Today, the electoral roll closes for first-time and re-enrolling voters. GetUp has tried everything to maximise the number of people enrolled to vote at this election, from enrolment drives to SMS reminders, to counter the insidious changes that will close the rolls early. But there’s one thing we never thought of — wood chopping, sheep shearing and sheep dog trials.

Thanks to the little-known but much appreciated Flinders Island Agricultural Show (and the public holiday it spawns) the electoral roll will be open for another full day, thwarting John Howard’s efforts to swing shut the doors of democracy sooner. Again, it seems, local Tasmanian concerns will have a disproportionate influence on the course of the federal election.

But while the Flinders Island show day may bring joy to winning livestock owners, axemen, bakers and potentially thousands of eleventh-hour voters, we shouldn’t let the fact that the democracy gods of Bass Strait have fortuitously smiled on us cloud the bigger picture hundreds of thousands eligible voters may be denied their say in this election because of the early and unnecessary closure of the electoral roll.

When the election writs are issued today, new voters and those who have been taken off the roll will only have until 8pm to enrol. Everyone else needing to update their enrolments will have three business days meaning, thanks to the Flinders show, 8pm on Tuesday 23rd. John Howard, evidently no fan of the regional agricultural circuit in those parts, erroneously declared the rolls will shut the day before.

And the Prime Minister, in failing to mention the earlier deadline for first-time voters when failing to state the correct date for everyone else, has beguiled the young and the unenrolled into thinking they have days more to enrol.

The result? More disenfranchisement and disappointment for those having their first interaction with our system of democracy. It’s no coincidence that those groups most affected by the changes are statistically more likely to vote against the Government than for it.

The Government says that they’ve made the changes to the process in the interests of easing the burden on the AEC, but if the reports we’re hearing are true, the opposite has occurred. The backlog of people to be processed in just a few days means that some people haven’t been able to get through on the AEC hotline, after all, as spokesperson Phil Diak AEC has pointed out, the AEC “answered more than 18,000 calls by 5pm” the day after the election was called. The commission’s website briefly crashed on the same day under the weight of people checking their enrolment details online.

I don’t know what rules the Flinders Island Show Society apply to their judging of jam and jumbuck, but few acts in their history will have been as influential on the nation’s history as the choosing of this year’s show date. To have to rely on a regional agricultural coincidence to allow the fundamentals of democracy to flourish, however, would surely win the ribbon for prize bull.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey