Home > Oz Politics > Voter suppression comes to Oz

Voter suppression comes to Oz

May 13th, 2014

I’ve been commenting for a while on the descent of the Australian right into tribalist politics, largely imported from the US Republicans. Even people you might expect to be unaffected like this, such as Joe Hockey, come out with tribal shibboleths such as his statement that wind turbines are offensive[1]. A striking instance of this is the campaign for voter ID, now being pushed by the Murdoch press. Those involved in this shameful exercise include Clive Palmer, Jarrod Bleijie and the Liberal party apparatus, none of which is surprising. More depressing is the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is part of the push. It really seems that there is no hope for a sane and decent conservatism[2] in Australia.

This Republican strategy for suppressing voters works well in the US where registration and voting are both voluntary and (for poor and black people) as difficult as the Repubs can make them (though of course, they have nothing on their own former incarnation as Southern Democrats, in the years before the Voting Rights Act. It’s hard to see this working to suppress votes in Australia, unless voting is made voluntary. Even if you are sent home for not having ID, the requirement to vote is still there. More generally, the whole ethos of Australian electoral systems has been to promote voting[3]

In any case, the timing of this latest foray into tribalism looks pretty bad. US courts are striking down voter ID laws following the obvious evidence that they suppress legitimate voters rather than stopping fraudulent ones. In many cases, the proponents of the law have been unable to produce a single instance of in-person voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud stopped by ID laws).

fn1. As, I think Fran B commented on my Twitter feed, George Brandis will doubtless note that “but they have a right to be offensive”! Brandis, another supposed “wet” has been busy outing himself as a conspiracy-theoretic climate denier
fn2. AFAICT, self-described libertarians are no better on this
fn3. Howard tried some dirty tricks to stop newly eligible 18 years olds from voting, but this is tinkering at the edges.

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  1. yuri
    May 13th, 2014 at 08:16 | #1

    While it is true that Rupert Murdoch has some influence still on both continents and his Fox News in the States is a disgrace to … well.. what old fashioned nicely brought up journalists once liked to think of themselves as a would be moderate Republican who supports Obama observed a few days ago in Oz, I think you are quite wrong in attributing US right charactrristics

  2. May 13th, 2014 at 08:55 | #2

    Hi John,
    Curious to know why you might not expect Joe Hockey to be affected by this?

  3. yuri
    May 13th, 2014 at 09:00 | #3

    ………US right characteristics to the Australian “right” especially if you are including people like Hockey. And just for example I know lots of people from feminist right and left to heritage oriented environmentalists who have got together to save a great heritage garden with views being blighted by the greedy, once good, neighbours who had sold out to windfarm developers. BTW you can add capital loss by effect on property values to the costs of windfarms. Now solar? Completely different.

    Voter ID? I first heard of the importance of doing something about Australian multiple voting from an old icon of the right about 10 years ago – and scoffed! So it ain’t nwe and it ain’t derivative.

  4. Ron E Joggles
    May 13th, 2014 at 09:10 | #4

    It would be interesting to know whether the advocates of Voter ID actually believe that significant numbers of people, presumably leftists, vote fraudulently, or whether they are cynically seizing an opportunity to make it harder for the poor to vote – the latter seems more likely.

    At the risk of repeating myself (I think I related the following in an earlier post), I surveyed the electoral roll for 2 small outback towns on CYP in the lead-up to the last Qld local govt elections, and found that more than half the eligible Aboriginal voters were not on the roll – following up with visits to assist people get on the roll, I found that most of them thought they were enrolled.

    Probable reasons for being removed from the roll include not receiving notices from the QEC/AEC due to change of address, and failing to respond to notices from the QEC/AEC. A couple of decades ago the AEC employed specialist teams who were responsible for ensuring that Aboriginal people were enrolled.

    Many Aboriginal voters would be eliminated by Voter ID rules because they don’t own any photo ID (driver’s licence), and it’s difficult to see how ID lacking a photo would satisfy effective ID rules – possession of a birth certificate, debit card or Medicare/pension card wouldn’t prove identity.

