On 28 October 2021, the federal government introduced the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021 in the House of Representatives. The Bill seeks to introduce provisions that require voting officers to request proof of identity from anyone seeking to vote in an election. Civil liberties groups such as the Human Rights Law Centre have criticised the proposed voter ID laws, saying they will create further obstacles to voting for groups that are already marginalised such as young people, Aboriginal people in remote communities and people experiencing homelessness.
The changes, if passed, will require voters on polling day and at pre-polling stations to produce ID prior to voting. The ID will be checked against the electoral roll before ballot papers are provided.
Why are the voter ID laws being proposed?
The government has stated that the changes are necessary to improve electoral integrity, by guarding against multiple voting and personation (one person voting claiming to be someone else). It had stressed this can be achieved without denying anyone the right to vote.
The government has cited the recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiries into the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections that voter ID laws be introduced. However, the issue has received very little debate prior to the Bill being introduced.
Do the voter ID laws address these issues?
Election commentator Antony Green has pointed out that multiple voting in Australia in uncommon, with only around 20 instances reported to the AFP during the 2019 election, none of which led to a prosecution. Furthermore, he argues, there is no evidence of personation occurring during Australian elections.
Green argues that the proposed changes would have limited effect in addressing multiple voting and personation anyway. Requiring ID from voters would not prevent a voter from voting at more than one polling station unless electronic records of who had voted at each polling booth were to be kept.
The Electoral Act already contains provisions to respond to a suspected multiple voter by requiring the person to cast a declaration vote, which can only be done once per person.
Establishing a voter’s identity
Section 200DI of the proposed legislation requires voting officers to ask voters to produce proof of identity and to ask questions to establish whether they have voted already in this election. The voting officer may also ask questions to establish the person’s name and address.
These requirements will replace the current provisions that require voting officers only to ask voters to state their name and address.
Proof of identity documents
The list of identity documents that will be accepted under the Bill includes driver’s licences, passports, proof of age cards, birth certificates, phone and electricity bills, banks statements and tax assessment notices.
Photo identification is not required. However, the ID presented must either be issued by a Commonwealth, state or territory authority or contain the person’s full name and address.
Voters who don’t have ID
If a voter attends a polling place without proof of identity, they will still be allowed to vote.
If the person has another person with them and the other person has ID, the other person can attest to the person’s identity by filling in a form providing their full name and address. The form must be signed by the attester and the voter in the presence of a voting officer.
Where a voter does not have ID or someone else to vouch for them, they will be required to complete a declaration vote. These will be put aside for processing post-election. However, the completion of a declaration vote currently requires a person to provide their licence or passport details or to have another person attest for them, raising questions about how voters who cannot meet these requirements will be accommodated.
Public responses to the proposed voter ID laws
The Human Rights Law Centre says that the proposed changes will create new and unnecessary barriers to voting for marginalised voters, particularly Indigenous people whose voting rates are already a lot lower than those of the general population.
Other critics of the proposed new laws have described them as a threat to our democracy and electoral integrity that will lead to longer queues on election day and more expensive elections.
Concerns have also been raised that declaration votes are fairly complex to complete and may pose difficulties for voters with limited English or formal education.
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