Mention fraud as a possible factor in elections and you’re said to be in need of psychiatric assistance. Well, tell that to retired judge Frank McGrath, who as a young articled clerk provided crucial evidence of long denied but massive ballot rigging which freed the first of many unions from communist control.

While measures against fraud at general elections have never been as rigorous in Australia as in some other democracies, they were significantly eased in the 80s, ostensibly to make voting easier. (Few voters at the time were aware that voting was difficult.) But the AEC has found no evidence of resulting widespread fraud.

Bob Bottom, the leading investigative reporter, used to agree. But while reporting the Shepherdson inquiry, he was contacted by a manager of a well respected firm which had been contracted to deliver electoral mail on Bribie Island. They tried to deliver the mail to houses on both sides of the Pumicestone Passage, which goes on for several kilometres. The problem was that one side is a public waterfront reserve.

Bob Bottom says that when the Queensland election was held on 2 December, 1989, there were 28,380 more electors than those on the then separate Federal roll the day before – enough to swing the election. And while the Shepherdson inquiry was not established to inquire about fraud at general elections, it made adverse findings against some 22 political figures. This led to the resignation of the deputy premier, as well as Mike Kaiser MP, subsequently made Chief-of Staff to NSW Premier Iemma.

Did this degree of fraud end with Shepherdson? After the last Federal election the H.S.Chapman Society did a spot sample in Parramatta. Curiously, they found it extremely difficult to obtain a copy of the electoral roll. Why? The government legislation requiring enhanced proof of identity on registration only passed the Senate by their agreement to an amendment to deny access to the roll ostensibly to commercial interests. Not wishing to be sent to a psychiatrist, I am led to the conclusion that it was only through an unintended drafting error that this exclusion extended to independent non aligned bodies such as the Society, as well as investigative journalists.

In any event, the Society found a number of those enrolled were either unknown or had moved long ago. If these figures were extrapolated to the whole electorate, 5700 names should not have been on the roll. Paramatta, it may be noted, was won by only 1157 votes.

But let us assume that this was an aberration. Tony Smith MP points out that if the banks were to adopt a similar approach, they’d leave their safes and their front doors open at night. We could equally dispense with the need to recall passwords at ATMs, or to prove our identity when we rent a car. The point surely is that in a democracy voting is so important it ought to be as secure as banking or renting a car, or come to think of it, a second hand DVD worth say, $10?

The scope for fraudulent enrolment has been reduced at the coming Federal election by a still weak requirement of proof of identity together with closing of the rolls when the election is called. This will remove that avalanche of enrolments, sometimes more than 700,000, which typically followed the calling of an election and which just could not be verified. With all the advertisements from the AEC and the facility to register at 17, no one can seriously complain about this, yet they do.

The potential for multiple voting remains, made so much easier by allowing electors to vote anywhere in their electorate, and the proliferation of other forms of voting the conditions on which some say are not being policed. Julia Patrick explained in the Daily Telegraph (26/9) just how easy it is to cast several votes.

The answer is of course simple. Link the polling places by computer and provide registered voters with a bar coded encrypted card with their photograph on it. (If lost, a provisional vote could be made.) Once you vote, your name will be struck off on the roll not only at every polling place in your electorate but on every copy of the roll across the Commonwealth.

So if the next government, whoever that may be, makes voting “easier,” and doesn’t tighten the potential for fraud, be very suspicious. And be ready for them to be in office – for a very long time.

Peter Fray

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