Saturday 20 October 2007

How Flawed are the 2007 Rolls?

A CairnsBlog regular, Sid Walker writes for us today...

I just checked my enrollment on the Australian Electoral Commission website.

Having voted in all recent elections, State and Federal, I thought it was just a formality. I wanted to check - and if necessary update - my address details. As widely advertised by the AEC, it can now be done via the web.

I couldn't find myself in the AEC's online database. Frustrated, I called the AEC and endured a lengthy telephone tree and recordings that repeatedly urged me to use the web. I waited and eventually got a human being. She checked and told me the bad news.... "you're not on the rolls".

I was surprised. Had I been required to do anything between elections to maintain my registration? She said no, as I'd thought, then recommended that I apply for a new enrollment - effectively missing the chance to vote at this election.

I insisted on speaking to a supervisor. The supervisor called me back promptly. It turned out there was a discrepancy over my date of birth. That's why my registration wasn't visible to me online - or to the first person I'd spoke with at the AEC.

So... I now need to complete a form and get it to them by Tuesday next. Lucky I’d discovered the error in time!

I had maintained my ability to vote at this election by persistence - and it took half an hour of my time. Many in similar circumstances might not bother or have the time.

Now, the key question. Is this just a rare case of clerical error - or will many people be surprised and disenfranchised in this election? One cannot generalize from personal experience. Nevertheless, it is the first time I have had a problem like this over voting in over 20+ years.

We need to keep an eye out. We don't need electoral fraud in Australia - systematic, blatant trickery of the kind that that has turned the US electoral system into a travesty.

The Australian politico-economic system, with its highly centralized mass media, is already far removed from democratic ideals, without vote fiddling too.

In writing this I seek to cast no aspersions on the AEC or its staff. My contact with two staff members was pleasant. I would be interested to know how AEC computer databases have been updated. Perhaps private contractors were involved?

The public, I think, has the right to know how the AEC operates in some detail. We are the electorate. The AEC serves us. The electoral roll is data about us, entrusted to the AEC for limited but crucial purposes. Computer databases can become corrupted, inadvertently or by cunning. Electronic voting - still thank heavens a minor factor in Australian elections - opens up a raft of nightmares as US citizens are discovered to their horror - see and weep.

At the very least, current AEC procedure - as I experienced it - should be changed. In my case, it turned out the initial advice provided to me was wrong. The first AEC staffer's suggestion should not have been - "sorry, you’ll need to re-enroll" (for the following election).

It should have been: "I'll check carefully to see if you really are missing from the roles" (in case the AEC database is at fault).

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