As Americans prepare to vote in the midterm elections, The New York Times asked readers in Australia to share their experiences and feelings about compulsory voting and explain the ins and outs of the process.

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The dirty work of democracy is often compared to the making of sausages, but Australians almost take that maxim literally — turning Election Day into a countrywide barbecue, in which the grilling of hot dogs is optional but voting is compulsory.

More than 96 percent of eligible Australians are enrolled to vote. Of those, more than 90 percent typically turn out to cast ballots for a federal election, far more than the 55 percent of eligible Americans who participated in the 2016 presidential election.

Australians are induced to vote with both sticks and carrots. Shirkers can be fined up to nearly 80 Australian dollars if they fail to show at the polls. But voting, which always takes place on a Saturday, is also made easy and efficient, and is often accompanied by a community barbecue that includes eating what locals affectionately call “democracy sausages.”

As Americans prepare to vote in the midterm elections, The New York Times asked readers in Australia to share their experiences and feelings about compulsory voting and explain the ins and outs of the process.

“Like a party”

Since 1924, Australian citizens over the age of 18 have been required to vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums. (It was only in 1984, however, that voting became compulsory for indigenous Australians.) In the decades since, overall voter turnout has never dipped below 90 percent, although there has been a slight downward trend in recent years.

“Voting in Australia is like a party. There’s a BBQ at the local school. Everyone turns up. Everyone votes. There’s a sense that: We’re all in this together. We’re all affected by the decision we make today.” — Neil Ennis, Lawnton, Queensland

Weekend Election Day

Unlike in the United States, where voters must cram in a trip to the polls on a workday, federal elections and by-elections in Australia are always held on a Saturday.

There are also plenty of ways to vote if you cannot make it to your polling place, including postal ballots and overseas embassies.

“The voting centers are organized by an independent commission, so they are everywhere and well staffed, which means that it’s uncommon to wait more than a few minutes. There’s even voting teams that visit prisons, hospitals and nursing homes so that everyone who is entitled to get their vote.” — Damien Hurrell, Bendigo, Victoria

Not voting penalized

Voting is a legal requirement and failure to do so comes with a penalty.

Fines range from AU$20 for missing a federal election, up to AU$79 for skipping a state poll.

Voters, however, are allowed to appeal a fine and explain why they failed to participate.

“I once accidentally missed a local election. I was sent a letter asking me what I didn’t vote. I wrote back, explaining I was commuting out of town for work and missed the local ads, and they didn’t fine me.” — Heather Pate from Perth, Western Australia

“Donkey voting”

Some Americans view a refusal to participate in the polls as a protest and therefore a kind of vote in itself.

Australian critics of compulsory voting argue that as free citizens they should be allowed to choose whether to participate. Others argue that forcing apathetic or uneducated citizens to vote steers the nation’s political destiny toward populism.

But according to political scientists, the opposite is more likely true: Forcing people to engage in the process increases their knowledge of the issues and candidates.

Voters are compelled to appear at the polls, but they can cast a blank or marred ballot as a protest known as a “donkey vote.”

“I was 18 and feeling very anti-government, didn’t want to cast a vote for either major party, so wrote some anarchist song lyrics on my ballot instead. Looking back I feel ashamed of doing it, because I should have informed myself enough to vote for minor parties and also should have realized that voting in a democracy is a privilege that not everyone has so I shouldn’t take it for granted.” — Hayley Palumbo, Melbourne, Victoria

Can I eat now?

Many of the Australian readers who responded to The Times’ questions professed their love for a tradition that goes hand in hand with voting: democracy sausages.

Local community groups often raise money by setting up a grill at polling places to sell sausages wrapped in a slice of bread.

One voter, Sophie Kunze from Penrith, New South Wales, shared her biggest gripe: “More vegetarian options at the sausage sizzles,” she wrote. “Democracy sausages are for everyone.”