Remember the last two US presidential elections, particularly 2000, when the Republicans were accused of actively trying to disenfranchise Americans likely to vote against them? Slimy stuff — good thing it could never happen here.

Except, the Federal Government has used its Senate majority to ram through legislation to actively prevent citizens from enrolling to vote — and its effect will be the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands come election day.

The Government passed its “Electoral Integrity Act” on the 11th hour of the last sitting day of Parliament for the financial year — 22 June 2006. Among its audacious provisions, the Bill abolishes the historic week’s grace to enrol after the election is officially called, closing the roll to new voters at 8pm on the day the writ is issued.

According to the AEC website, a total of 423,975 enrolment cards were received in the week between the announcement of the 2004 election and the close of rolls date. Of those, 78,816 were new enrolments.

But this time, even if you’re organised enough to get in early, new forms and ID requirements are adding to the red tape. From 16 April,, voters will need a valid Australian drivers’ licence to register. Not only is this a huge obstacle to many so-called ‘disadvantaged’ constituents — Australians who are young, poor or living in rural areas — it’s also a slap in the face to expats.

And so a proud history of professional, party-independent electoral governance starts to crumble. Australia was the first country to introduce compulsory voting in 1924, and the secret ballot in 1856.

Now, not content with publicly funded elections, this self-serving legislation also gives political parties a second bite at the cherry — increasing both the tax deductibility of private donations and the monetary limits on anonymous political party donations a whopping tenfold.

The Government says it’s all about increasing the integrity of the electoral roll, but in 2002 the Australian National Audit Office found over 96% accuracy, which rose to over 99% when matching the roll against Medicare data.

We’ve seen this brand of political stunt before: when John Howard was Malcolm Fraser’s treasurer. In 1983, Malcolm Fraser defied the long-standing convention and had the writs issued the day after he called the snap election. It’s been estimated that as many as 300,000 Australians were disenfranchised as result of that tactic, and the considerable public outcry led directly to legislation to prevent it from happening ever again.

Legislation the Howard Government overturned last June.


Graham Anderson writes: Re. “Stopping the young and the restless from enrolling to vote” (yesterday, item 8). Dear Crikey, You really should check your facts before publishing articles. Lilian McCombs puts out the outrageous untruth that from 16 April, voters will need a valid Australian drivers’ licence exclusive of any other form of ID to register. I simply couldn’t believe that to be true and did what you should have and checked the AEC website. From the website:

HOW DO I ENROL TO VOTE FROM 16 APRIL 2007?

From 16 April 2007, there are three ways to demonstrate your proof of identity when completing the new purple enrolment form.

Either

1. Provide your Australian driver’s licence number.

Or

If you don’t have a driver’s licence you can:

2. Show one identification document – like your passport, birth certificate, Medicare card or Centrelink concession card – to an authorised person who is on the electoral roll, who will then sign a declaration on your enrolment form.

A complete list of authorised persons and identification documents is on the new enrolment form and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website.

Or

If you don’t have a driver’s licence or an acceptable identity document you can:

3. Ask two people who are already on the electoral roll, and who have known you for at least a month, to confirm your identity by signing your enrolment form

Lilian McCombs, campaigns director for GetUp, writes: Thank you to Graham Anderson for pointing out there are ways other than providing a valid Australian driver’s licence to prove your identity in the new changes to the Electoral Act. The central point of the article was to highlight the effects of the legislation itself, which will be to make it more difficult for people to get on the roll.  The new proof of identity requirements are part of a package of Government amendments to “improve the integrity” of the roll, despite there being no evidence of significant voter fraud in Australia.  The collective result will be further barriers to voting for a range of eligible citizens, including the elderly, the young, people in rural areas, Indigenous Australians, those who are homeless or itinerant, and of course long-term expats.  There’s no reason the polls need to close so far out from the election, or for there to be tightened proof of identity requirements. The Government was told this by a range of experts during enquiries into the legislation, and their rationale for these amendments just doesn’t hold water. Compare to trends in similar democracies: in Canada, the rolls close on polling day, and in NZ the day before polling day.