Dude, where’s my ballot?

All governments reform the electoral system to benefit themselves, so we shouldn’t be surprised the Coalition is using its Senate majority this week to change Australia’s electoral laws.

The biggest change is closing the rolls on the day an election is called. Since the Prime Minister has the advantage of choosing the date, young first-time voters will miss out unless they’re organised enough to enrol in advance. And what are the chances of that?
The Government says the aim is to crackdown on electoral fraud and improve the roll’s “integrity”. However, it is likely to have the opposite effect. More than 400,000 people enrolled or changed their address in the seven-day grace period before rolls closed during the last election campaign, according to Australian Electoral Commission figures.
This is a massive chunk of the population who would now be disenfranchised. In a society in which it’s compulsory to vote, erecting barriers to help people comply seems foolishly contradictory.
Why the change? Polls regularly find that young people favour Labor and other left-wing parties such as the Greens (whose preferences generally return to Labor), by something like a 60-40 ratio over the Coalition. Which is probably why the left side of politics sometimes suggests reducing the voting age to 16, and hardline conservatives presumably fantasise about restricting it to propertied octogenerians.
Other changes include banning prisoners from voting and, perhaps most indefensibly, ensuring that political donations of up to $10,000 don’t have to be declared. Repeated in each state, this could lead to close to $100,000 being banked by the major parties without any accountability, as Democrats Senator Andrew Murray points out. He’s in
an independent position on this, as surely nobody will blow their money trying to win favour from his disappearing party.
The right to know who is contributing to politicians’ campaigns is fundamental in a democracy. These decisions should not be made by their potential beneficiaries: our independent electoral commission would be far more appropriate.
But try convincing MPs to hand over the keys to the system that determines whether they stay in their jobs. It’s like asking an intoxicated person to decide whether they need another beer.
So if you aren’t enrolled to vote, sign up before the rules change and you have to submit a blood sample and a promise to vote Liberal to get on the roll. Or if you’ve missed out, just slip your local MP $9999.

Read more of Dominic Knight on the Radar blog, www.radar.smh.com.au.

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