election candidate

Boy oh boy. You have to give it to the Coalition. It doesn’t muck around, does it? It’s ripping up the sinks and stuffing them in the cannon, firing everything at Labor. It’s been curriculum, it’s been “proles”, and now it’s voter ID, with a bill introduced into the House of Reps this week.

This is a new stage of its desperate fightback. It’s the moment when the junta realises it’s surrounded and needs to bring the Americans in, give them oil concessions, etc. Voter ID coming to Australia is like the mujahedin getting shoulder-mounted SAM missiles from the Pakistan docks, straight off the boat. Never seen a transistor radio before, now they’re taking MiGs out of the air.

Voter ID is the same sort of shiny new equipment, developed over years elsewhere and dropped in without context. Whatever problems we had with voter fraud in certain inner-city electorates disappeared decades ago, and all the participants are dead (and thus, still voting in ALP internal elections). There has been absolutely zero fuss about voter fraud here, in any sort of significant close result.

But of course there hasn’t been any serious voter fraud in the US either. The whole thing has been a fiction, built up by the right over the past decade, as it started to become clear that it was being surrounded by new groups of voters — Blacks with higher turnout, Latinos, Asian-Americans, a growing number of the college-educated, a widening gender gap — obstructing the possibility of a Republican majority. 

But such efforts were done at the state level and have depended on one big thing: the voluntary nature of American voting, and the possibility of winning not by changing votes, but simply by getting new phalanxes of people to the polls. This dimension of US politics involves massive “get out the vote” efforts, which can be strenuous — driving round in buses picking up people on the day, providing snacks etc, mass soliciting postal vote forms etc. It can skirt close to the law, and it can look very dodgy indeed, even when it isn’t, and it’s that which gives the US voter fraud narrative its context.

We don’t have any of that, so it looks ridiculous. It’s the usual dead-cat animatronic thing — the issue rears up, attached to someone we haven’t heard from, in this case James McGrath; suddenly it’s all we can talk about.

But of course, a voter ID isn’t going to have anything like the effect it has in the US. There voter ID laws combine with a weekday election day, insufficient polling-place resourcing, felony charges for voting “illegally”, and a couple of million outstanding arrest warrants floating round the country. Voter suppression of this sort probably helped Donald Trump win one or two of the rust-belt states, and maybe even Florida. Elsewhere it has thrown statehouses, Congressional districts and even mayoral races to the Republicans.

But there’s a dirty little secret to voter suppression through ID laws in the US, and that’s that they get a few white Republicans as well — the elderly and poor. But it’s the ratio they’re after — the 90% Black vote for Democrats, combined with a relatively higher number of “irregular” lives among that group.

That ratio doesn’t obtain here, and so when the bill hits the Senate there will be complexities. It would be obviously foolish for Jacqui Lambie to back it, given that a proportion of her most loyal voters live in upturned tinnies on bricks on the north-west coast — and she probably won’t. Pauline Hanson is claiming credit for the bill, though it may actually disadvantage her. So it comes down again to senators Griff and Patrick, the Statler and Waldorf of Australian politics, the former two-member Senate contingent who managed to split, even though they were a Centre Alliance. What odds that South Australia will soon be getting a new centre for abalone excellence, and that much-hoped for serial killer museum tourist magnet?

Once the ID law’s through, we’ll move on. What’s next? A national security crisis? A loyalty test? A loyalty oath swearing allegiance to the “greatest country in the world”? Laws strengthening the place of Anzac Day? All this and more. On and on it will roll until March, the simulation of the simulation of a politics…

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the voter ID bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday November 28.