrate who heard the matter determined that the man’s reasons were valid and dismissed the charges against him. The DPP had 28 days to appeal the decision but chose not to do so.
Subsequent media coverage of the decision prompted the DPP to reassess the matter and, three months after the initial decision, it filed an appeal.
It was for the Supreme Court of NSW to determine whether leave should be granted to the DPP to bring the appeal out of time and, if granted, whether the man had contravened the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.