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Is Voting A Right Privilege Or Responsibility Assignment

Your vote – your privilege – and your responsibility

Updated: 31 January 2011

Being heard

Parliament is at the centre of government, making decisions and passing laws on issues which affect your life every day. Voting in a federal parliamentary election is how you can have your views heard and is your opportunity to choose who represents you in the federal parliament.

Claiming and exercising our electoral rights

In Australia today, citizens over the age of 18 can vote. Over the years, many people and groups in Australian society have campaigned to ensure that the franchise is enjoyed by all adult citizens. On several occasions, Australia has been at the forefront internationally of efforts to extend the franchise. This was the case with the push for women's suffrage in the late 1800s, and the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in the 1970s.

Being active in the electoral process enables you to have your say in who runs your country, paying the ultimate respect to those people who worked to secure these rights on your behalf. It is not only your right and privilege to vote, but your responsibility to do so.

It is a great privilege to be able to choose those who govern us because in many parts of the world today not everyone is as fortunate. The AEC works closely with international electoral organisations to help build election management capacity in other countries whose governments want to run free and fair elections.

The bride & groom voting in Seymour, Vic

People around the world have gone to great lengths to make their votes count. In some parts of the world, people can queue for hours to take part in their country's election.

The AEC has provided international electoral assistance at some historical moments in recent world history – including elections conducted in Namibia in 1989 and Cambodia in 1991, the first universal franchise election held in South Africa in 1994, and the 'popular consultation' (referendum) over independence in East Timor in 1999.

Ensuring Australians have their say

Elections are traditionally held on Saturday – also a popular day for weddings. During the 2001 Federal Election, the Seymour polling place in Victoria came to a standstill when the bride and groom arrived. Immediately after their wedding, the newly married couple walked into the church hall to cast their vote. The 30-metre walk was an arduous task for the bride, who also had her leg in a cast after a fall the week before.

In Australia

A variety of services are provided by the AEC to make voting easy and convenient for those who cannot vote at a polling place on election day.

Early voting centres are designed for people who know in advance they won't be able to make it to a polling place on election day.

Postal voting is an alternative option for people to use who know in advance they won't be able to make it to a polling place on election day, and are unable to get to an Early Voting Centre.

Mobile voting is a personal service provided by the AEC, where ballot boxes are taken to those who have difficulty getting to ordinary polling places. Mobile voting services are provided for people in many hospitals, nursing homes and remote areas of Australia. The AEC has used various forms of transport to take the ballot to remote areas. Originally, horses were used, but in more recent times, 4-wheel drives, light aircraft, and helicopters have made these journeys into our outback.

Living Overseas

For eligible Australians living, working or holidaying overseas, having the opportunity to vote has become an important part of a federal election. The AEC works in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, and our overseas consular services to provide voting services for Australians travelling or living overseas. They can visit their nearest Australian embassy, consulate or high commission at election time and vote in person.

Polling on HMAS Farncomb off Adelaide, SA. 2004 federal election.

In Antarctica

Working and living in one of the most challenging locations in the world does not prevent Australian citizens stationed in Antarctica from voting in federal elections. Even though voting is not compulsory for Antarctic electors, as the secrecy of the vote cannot be assured (due to the process used to transmit the results), the AEC makes arrangements to ensure every Australian citizen there has the opportunity to have their say.

In order to vote, you need to enrol

When you enrol to vote, your name and address is added to the electoral roll. This is the list of voters entitled to vote in an election. You must enrol to vote if you are an Australian citizen aged 18 or older. You can also enrol if you're 17 years old, so you're ready to vote after your 18th birthday.

The electoral roll closes soon after an election has been called. Make sure you're on it, so you don't miss out!

Obeying Laws
Paying Taxes
Jury Duty
Serve as a Witness
Register for the Draft

More Citizenship Resources: Becoming a Citizen - Citizen Rights - Volunteering

The duties or responsibilities of a United States citizen can be separated into two groups: mandatory responsibilities, such as paying taxes, and duties not demanded by law, such as voting. 

Mandatory: Obeying Laws

Laws are the rules under which a society or community is governed. Everyone who lives in the United States, regardless if they are citizens or not, must obey federal, state and local laws. Laws are necessary because no society could exist if all people did just as they pleased, without respecting the rights of others. Police officers and courts make sure that laws are obeyed.  If a person breaks a law there is a penalty or punishment. The penalty for breaking a law depends on the law.   For example, the punishment for not shoveling your sidewalk after it snows is less steep than the punishment for stealing a car. Take a moment to search or browse through the current United States Code and the Utah Code.

Mandatory: Paying Taxes

Taxes are required payments of money to the government. You may be wondering why we pay taxes(pdf). Taxes are necessary because they pay for things that most individuals could not possibly purchase for themselves, such a fire protection, schools, roads and much more. 

There are many different types of taxes: federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, excise tax (tax on tobacco, alcohol, gas), social security tax and sales tax.  Each type of tax pays for different public programs and services. For example, federal taxes pay for F.B.I. agents, Medicare doctors, federal judges, national park rangers, veterans benefits,  federal prisons and much more. Some of the things that state taxes pay for include state highways, universities, public schools, state parks and police officers.

To learn more about taxes visit these web sites:

Mandatory: Jury Duty

The right to a trial by jury is the privilege of every person in the United States, whether citizen or not. This right is guaranteed by both the United States and Utah Constitutions. However, it also requires that citizens give of their time to serve as jurors, and thus do their part to protect this American right. A jury consists of 12 people who are selected to hear the evidence in a civil or a criminal trial. After the jurors hear the evidence presented during the trial, they must try to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

While being called to jury duty can be viewed as an inconvenience, many citizens also find it to be a learning process and a rewarding experience as well as a civic responsibility. Jurors' names are selected at random from lists of registered voters and individuals who have a driver's license issued by the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles.  If an individual is chosen for jury duty, he or she must stop work and attend the trial as long as he or she is needed. Every American of legal age is subject to jury duty, unless he or she can show that such service would constitute a severe personal hardship.

Mandatory: Serve as a Witness

If you are subpoenaed or summoned to serve as a witness you must comply. A witness is someone who is called to testify under oath in a court trial or hearing about information or knowledge he or she might have about the case.

Mandatory: Register for the Draft

Virtually all males living in the United States are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Currently, women aren't required to register because the Selective Service law refers specifically to "male persons" in stating who must register and who would be drafted. Congress would have to amend the law for women to be required to register with Selective Service.

Registering does not mean a man will automatically be taken into the military. During times of crisis or war, the government may decide that they need larger military forces than they feel they could get through voluntary enlistment. If this happens the Selective Service will:

  • Conduct a lottery to determine the sequence for selecting registrants for examination and induction.
  • Assign each registrant the Random Sequence Number (RSN) drawn by lottery for his date of birth.
  • Select and order registrants for examination and induction, beginning with RSN 001.   Those selected are examined for mental, physical and moral fitness.

Today, males can register online at the Selective Service web site or at their local Post Office.

Voluntary: Voting

The right to vote is a duty or responsibility as well as a privilege. It is important for all citizens to vote in every election to make sure that the democratic, representative system of government is maintained. Persons who do not vote lose their voice in the government. Before voting in an election, each citizen should be well informed about the issues and candidates. For more information about voting, go to the Elections section of this web site.


Illustrations by David Chen © 1997. All rights reserved Utah Education Network.

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