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Autumn 2001 cover

National Observer Home > No. 48 - Autumn 2001 > Editorial Comment

The Cancer of Electoral Fraud in Australia

A matter which will be considered in future issues of the "National Observer", but which has now assumed great urgency, is electoral fraud.

It must be understood that the Australian electoral system is open to large-scale fraud. It is possible to enrol as a voter, or re-enrol many times, by filling in an enrolment form, having it witnessed by a person "eligible to be an elector" or witnessing it oneself under a false name, and posting it to an electoral office.

For example, Mr. Robert Patching, Divisional Returning Officer for the Federal seat of Rankin, reported after the 1996 election that he had discovered 217 people on the electoral roll who were not in fact eligible to be there. Even this alarming figure far understates the number of persons improperly on the roll. Other reports have indicated enrolled voters claiming to be living on what turned out to be vacant blocks and as many as eleven untraceable enrolled voters claiming to be living in a single dwelling.

Ready opportunities for fraud exist at two points.

First, enrolment procedures are farcical, and the ease with which a false enrolment can take place is scandalous. At the least, intending voters should be required to attend personally at a place of enrolment, producing photographic evidence of identity such as a driver's licence, and providing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of at least two persons who can be contacted for verification.

Secondly, fraud at voting booths is made easy by the fact that no identification is required. Any person can present himself, provide a name on the roll, and then vote. Basic proof of identity should be required here also, such as photographic evidence on the production of a driver's licence.

Clearly it is possible under the present system to change the results of marginal seats through electoral fraud. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this is in fact occurring on a large scale.

Why is nothing being done?

The answer is unfortunately political. It appears that the perpetrators of electoral fraud are almost entirely proponents of the Australian Labor Party. That Party has therefore a vested interest in permitting fraud. The Australian Democrats have shown their customary selectiveness of moral indignation and permitted the position to continue. The Liberal Party, which has the most to lose and has lost much already has acted inefficiently, and with the notable exception of Senator Nick Minchin has not been prepared to insist upon reform.

Proper reform would involve a reconstitution of the Australian Electoral Commission, many of the officers of which are viewed as inefficient and biased. And before the next Federal election a habitation check is essential, to remove most at least of fraudulently enrolled voters from the roll. Other reforms, as discussed above, must follow.

This issue is basic, and goes to the integrity of the electoral process.

National Observer No. 48 - Autumn 2001