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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
How Australia puts bounce into voting
By Lincoln Archer
BBC News

With general election day drawing ever closer in the UK, many voters face quite a battle - to overcome the boredom of casting a ballot at a polling station. Is there a way to brighten up the day?

Surfing to the vote at Bondi
For Australians, there is more to voting day than just the ballot
For those Britons who choose to vote on 5 May, the democratic process can be a somewhat staid affair - you show up, you vote, you leave.

In Australia, things are different.

Voters at Australian polls are treated to any number of added attractions at their polling stations, from cake stalls to treasure hunts.

At many stations, for around $1 - or about 40p - voters can enjoy a burger and a can of soft drink after exercising their democratic right.

Other foods are also on offer, including the popular snack of a sausage served in a single piece of bread, drowned in tomato sauce.

Voting only takes a minute but the rest of the day can be really great fun
Brien Hallett
Australian Electoral Commission
Some even run fetes with attractions such as bouncy castles, or "jumping castles" as they are known locally.

The stalls are run by local groups at the school or community hall hosting voting booths for election day.

They are now a tradition in a country where elections always take place on a Saturday and where clear skies and being outdoors are almost as mandatory as voting itself.

'It's fun'

Brien Hallett, of the Australian Electoral Commission, said the extra attractions had helped make the process of running an election more engaging.

"It's a big day. Our local fire brigade held a sausage sizzle, but there was also a trash-and-treasure hunt," he said of voting near his home outside Canberra.

"Actually voting only takes a minute but the rest of the day can be really great fun."

The Australian High Commission even handed out Anzac biscuits to those queuing to vote in London in last year's Australian poll, while the main opposition Labor Party gave away free Lamington cakes - a national speciality.

On the way to vote in Scotland
Even getting there can be a struggle in the UK...
Turnout in Australia has been above 90% since 1924, when compulsory voting became law.

In the 2004 poll, about 5% did not vote, an offence that carries a fine of between $20 and $50 (20).

Those who do not pay could face a night or two in jail as a fine defaulter.

Another 5% filled out their ballots in a way that invalidated them.

That practice, known as informal voting, can range from leaving the ballot blank to declaring you want Kylie Minogue as prime minister. That vote would not be counted.

In the UK, turnout at the 2001 poll was just under 60% nationally, the UK Election Commission (UKEC) said. Turnout can go as low as around 30% in some local authority elections.

Work days

Kate Sullivan, an Australian who is now head of electoral administration at the UKEC, said she thought Britain was missing out on some of the fun the day could hold.

"I have never seen a jumping castle at a British polling station, much to my dismay," she said.

"I'd also like to see a cake stall at a station, but I've failed to convince any of my colleagues of the benefit of that."

Safari park worker votes in Stirling
.. although some do their best to spice up the day
She said the fact that UK elections were held on Thursdays made it hard for some to extract much enjoyment from the experience.

"It's a work day. If you have a long commute to do and you have to pick up the kids as well, it can make it difficult," she said.

But she added that most Britons did not seem overly fussed about the day the poll was held, or if they could have a cake while voting.

Commission surveys suggested that voters were more concerned about whether their ballot would be safe from fraud than whether it had been convenient to cast it.



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