Housekeeping #2, ID: Who votes more than once?
In the second episode of Housekeeping – the Wheeler Centre’s five-part mini-series of short podcast features on Australian democracy – Jarni Blakkarly looks into the practice of multiple voting. Should voters be required to present photo ID on Election Day?
When you show up to vote on Election Day, officials are meant to ask you three questions. What’s your name? Where do you live? And have you voted before in this election? You don’t have to show ID to prove the first two questions, so it makes enforcing the third a little tricky.
You could just vote more than once. You could vote as yourself at different stations, or you could pretend to be someone else. There’s actually nothing stopping you. And that last one – voting as someone else – is exactly what a woman I spoke to has been doing. She didn’t want her name used, which is understandable; the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) says intentionally voting more than once at the same election is punishable by up to 12 months in prison. So, let’s call her Jane.
‘I think I’ve done it twice,’ Jane says. ‘It was probably about 10 years ago … but it was in a federal election. I think I’ve probably voted in a state election as well for a friend of mine who couldn’t make it to the polling booth.’
The friend was in a marginal seat and particularly wanted to cast a vote, Jane says. ‘She didn’t tell me how to vote for her, but she just trusted me and she rang me up and said, ‘Can you do me a favour – can you go and vote?’ I’m like, “Ehhh! Really?”’
Jane had already voted for herself in that election and felt anxious about the prospect of voting on her friend’s behalf.
‘I thought, “I can’t go back to the same booth because they’ll recognise me”. And I felt nervous, because, obviously, I’d never done it before. And I actually couldn’t remember if they never ask for ID, or they just [don’t ask for ID] sometimes?’
‘So, yeah, I just went up and gave my friend’s name and the address, and they said, “Here you go, here’s the papers”. And so I went and scurried into the [booth] and marked it with a pencil … So it was pretty fine, but I was really nervous when I went in there to do it, because I just felt like I was going to get sprung. At any point, someone was going to tap me on the shoulder saying, “You’ve done it before and what are you doing here again?”’
‘I trust that I’m doing it for the right reasons and that they are not hurtful or undervaluing someone’s right to participate themselves.’
When I think of absent voters, disinterest in politics is the first thing that comes to mind. However, for Jane, it was the opposite. Her friend wanted to make sure her vote was counted, so she sent Jane to vote for her. She knew they had the same political values.
At a state election some time later, the same friend asked Jane to vote for her again. This time, the friend was interstate, and hadn’t arranged a postal vote. Jane was prepared to do it again.
‘I always think rules are a guide and, you know, I’ve got a healthy disrespect for authority. I wouldn’t go and vote for someone who couldn’t reach the ballot box without their permission … I trust that I’m doing it for the right reasons and that they are not hurtful or undervaluing someone’s right to participate themselves.’
But would Jane do it just for the sake of doing it?
‘I wouldn’t do it just for the sake of doing it … Unless, nah, actually if it came down to a friend getting an unnecessary fine and they trusted me and I was able to go out and do it, I’d probably do it.’
‘Do you need me to vote for you?’ she jokes.
But what happens if you get caught? What happens to people who vote more than once? And the answer, surprisingly, is actually … nothing.
The AEC looked into the matter after Australia’s last federal election. They found almost 19,000 names struck off the electoral roll more than once. Most of those ended up being mistakes made by the person crossing names off. Just to be clear, though, Jane’s case was different. Because she voted for her friend who didn’t go to a polling station herself, there was no double vote. Of those who did double vote, the Commission said four out of five were elderly, or people who were confused about the electoral system. In other words, people who made genuine mistakes.
While most of those people voted twice, a handful managed to take it even further. One person voted nine times, another person, 12. And one person voted 15 times.
There were almost 8000 cases that the AEC decided to refer to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) after the last election. The AFP investigated only 65 of those cases. In 41 of them, they ruled out intentional multiple voting. And the rest? They couldn’t say for sure. In the end, not a single person was prosecuted.
I tried to talk to the AFP about why nobody had been charged. They said the AEC were the experts, and to talk to them. And the Commission? Well, they said they were too busy preparing for this election to talk about previous ones.
However, the AEC has said that even in the tiny number of cases where police believe someone intentionally voted multiple times … it’s hard to prove. At this point, you could ask: How ridiculous is it that we don’t have any protection against this kind of voter fraud? In other countries you have fingerprinting or stained ink, and yet here, we can’t even do something as simple as asking to see photo ID?
It’s a question that’s been discussed in the federal parliament.
Tracey Arklay is a senior lecturer at Griffith University with a special interest in electoral integrity. Arklay says right now, across Australia, you are required to show ID when you enrol to vote, but not when you cast your ballot. However, there was a brief change in the system at state level in Queensland last year. Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman introduced voter ID laws that were used in that state’s 2015 elections. It was the first time ever that ID checks were made for a general election in Australia.
The AEC looked into the matter after Australia’s last federal election. They found almost 19,000 names struck off the electoral roll more than once.
‘The Newman government … introduced what we are now calling an experiment, which was voter ID,’ Arklay explains. ‘It was introduced despite the fact that there was very little evidence for its introduction. And it ran for one by-election that was held here in Brisbane and then in one state election. And when the new government was elected it was repealed.’
At that state election, what counted as ID was pretty flexible. You could bring a driver’s licence, Medicare card, even a phone bill in your name. Still, there was still a lot of confusion, Arklay says.
‘In analysing the results of the Queensland election, whilst it didn’t really affect people in the metropolitan areas … it certainly did have an adverse impact on remote and regional communities. And just as we were arguing before we had that election, it was Indigenous people and people that live in remote country seats, who aren’t used to carrying ID, who didn’t bring ID to vote.’
Arklay says voter turn-out at that election was 1.1% lower than at the previous state election. And, because we have mandatory voting, the people who didn’t show up got fined. Arklay acknowledges that while it’s tempting to think there is a need for voter ID in Australia, the evidence shows there isn’t a need.
The AEC says there is no evidence that double voting or voter fraud has ever impacted the outcome of an election. And Arklay says as well as being unnecessary, checking ID is expensive, bureaucratic, and means certain people just don’t show up.
‘In countries like the United States, Voter ID is seen as a form of voter suppression,’ she explains. ‘It is the poor, it is the minority groups it is the lower socioeconomic groups who are disenfranchised who don’t actually vote.’
So, what does Jane think of the idea of introducing voter ID? She’s not a fan.
‘No, because then I wouldn’t be able to do what I did … I might need to [do it] in the future again, because it is important!’ she laughs. ‘I did something illegal because I really wanted to make sure that vote happened, rather than lose it to the ether. If they asked for ID I’d be in trouble. And I’ve got good politics, I’m not going to be voting for the Shooters Party!’