Australia proposes voter ID law to crack down on alleged election fraud

By on 01/11/2021 | Updated on 01/11/2021
A similar bill has been proposed by the UK government and is currently being examined in the House of Commons. Photo via Pxfuel

Legislation proposing that Australian voters show identification on polling day has been criticised over fears that it could disenfranchise young and Indigenous Australians.

The bill – which has progressed through the Coalition government’s ‘party room’ and was presented to parliament on 28 October – aims to clamp down on alleged voter fraud. If passed, voters would be required to show ID at polling stations rather than have their name and address checked against a list on arrival.

Guardian Australia reports that acceptable forms of identification would include photo ID – such as passports, drivers licences, proof of age cards, and student cards – as well as government-issued documents including Medicare and pensioners cards, and recent documents from banks and utility companies.

Voters who are unable to present ID would be able to cast a ‘declaration vote’, which requires further details such as date of birth to be verified by electoral officers, or have another enrolled voter attest to their identity.

Coalition MPs and senators claim the law would exclude invalid votes without disenfranchising eligible voters.

Senate leader Simon Birmingham said conspiracy theories about electoral systems “run ever more rampant on the internet” and that the proposed legislation could increase people’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral system, The Mandarin reports.

“When [the laws] are  applied in the right way, they in no way dampen participation,” Birmingham said.

‘Desperate attempt’ to undermine democracy

However, the opposition Labor party and the Greens questioned the need for electoral reform and said they would fight the bill, which Labor leader Anthony Albanese labelled a “desperate attempt to undermine our strong democracy”.

In a report released on 14 October, Labor senators said “there is no culture of voter fraud in Australia and without further evidence, there is no justification for voter identification laws”.

Many believe the law would prevent some, including Indigenous and young people, those with no fixed address, and victims of domestic violence, from voting.

Bill Browne, a senior researcher at the Australia Institute, said in a statement that there was no evidence that voter fraud was a threat to election integrity but that “disengagement from the political process and the disenfranchisement of vulnerable people are major problems”.

The government “simply cannot guarantee that every polling official in every polling station will understand these rules, and enforce them consistently and fairly for every voter,” he said.

Cases of voter fraud “vanishingly small”

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers told the Senate last week that voter fraud was “vanishingly small”, and that research showed that most people who cast more than one vote were confused by the process and were usually either older people or people for whom English is a second language.

Australia has about 15 million registered voters. Rogers said that in the last election there were about 2,000 cases of multiple marks against votes and that only about 24 were investigated by police. No charges were brought.

He said the commission “really is aware” of all sides of the argument and that it didn’t want to be caught up in what is “effectively a political discussion”.

He also said, however, that he understood there was a “perception issue” that some believed was worth dealing with and added that an effective measure of any legislation, would be that “no voter is turned away”.

UK proposes similarly controversial bill

A similar bill has been proposed by the UK government and is currently being examined in the House of Commons. It proposes that anyone who votes in person at a general election across the UK, or in local elections in England, would have to show photo ID first.

Like in Australia, critics say the bill fixes the almost non-existent problem of voter fraud – The Guardian reports that in the last seven years, there have been just three convictions for voter impersonation.

Government analysis suggests that up to two million people may lack the necessary ID to vote. In small-scale trials, hundreds of people were turned away. Three US civil rights groups have likened the bill to Republican-style voter suppression.  

Alongside a suite of other changes, the bill also proposes that while the Electoral Commission would remain independent, the Cabinet Office’s secretary of state would put together a “strategy and policy statement” which the commission must take account of. Critics say this would allow political interference in the commission’s work and its enforcement priorities.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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