[LINK] Register Online to Vote Should be Legal

Chris Maltby chris at sw.oz.au
Mon Jul 19 11:56:24 AEST 2010

On Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 10:03:52AM +1000, Tom Worthington wrote:
> GetUp created an online "Enrol to Vote" web service 
> <https://enrol.getup.org.au/enrolments/register>.
> However, media reports indicate that the Australian Electoral Commission 
> is discouraging Australian from registering on-line to vote 
> <http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/07/17/2956622.htm?section=justin>.
> This is unfortunate and AEC should be carrying out its duty to help 
> Australian enrol, rather than discouraging them. If hundreds of 
> thousands of Australians are prevented from voting as a result, the 
> election may be declared invalid by the courts and have to be rerun.

The AEC is a conservative entity - and conservatism is justified when
you are dealing with elections. Applying a basic standard is generally
much easier to defend if someone later claims they lost an election
because of some error in the AEC's processes. It's the role of government
to define what the standards should be.

But... the current enrolment rules, in particular the rules relating to
deletions from the role when people fail to reply to correspondence are
the result of the Howard government's cynical efforts to rort the voting
system in their favour. The result of their changes is a decline in
enrolment rates from 95% to about 90% of eligible voters. You should not
be surprised to learn that young people and people who move regularly
(ie renters) are disproportionately more likely to be off the rolls.

These people are also much less likely to be Liberal voters. When you
consider that the average marginal seats will have more underenrolment
than its vote difference, you can see how effective the ostensible push
for "roll integrity" has been in gerrymandering the system.

An attempt to restore some balance to the roll maintenance rules was
blocked by the opposition and Steve Fielding in the senate, and the ALP
government has let it rest since then.

Although many voters make their choice between candidates on the most
superficial or selfish grounds, it's anathema to the idea of democracy
to put these kinds of obstacles in the way of enrolment.  The
presumption should always be in favour of the voter's right to exercise
their vote rather than in favour of guarding against some largely
mythical fear of electoral fraud.

The NSW government has legislated for automatic enrolment and roll
updating based on information held by government agencies - it will mean
that the NSW rolls in the 2011 state election will be substantially
different from the AEC maintained ones. This is a big step in the
right direction on enrolment, but it's unlikely to save the NSW ALP
government's bacon.


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