A few months ago, two so-called electoral experts went head to head about Australia’s electoral system and whether it was world-class or widely rorted. You can read the original stoush between Amy McGrath and Vicky Voter here: http://www.crikey.com.au/whistleblower/2004/06/11-0004.html

Our subscribers have been sent some updated material which is published below.

Observations of an election scrutineer

From the July 8 sealed section

By Queensland vote-rorting watcher Vince Voter

Can we believe this coming Howard vs Latham election will be clean as a whistle in Queensland this time with all those whistleblowers we’ve had up here during our recent and earlier notorious electoral scandals? Have they all retired or are they still in the game?

What of the whistleblower coming clean over the 1987 election in Fisher that he and a team had been voting for other people, in several federal and state elections, who had moved on but left their names on the roll? Or five others willing to give evidence as well. With the Federal Police failing to prosecute, are they all out of business?

What of all the whistleblowers in the Shepherdson Inquiry admitting to borrowing other people’s addresses to get themselves elected in pre-selections, because that was how it was done? Are they and the next generation all reformed characters? Did none of them ever do it in parliamentary elections?

Can we hope we’ll see no more of the culture that bred them, and the roll-padding in the Mundingburra by-election, Bribie Island in the 1989 state election (with hundreds of non-existent ‘ houses ‘ in the water of Pumicestone Passage) and problems in 10 other electorates, and voters crossing the border from NSW to multiple vote for other names than their own? Can we believe we will see no more of the ‘just got to win’ mentality, campaign workers joking about the ‘tricks ‘ they had pulled, the AWU in this AWU state becoming as pure as the driven snow since the Shepherdson Inquiry?

It is hard to believe in a clean election until, for a start, it is transparently evident that the Queensland electoral roll is so accurate that none of these guilty people can steal or invent enough names to change the result in any seat.

Bob Longland’s 600,000 postal spree

From the July 23 sealed section

Queenslander Verity oter writes:

Following on Vince Voter’s comments on our Queensland electoral scandals (Crikey sealed section July 8), I think you would have to believe in fairies to expect a fraud-free federal election in our AWU state, with so few prosecutions for the large numbers of known electoral rorts in recent times.

I am especially cynical because a funny thing happened to me when Premier Beattie called a snap election early in 2001. A letter from the Australian Electoral Commission arrived on my doorstep with the names not only of myself and my wife, but two other people who moved on when we bought the house 3 years ago, asking if we all still lived there. Strange, I thought, with an election any minute and the AEC’s head man in Brisbane, Mr Bob Longland, telling us in The Courier Mail a few weeks ago that the electoral roll was in perfect shape after the Shepherdson Inquiry.

Then blow me down if Mr Longland didn’t announce the next day that he had sent 600,000 of these forms out to electors who were probably wrongly enrolled. Well my wife and I weren’t, but the other two were, so I boomeranged it back saying so, thinking they’ll never get all these mistakes fixed up unless the election was several weeks away. But it wasn’t. It was announced the very next day.

Well then I thought, what if all these wrongly enrolled names got into the wrong hands? And what if there were any of those multiple voting types among the casuals they have running the elections up here in the Sunshine State who can do a computer fiddle on the state rolls if Mr Longland gives them lots of extra names like ours among those 600,000. Plenty of scope for the “vote early and vote often” brigade? I just wondered.

Observations of an electoral scrutineer

From the August 4 sealed section

By Vera Voter

Rumour-mongers who rush into print telling you how the electoral roll can get stacked rarely tell you how the vote-robbers can get away with it. In our Queensland State elections, with casual returning officers counting votes in their lounge rooms and basements, believing those counts were 100% honest was always hard to swallow. But Federal elections with permanents in charge, it’s a different kettle of fish. Yet there are rumours of monkey business there too every election. We’ve all heard them. Those of us who scrutineer have noticed disturbing trends in recent years.

