Should Australians have to show ID at the ballot box? Australian Electoral Commission boss Tom Rogers has said he is “disturbed and uncomfortable” with the integrity of our voting system, and we might need identity checks at polling booths.

An AEC crackdown on multiple marks identified 7743 cases of “apparent multiple voting”, including cases where the elector admitted to the offence, but, due to difficulty obtaining corroborative evidence, the Australian Federal Police has not referred a single case for prosecution.

The AFP and academic reviews have noted that, in the past, multiple voting has not impacted the outcome of an election in Australia. But Rogers warned in Senate estimates on Tuesday that there was no guarantee as to the integrity of future elections:

“For me even one multiple vote is actually too many. We have to look at this process, and in my view … I think we need to take steps to remediate this situation.”

At the 2013 federal election, the AEC referred more cases of apparent multiple voting to the AFP than ever before. But AFP rates multiple voting as “low value” cases and has rejected most referrals for investigation on that basis, according to its 2011 submission to the joint standing committee on electoral matters.

Ramzi Jabbour, then-acting deputy commissioner for AFP operations, wrote to the committee that it was impossible to prove the time of the offence due to the lack of CCTV or time stamps on votes, and even proving identity was a significant issue:

“Investigations into multiple voting offences are notoriously unsuccessful unless the alleged offender makes full and frank admissions to the offence.”

Crikey sister site The Mandarin has sought the AFP’s current position on these matters. That committee will again take up the issue next week, after Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson indicated on Tuesday he had referred terms for an inquiry.

Eyes will be on the recent Queensland state election, where “evidence of identity” was required for the first time in Australia’s electoral history. Indications are that most electors used a “voter information letter” issued by the Queensland Electoral Commission as their identity document. This letter allows people to vote without common forms of identity documents, but it depends on accurate mailing addresses on the roll.

Rogers said it appeared the process in Queensland had run “very smoothly”.

However, international jurisdictions that have implemented voter ID requirements have, in some cases, attracted criticism of being a cover for voter disenfranchisement, particularly of ethnic minorities. All nine of Australia’s electoral commissions have a convention that no person is turned away, such as in cases where an enrolled name has already been marked or the elector’s name cannot be found. A declaration ballot is offered instead.
Online voting is not on the table, although electronically certified lists have created some excitement among electoral commissions and politicians.
The federal Griffith byelection last year was the first to use electronic lists instead of paper lists. Rogers says the incidence of multiple marks “plummeted” as a result of the technology as it reduces polling errors. To go national might cost in the order of $60 million, he said.

The AEC has established an Electoral Integrity Unit as part of its reform agenda following the lost ballots in the 2013 WA Senate election, which will initially focus on the enrolment process and integrity. To date, the EIU has worked on analysis of enrolment fraud and issues caused by parallel enrolment processes in states and territories.

Different processes have resulted in a high divergence in the number of electors on the state and Commonwealth rolls. The New South Wales roll has 230,345 electors that do not appear on the Commonwealth roll; Victoria has 195,391 that are also absent federally. Western Australia has 93,109 fewer electors than the AEC because it does not recognise direct enrolments made through the AEC. Rogers told estimates that collaboration with the state and territory commission through the Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand has not been able to resolve the issue, due to legislative and practice variations:

“I’ve made a number of decisions based on my desire to make sure the Commonwealth roll is of high integrity and I’ve got confidence in that roll, and I’m deliberately not criticising my colleagues in other states, but the largest cause of divergence is in fact the parallel running of direct enrolment programs with the Commonwealth, particularly in NSW and Victoria …

“From my perspective, the divergence is not an issue for the Commonwealth. I’ve made a number of decisions about the datasets that we’re using and the inclusions that we’re putting on that roll. I’m comfortable with the decisions that I’ve made for the integrity of the Commonwealth roll is in place.”

The third tranche of the Australian National Audit Office investigation of AEC’s delivery of elections will focus specifically on the roll.

*This article was originally published at The Mandarin.

Peter Fray

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