Your right to vote

In the absence of even a basic Bill of Rights in Australia, it is very much a matter for noting any time a right is identified as being entrenched in our nation’s Constitution. Last year, the Coalition used its control of the Senate to make a range of changes to the Electoral Act aimed at favouring themselves. One of the changes was to take away the right to vote from all prisoners – a big shift from the previous law where only those sentenced to three years jail or more lost that right.

The decision was made by the High Court a month ago to rule that change invalid, but the reasons have only just been released. The Court decided there is a constitutionally entrenched right to vote – a big protection against Australia going further down the compromised franchise in the USA – whilst still deciding that the previous restriction remained for those serving sentences of three years or longer. For a good outline of the reasoning, see this post by Ken Parish on Club Troppo.

All the other Electoral Act changes made by the Coalition last year stand – not least the ones which enable much larger anonymous donations and which enable the electoral roll to be closed the day the election is called – so if you’re not on the roll or have shifted house and not updated your address, do it now. A week’s time may be too late.

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17 Comments

  1. Can you clarify something that the AEC page doesn’t please? If a person has changed address recently but not updated it on the rolls, the implication from your post (though it is unclear) is that they lost their right to vote altogether. My understanding was that they just had to vote in their old electorate. Thanks.

  2. No you’re right, you can vote in your old electorate. In fact being on the roll compels you to unless you want to be fined.

  3. lauredhel: the AEC tries to make sure that people who have moved aren’t enrolled at their old address. If they notice you’ve moved, they remove you from the roll altogether rather than allowing you to have a chance to vote.

    There are various ways they do this. The most common is when someone new enrols at your old address: they will get a letter saying “and do all these people still live here?” If they say ‘no’ the AEC will start sending mail addressed to the person who allegedly doesn’t live there. If that mail is returned to sender, then eventually the person gets struck off the roll. They also do doorknocks, and I think that one time just signing up for an electricity account at a new address was enough to get me a “how about enrolling to vote at your new address and by the way does so-and-so still live there?” mail.

    This process takes a while, so in practice many people can still vote from their old address. But you can’t rely on being able to. I personally can name three or four acquaintances who expected to be able to, but had been struck off the roll at the old address (although many more who have voted at their old address for at least one election after moving, and some who’ve been fined for not doing so, usually because they were enrolled at the time of a local council election and didn’t know about it, having moved).

  4. Here’s the AEC description of the current process by which they try and ensure the roll is up-to-date. I suspect the lack of doorknocks is a particular loss to quite young electors: I know both my siblings were enrolled at 17 (you can enrol but not vote at 17) because the AEC came to the door, and one of their questions was “is there anyone aged 17–21 here and are they enrolled yet?”

  5. As Mary suggests, the point I was trying to make is that if you’ve moved without updating your enrolment, you might not just be stuck being enrolled at the wrong address, you might have subsequently been knocked off the roll all together without realising it. With the changes in the Electoral Act, you now have less time to fix that up once the election is announced, and less chance of your vote being provisionally accepted on polling day if you discover then that that has happened to you.

    As always, there’s qualifications in the fine print, but the short hand version is check your enrolment now and encourage everyone else to do the same.

  6. Just one thing that needs to be said about the electoral roll changes (and party donations etc): Howard is a *************** for making these changes, and anyone that voted for them should rot in hell. A bunch of entirely undemocratic changes designed for partisan purposes.

  7. The conversation got me wondering about how people with no fixed address enrol to vote. Turns out there is a process, here.

    “Persons with no fixed address must enrol in the Division in which they were last entitled to enrolment. If they have not previously been entitled to enrolment they can enrol for the division in which their next of kin is enrolled, or, if there is no next of kin, the division in which they were born. Electors not born in Australia can enrol in the division with which they have the closest connection.”

  8. What would have happened if Howard had called an election before this ruling was handed down?

    Could we have seen an election invalidated for want of the Libs actually having people properly examine the legality of their laws before they rammed them through?

  9. Well, yes you do red crab. What you are obliged to do is have your name marked off the electoral roll at a polling place. After that, you can choose to vote for one of various people or not vote at all (which would be informal).

    Interestingly, I believe it is actually an offence for me to inform you that you are able to vote informal (unless the laws have changed).

  10. if one dose choose not to vote because one has the rite to vote .
    where is the law that states that one must go to the polling place and have ones name crossed off.

  11. thanks togret
    that is very informative but it only go.s to show just who we have in the govt now and what lengths they will go to .so no one trys to stand up to them.
    question ? do,s anyone know if there has been any other type of similer insidents in the past.

  12. Thanks togret for the reference.

    My point in a practical manner is that you can be fined if your name is not crossed off at a polling place. Of course, no-one will know what you do with your ballot paper thereafter unless you make a point of it.

  13. If i have not voted since becoming Australian citizen in 1992. What fines will I incur if I now want to vote.

  14. G’day My Choice.

    While I’m not totally familiar with the rules, I’d be pretty surprised if you incurred any fines. Were you actually enrolled to vote all that time?

    I think it’s a bit like walking up to a copper and telling them you smoked some grass in college – they don’t really care.

    But congratulations if you want to exercise your democratic rights and responsibilties now.

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