Remember Cheryl Kernot when she stood for Dickson in Brisbane’s north after she jumped ship from the Democrats into the ALP; how she was front page news making a hullabaloo she should have been given a safe seat not a marginal when defeat was staring her in the face. She was around 300 votes behind Henshaw late on election night. She needn’t have worried! Nobody could have told her beforehand that provisional votes and late postal votes mostly go to Labor. By late I mean postal votes that can land in the returning office up to 3 days after polling day to allow for delays in the post.

Just imagine what vote rorters could do with that. If their candidate was struggling, all they would have to do, to drop the wanna-be MP over the line, was to have a stack of postal votes in false or borrowed names filled out, witness them with a date before polling day and post or hand them in. If you don’t believe me, sign on as a scrutineer, and just see the pile of declaration votes the electoral staff have to wade through. Lucky if they even occasionally spot-check you are who you say you are, with the rush to get finished. You’ll remember this next time you see some lucky candidate get a sudden surge of postal votes at the death-knock.

In Kernot’s case there was also a clutch of extra votes suddenly found from the Albany Creek booth after the scrutineers had signed off the return. That just added to our suspicions.

Demolishing the right wing reactionaries

By Vicky Voter

Dear Crikey, the letter of 4 August from “Veronica Voter” (ostensibly of Queensland) recycles some more Amy McGrath/H S Chapman/fellow traveller garbage. If you are going to inflict this nonsense on your readers, you really ought to consult the public record first, or ask someone who knows that record well….

These baseless allegations re the Division of Dickson were first raised following the 1998 federal election by the usual suspects in submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The allegations were investigated and answered by the AEC, and the JSCEM concluded that there was no substance to the allegations. That should be end of story, but they do go on and on…

Please consult parts 23, 25 and 26 of AEC submission No 176 of 4 May 1999 for the facts on the Dickson scuttlebutt.

You might also be interested to read parts 3 and 46 of submission No 210 of 23 July 1999, where the AEC once again answers Amy McGrath, and consider whether you are really performing a public service in continually giving oxygen to these ignorant reactionaries.

Short memories and voter fraud

From the August 10 sealed section

Townsville resident, Veronica Voter writes:

Reading about Cheryl Kernot’s win in the Federal seat of Dickson (Aug 4) reminded me of what came out in court after the 1995 state election with our seat of Mundingburra, initially won by the ALP by just 16 votes. The by-election which followed because of irregularities that were discovered ended up changing the State Government – Goss booted out and Borbidge voted in. The Liberal candidate won the by-election by 1200 votes.

People have short memories, and I’ll bet most have forgotten the fiddles which were revealed when the judge in the Court of Disputed Returns investigated the affidavits claiming fraud of one kind or another.

Mundingburra was a classic case of how many small fiddles add up. Postal votes that never reached the soldiers in Rwanda, multiple voting and impersonations, hundreds of return to sender letters (most of those names shouldn’t have been on the roll)… And in the counting, extra votes found during the recount, votes wrongly rejected by returning officers. It all came out in court. So no-one up Townsville way who had followed this closely was in the least dumbfounded when the scandals broke out a year later about stacking names on the electoral roll with false addresses for ALP selections for council and parliamentary elections.

By the time Karen Ehrmann ended up in gaol for 9 months protesting she was a scapegoat and only a bit player (“they all did it right up to the top of the AWU machine”), and the scandals were now a media feeding frenzy, Beattie (not an AWU machine man) had risen to the top as Premier. We saw Beattie, state secretary and campaign manager of old, in full damage control – astonished, aggrieved, banishing offenders, setting up inquiries, swearing he knew nothing of such shenanigans. Be not alarmed – they could never overturn any election. He relied on our short memories. Most people had forgotten Mundingburra only 4 years earlier! It could happen all over again.

Incidentally, Ehrmann’s affidavit when she came to trial included mention of the Mundingburra by-election in which she was asked to do fraudulent voting, but refused.

Veronica Voter knows stuff all

From the August 11 sealed section

A Liberal type who really knows their onions writes of Tuesday’s sealed section:

“That Veronica Voter stuff is just unadulterated rubbish. The Liberal Candidate didn’t win a ‘by-election’. It was a ‘re-election’ as the first was declared invalid. The winning margin was somewhere in the thousands. To our embarrassment we didn’t manage to uncover any electoral irregularities and ended up winning on the Rwandan soldier’s argument which was so dodgy we had to enact legislation after we won to change the law so a judge could never find that way again!

