Voting and the law
It would be difficult to miss the fact that we are approaching a federal election. The major parties continue to bombard us with their promises for positive change, and assure us that the nation will suffer if we vote for the other side. That’s politics.
When it comes to the enrolment and voting process, it’s easy to be a little confused about the rules. The law about enrolling changed at the start of August. And now we have well-known political figures advising us to submit a blank ballot paper as a form of “protest”. Is that even legal?
A look at the current law may be timely.
To be eligible to vote you must be 18 or over, an Australian citizen, and living at your current address at least one month. If eligible, it’s compulsory to enrol, and to vote, or you face a fine of up to $50. When you enrol, you can’t be penalised for not having enrolled earlier, even if you were eligible years ago.
The rules about enrolling have changed. In 2006 the Howard Government introduced the law that if you hadn’t enrolled to vote by 8pm on the day a federal election was formally announced, you couldn’t vote in that election. These are the rules that were in place when Julia Gillard announced the upcoming election.
But last month members of a group known as GetUp!, who missed the enrolment deadline, took the Australian Electoral Commission to the High Court for violating their constitutional rights, and won. As a result, the law has reverted back to what it was before 2006. Australians now have 7 days to enrol to vote from an election announcement day.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act sets out a number of offences in relation to voting, many with hefty fines and gaol time. Among others, these include multiple voting, removing a ballot paper from the polling booth or box, bribing someone to vote a certain way, and publishing misleading material to influence a voter’s decision.
The “full preferential voting” system here gives voters two options, either numbering all candidates in order of preference, or just placing a “1” beside the party you want elected. A vote is declared “informal” if the ballot paper is blank, or has a number of errors.
Informal votes are not actually illegal, and nor is trying to persuade others to submit informal votes, although it used to be. While Mark Latham’s advice on 60 Minutes to submit a blank paper may not be illegal, some may argue that it is unconstitutional. An informal vote is not counted, so it’s a waste.
At the end of the day we vote to get the party that the majority of us want into power. Laws that encourage people to vote, properly, and make the process easy, just make sense.