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Voting in Two Countries

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I became an Australian citizen nearly six years ago.  When I went to take the citizenship test, I was worried that there would be a lot of questions about cricket and Don Bradman or how much beer is in a pint, schooner, pot, middy, pony or glass. (Please don't ask me about any of that, I still have no idea!) I was pleasantly surprised then to discover that the majority of questions on the test were about the responsibilities and obligations of Australian citizens, and one of the main ones is voting. 


In Australia, it became compulsory to vote in elections in the 1920s.  I was vaguely aware that people are fined if they don't, and I was disappointed to find out this year that the fine is only about $20.  Perhaps the urban legend of a very expensive fine is enough to get a good turnout, or perhaps it is the lure of a sausage sizzle at polling stations (there are actual websites devoted to providing information on where said sizzles will be on election day!), but Australians turn up to vote.  In 2013, just over 93% of eligible voters cast their ballots on Election Day. 


When Australia federated in 1901, the government adopted a few concepts from the US government, namely having independently governed states working under a central federal government.  However, with a parliamentary system, there are some differences too.  Here, we vote for our local MPs, and they elect their party leader.  The leader of the majority party becomes Prime Minister. Sometimes they change their minds, and hold leadership spills, where they can vote for a rival leader.  This has happened a few times in recent years, causing Australia to have had 5 prime ministers in the last 10 years. 


Now, with all the focus on the impending US election, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Australia also had a federal election this year.  Here, the entire election campaign lasted just 55 days from the day Prime Minister Turnbull announced it until Election Day.  A few weeks before the election here, I received a form letter from the Prime Minister, in which he apologized for the length of the campaign.  It made me laugh out loud, because as an American I think Australians have no idea about long elections! The only thing long about an Australian election are the ballot forms, one of which is literally about two feet wide, and trying to fold it up to put in the box is the hardest part of voting here! Or perhaps it is trying to number your preferences from 1 to 26…  but I digress.


The Australian election happened without all the bells and whistles and sideshows that seem to overwhelm the US presidential campaigns. US presidential candidates must have incredible stamina and perseverance to get through what is essentially a two-year job interview with the whole world watching.  I hate to think of how much money is spent on political campaigns in the US. And by comparison, the US had a voter turnout of about 57% in 2012. 


As American expats, we will forever have a link to the US.  As world citizens, we can see the US from a different perspective.  And as US citizens, we have the privilege of voting in the US election.  It's not too late to vote- head to https://www.fvap.gov/citizen-voter or https://www.votefromabroad.org/vote/home.htm for more information on making your vote count this year!  

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