“The only thing she really got right was that the Karen Ermine case showed there had been fraud, but it was really for internal ALP purposes, not winning elections at all.”

In defence of Veronica Voter

By Veronica Voter

The supposed “Liberal type” who commented on my letter about Mundingburra (10 Aug) as “unadulterated rubbish” does not know their onions. He (or she) could not have followed the media coverage at the time (Townsville Bulletin and Courier Mail in particular) to say that “we didn’t manage to uncover any electoral irregularities”. The following were among the discoveries of the investigation that overturned the election:

(1) 40 votes for Tanti and 16 for Davies from a nursing home were reversed. (Davies was allotted the 40 votes and Tanti 16.) That error alone gave Davies the initial win.

(2) The Qld Electoral Commissioner, Des O’Shea, conceded some errors in votes counted for which there were no names on the roll, and others denied votes due to errors by Electoral Commission staff.

(3) 1,269 people enrolled during the last week before close of roll, including some with suspicious addresses like 16 itinerants at one address, and post box addresses. (Why does the Electoral Office accept these?) Many disappeared soon after polling day. The court case investigated whether some addresses were “the real place of living” and whether people had resided at the stated address for at least one month, and found negatively in some cases.

(4) The judge investigated several cases of multiple voting where names had been crossed out twice on the rolls.

On the subject of the term “by-election”, most people will remember that the media at the time mostly referred to the “Mundingburra by-election”, though occasionally explained that it was actually a re-election.

Previous articles

If all that wasn’t enough, here’s the link to a piece we carried way back in 2001 after one of the HS Chapman Society meetings in Melbourne: http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2001/03/04-rorting.html

A final wrap

Veronic Voter writes:

In defence of Amy McGrath and her detailed research on elections, the more one looks into this the more one becomes convinced it doesn’t require a large number of people to organise and participate in fraudulent voting to change election results. Consider the following cases:

(1) The 1995 Mundingburra win by 16 votes (with fraud and errors proved later in court) kept the ALP in government 7 months longer than would otherwise have been the case.

(2) The whistleblower (referring to the former Fisher electorate in 1987, most of which became Dickson), who admitted he and a team had rorted several state and federal elections, told “The Courier Mail” in 2000 that: “In a marginal seat the potential to swing a result is obvious. If just a handful of workers out of a campaign team of 100 are in it, the rorting can be significant. If 8 workers had each come up with 45 names in Fisher, it could have been enough to rort it. The odds of being caught are small.” Fisher had 60 booths in which to vote.

(3) In the 1993 federal election Labor won a lot of close seats. Analysts calcutated that if just 1,425 votes spread over 16 electorates had gone to the Coalition instead of the ALP, Keating would have lost the election.

(4) Post-election analysis of the electoral roll in Dickson in 1993 (won narrowly by Michael Lavarch), and Mundingburra in 1995, revealed : (a) hundreds of names and addresses that shouldn’t have been on the roll, and (b) several names crossed out twice on polling day (which doesn’t necessarily prove those people voted twice – they could have been impersonated).

(5) Late postal votes are wide open to rorting. Why do these votes go mostly to Labor in close elections – such as Beazley in Swan, Lee in Dobell and Kernot in Dickson (1998)?

(6) In the 1987 federal election, Labor reversed the trend of its vote by a uniform positive swing in most key marginals after an hour’s break in transmission to the tally room, despite a swing of up to 10% in its own strongholds, and a drop of 1% in 2 party preferred. What a curious coincidence, considering these marginals covered a diversity of social and economic communities!

(7) Errors in counting and recording votes, deliberate or unintentional, can change election results. In the 1993 election there were overall 55,000 fewer votes recorded for the House of Representatives than the Senate. Why? The Senate normally records less votes because of the higher number of informals. What happened to the missing votes for the House of Reps?

It pays to look in detail at the evidence before making assertions about the improbability or otherwise of serious electoral fraud.