Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yet More on Australian Electoral Rules and Democracy

In a recent post I explained some of the anti-democratic features that had crept into Australia's electoral systems. Now Poll Bludger has pointed to another specifically NSW feature that I can only describe as bizarre.

Before quoting the post, I should note that Poll Bludger continues to be, I think, the best blog for all those interested in the detail of Australian elections.

Poll Bludger notes that the arrangements that govern public disclosure of how-to-vote cards for New South Wales elections have to be read about in depth to be believed . As ABC election analyst Antony Green explained it on Poll Bludger:

If you are on the electoral roll for a NSW district, you will be allowed to visit your local Returning Officer on Saturday and examine registered material. But you cannot do it beforehand and you cannot look at it unless registered for that district. Parties are currently distributing pre-poll how-to-vote cards, but this does not mean the same preferences will be recommended on how-to-votes on Saturday. As for lower house preferences, you are only allowed to examine how-to-votes for your own district. The law prevents you from looking at how-to-votes in the other 92 districts. And access is only allowed on Saturday during the hours of polling.

Antony Green then amplified his comments on Crikey, also quoted by Poll Bludger.

Remember last November when the Liberal Party directed preferences against inner-Melbourne Green candidates in pre-poll voting, but on polling day recommended preferences to the Greens. Many candidates may play the same trick in NSW. As in Victoria, all how-to-vote material must be registered and approved. Unlike Victoria, there is no public access to the material before election day …

Now let me plead self-interest here. On Saturday, I’d like to know as much as I can about how preferences might flow. In other states that register how-to-vote material, the answer is to visit the Electoral Commission and examine the material. In NSW, that is not allowed. Instead, on Saturday I will visit the Returning Officer for my own electoral district of Marrickville, where I will be allowed to examine material registered for Marrickville, and registered material for the upper house. The law prevents me from examining material for any other electoral district, even if I visit those offices.

The stupidity of the laws may yet create a farce on Saturday. The problem is, how will party workers know that material being distributed by other parties and candidates is correctly registered? The answer is, they can’t. The only legal access to the material is in the office of each Returning Officer. The material cannot be examined in polling places. So if a candidate is handing out dodgy how-to-vote material in Deniliquin this Saturday, the only way anyone can check this material is registered is by checking with the Returning Officer in Broken Hill, several hundred kilometres away.

I am very much with Antony on this one as yet another example of NSW electoral stupidity.

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