Read all about it

Those with an interest in the state of Australian democracy could do a lot worse than to subscribe to the Democratic Audit of Australia‘s email list, which offers electoral news along with updates of the Audit’s own activities. Talking points from the latest edition:

Mumble man Peter Brent and Simon Jackman of Stanford University crunch the electoral enrolment numbers and conclude that the Australian Electoral Commission has been “more proficient at expunging than at enrolling or re-enrolling voters”.

• Swinburne University politics professor Brian Costar appeared on Radio National’s Perspective last week to discuss Vickie Lee Roach’s legal challenge against disenfranchisement of prisoners, which can be read here (electoral matters have been getting a good run on the program lately: Tuesday’s edition featured Peter Andren, independent Calare MP and Senate candidate, who offered a familiar critique of the Senate voting system).

• Yet more from Radio National: this time an item on the Law Report program dealing with concerns about the severe new electoral enrolment regime.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

19 comments on “Read all about it”

  1. Question for the legal eagles here: if the ALP narrowly lost the election, by 1 or 2 seats, could they challenge the result in the courts, on the basis that 100,000 or more people were disenfranchised by the new electoral laws?

  2. The law was duly passed by Parliament, so I doubt it. Anyway, strictly speaking no-one is disfranchised by the new law (except prisoners). If you enrol in time you can vote.

  3. Unlikely. Who is on the roll is not something the Court of Disputed Returns can examine. They can only examine whether the roll as provided was dealt with correctly, and deal with matters on a seat by seat basis. A more broader challenge to the election would have to go to the High Court on whether the rules infringe on some implied right of the Constitution. Even if the High Court took on such a case, and if it then backed such a claim, it would not backdate any judgment. The 2007 election will be conducted on the rolls produced by the new enrolment rules, and no future court case would overturn the rolls.

    As an instance, when the High Court ruled in the early 70s that states had been denied extra federal seats under the Constitution, it did not invalidate elections in those states at the previous Federal election. The judgement forced future action.

    Whether you think the new rules are right or wrong, any court would take a very legalistic view on how they have been implement. If everyone got their enrolment sorted out before the election is called, no-one would be disenfranchised. Whether this is a real world view or not is irrelevant to the Court. The rules are in place, and will have been in place for six months when the election is called. The AEC has acted to encourage voters to regularise their enrolment. The courts would almost certainly take the view that if a voter has been at a residence for more than 30 days without fixing their enrolment, then they have not complied with their requirement to enrol under the electoral act, and could not therefore complain of being denied the right to vote. There is a legal obligation on voters to fix their enrolment in the required time period, and I’m certain the High Court would put great weight on that rather than a one week change in the enrolment cut-off.

    Whether the rules changes are right or wrong, the High Court would almost certainly rules on the basis of procedures, and I can’t see how, after the event, you could launch court case to over-rule the election.

  4. Maybe I’m sounding like a broken record, but the Qld Nats really are mad to reject that deal.

    The article says that “some in the Nationals believe” the third spot on a joint ticket is “potentially unwinnable”. Potentially, yes, but highly unlikely. More to the point, it’s much more secure for the Nats than going it alone.

  5. I think you’ll find that one of the impediments in those negotiations is how the two parties share public funding. The Nats would want 1/3 and the Liberals initially offered nothing, so I reckon if that issue is resolved the ticket will happen

  6. Pedantry time:
    There is no such word as “disenfranchise.” The noun franchise gives rise to two verbs: enfranchise (to give someone the franchise), and disfranchise (to take it away again).

  7. Adam – “disenfranchise” is in the Macquarie Dictionary, as an alternative to “disfranchise”. “Disenfranchisement” is there too. I consider that “disenfranchise” has become a legitimate word, through its widespread use, particularly in Australia. You could argue that “disenfranchise” actually derives from “enfranchise”, while “disfranchise” derives from “franchise”.

    Here’s what the Columbia Guide to American English says about both words: The two verbs are exact synonyms meaning “to remove, cancel, or take away the franchise.” Disfranchise is older and more frequent than disenfranchise. The noun franchise is the key: it means “the right to vote,” “a privilege granted by an authority,” or “an exclusive right to sell a product in a particular area” or “the area itself,” plus some other figurative uses. To enfranchise and to franchise are also synonyms, meaning “to grant a franchise.” The prefix dis- reverses the meanings of franchise and enfranchise alike.

    While this American entry suggests “disfranchise” is more commonly used, my gut feeling is that “disenfranchise” is more common in Australian English. I’m a pedant too, by the way, but we have to acknowledge that English is a living and evolving language.

    Thanks for raising this trivial but interesting issue. I really enjoy this site and the debate it prompts.

  8. As a tiresome pedant myself, I was not aware there was a problem with “disenfranchised”. There is a bottle of Scotch and a loaded revolver in my drawer. I will do the honourable thing.

  9. Peter active members of the SS had bloody Doctorates- they all have an ass- some just choose to speak through the wrong orafice at times- dont we all ?

  10. Judging by the times of posted comments, a lot of people are losing sleep over this issue. I would rather everybody got a good night’s sleep (and learned to spell “orifice”).

  11. “Speak for yourself, poltroon” was intended as a mild joke, implying that I have not given up on “disfranchised” even if Peter has. If he has taken offence, I apologise, although I really can’t see what he is offended at.

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