New Analysis: Voter ID Laws a Solution Looking for a Problem

New research from the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program shows that for each voter who was marked as voting more than once (accurately or otherwise), there were over 1,000 Australians who were entitled to vote but whose votes were not counted. New voter ID laws risk disenfranchising even more voters, for the sake of addressing 2,000 ‘multiple mark-off’ votes.

The Morrison Government has introduced a bill to Parliament to change the requirements for voters, to show identification on polling day in order to cast an ordinary vote. This is a well-used tactic to disenfranchise voters – particularly young voters, Indigenous voters, and voters with no fixed address.

Key Findings:

  • For each voter who was marked as voting more than once (accurately or otherwise), there were over 1,000 Australians who were entitled to vote but whose votes were not counted
  • Analysis shows that 2.7 million voters did not have their votes counted in the 2019 federal election. 840,000 Australians’ votes were declared informal, 1.3 million Australians on the electoral roll did not cast a vote, and there were a further 515,000 Australians eligible to vote who were not enrolled.
  • In comparison, there were just 2,000 ‘multiple mark-offs’ in the 2019 federal election, and many of these would be clerical errors (e.g. a polling attendant marking off the wrong row), rather than deliberate multiple voting attempts.
  • The incidence of ‘multiple marks’ voting was 0.03% of the total turnout of 91.9% in the 2019 election

“Voting in Australia is not just a democratic right, but an obligation. The Government should be looking at ways to break down barriers to voting, not adding new ones,” said Bill Browne, Senior Researcher at the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“Rather than investigating ways in which to enfranchise the 2.7 million Australians whose votes were not counted at the last election, this Government is instead exploring ways to disenfranchise thousands more.

“There is no evidence that voter fraud is a threat to Australian election integrity. On the other hand, disengagement from the political process and the disenfranchisement of vulnerable people are major problems.

“These voter ID laws are a tactic used around the world as a weapon of voter suppression. The last thing Australia needs is to import that kind of division.

“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. The US voting system is a warning story, not a how-to guide, and this legislation is a step down that path.

“This Government could choose to legislate its self-described priority of a National Integrity Commission – now well overdue. Instead, this Parliament has been ambushed with a radical change to Australian voting culture just months before an election.”

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