  5. john
    May 13th, 2014 at 09:33 | #5

    Note of course that photo ID would do absolutely nothing about the problem of people who vote at several different polling booths, or the old folks who go to the polling booth forgetting that they’ve already cast postal votes.

    It’s only about people who impersonate someone else — presumably, completely evidence-free about how serious that problem really is.

  6. Ron E Joggles
    May 13th, 2014 at 10:36 | #6

    @Sheila Newman I too would have thought that Hockey and Turnbull would be amongst the moderate, rational, altruistic, trustworthy and relatively benign Liberals (surely there are still some?), rather than the extreme, hardline, persecutory, ideologically-driven and dangerous Liberals exemplified by Andrews, Pyne, Morrison, Abetz, Bernardi, Cash et al, or the merely reactionary, opportunistic, confused and anti-intellectual, like the PM.

  7. May 13th, 2014 at 10:58 | #7

    Compulsory voting itself offers further complications, over and above those interactions with identification requirements. In his Politics, Aristotle described a city that had it, but then the rich waived the fines for not voting on the poor. The rich called it a favour to the poor; Aristotle called it a fraud on the public, as it promoted the rich in a low profile way.

    We’re lucky that nothing like that could ever happen here, for instance Keating would never have waived the fines for not voting on the elderly who are more likely than the rest to vote Liberal. Oh, hang on…

  8. alfred venison
    May 16th, 2014 at 08:18 | #8

    you don’t have to send voters away from a compulsory ballot if their i.d. is not right. if they aren’t sent away from non-compulsory ballots in canada, then why need they be sent away from compulsory ballots in australia? if their i.d is not perfect in a non-compulsory ballot in canada, they can sign a stat. dec. or someone with the right i.d. can vouch for them. there is no reason australians can’t come up with a better system of voter i.d. than americans do. and just because american jurisdictions practice world’s worst practice is no reason australia shouldn’t consider voter i.d. -a.v.

  9. Collin Street
    May 16th, 2014 at 09:52 | #9

    @alfred: there’s no reason to consider voter-ID because “impersonation fraud” is essentially impossible on any meaningful scale without the active collaboration of the electoral authorities, and if you [i]do[/i] have the active collaboration of the electoral authorities what you have isn’t “impersonation fraud” it’s “rigged elections”.

    So a-fortiori there’s no good reason to discuss implementation details of something that it’s never useful to implement. Even the thirty seconds I’ve taken to answer your question is too much thinking about it, really.

  10. Collin Street
    May 16th, 2014 at 09:53 | #10

    As the US judge pointed out, a vote not cast has the same effect on the accuracy of the election — precisely, numerically — as a vote wrongfully cast.

  11. Fran Barlow
    May 16th, 2014 at 12:44 | #11

    Personally, I favour an expansion of the options for electronic voting, which would certainly require a form of ID — such as a PIN or perhaps some authenticated source of biometric data — perhaps a fingerprint or retina scan — I understand that people’s ears are even highly peculiar to people.

    Yet the idea of requiring people to produce ID just to do a paper vote sounds perverse to me. It’s hard to imagine that this side of a highly systematic industrial scale exercise in fraud which would surely be discovered — that anything like enough votes to change an election are going to be cast.

    We are always astonished when a seat “goes down to the wire”– as McMillan did a few years ago, so one imagines that the accidental duplicates would cancel each other out — given that typically, only one of two people — both belonging to parties with very similar policies — can win and generally do on margins that are in the hundreds if not the thousands.

    Really, the problem with our voting system occurs well before anyone gets near a ballot box. If the most undemocratic thing about our system was that sometimes, some nutbag ran around and voted in the names of other people meaning that some candidate got 20 or so more votes than he should have I really wouldn’t care that much.

    What we should have is a system that includes the public in policy development, but I don’t imagine anyone from amongst the boss class is going to dabble in that one.

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