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Rock Enrol

At the Side Project blog, Ben Jenkins answers your questions – or at least his – about automatic enrolment

So here’s something interesting about next year’s election that hasn’t really gotten that much coverage – in 2013, 1.5 million Australians are going to be added to the electoral roll. To put this in perspective, this is just over the population of Adelaide, or, if you prefer, approximately 105 thousand tonnes of additional voters – and to put that in perspective, that’s two whole Sydney Harbor Bridges worth of people in terms of weight. The point we’re trying to make is that it’s a lot of people, okay?

Where are these people coming from? Are we finally giving the people of Adelaide the vote? No. While voting in Australia has been compulsory since 1912, you still need to be on the electoral roll in order to cast your ballot. When a person turns 18, they are in theory eligible to vote, but not automatically placed on the electoral roll. Enrolling is not a hugely difficult thing to do, but still it’s a duty that’s neglected by an overwhelming number of new potential voters – about 1.5 million in fact, which is, as previously discussed, a large number indeed. New legislation would automatically enrol these people as soon as they turn 18.

Right. So how would that even work?

The Government is confident that the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) have reliable means of finding unenrolled voters and getting word to them that they’re now enrolled. These means are things like the info on your driver’s licence or birth certificate. Now once they find you, you still have to confirm your address with them – so the idea that this is an entirely automated process is slightly misleading.

So what do these new voters mean for me?

You personally? Well not much, unless you happen to be a member of parliament and hold a marginal seat, that is. 1.5 million new voters in the system next year will have a fair few parliamentarians sweating in their seats and more than a couple of election strategists giving some very serious thought on how to approach this - especially if they are from the Liberal or National parties.

Why is it bad for them?

Well, young people tend to be more inclined to support Labor or the Greens and less likely to cast a vote for the Coalition. This is, obviously, a generalisation, (just ask Wyatt Roy) but so is almost everything when we’re talking about election projections. According to a study released by the Whitlam Institute last year, young voters (that’s people between 18 and 34) have decided the past four elections despite making up only 30% of the electorate. So here’s a group of people not to be sniffed at.

How bad could it be for the Libs and Nats? Significant, if the latest Newspoll analysis is to be believed. They reckon almost a dozen Coalition seats would be under threat from the inclusion of these new voters. And while Labor wouldn’t get a huge boost, the Greens stand to gain a projected 0.6 of a per cent in the primary vote. The Coalition stand to lose 1.5%

This sounds like the sort of thing that the Coalition wouldn’t be that happy about. Well they’re not thrilled, yeah. Problem is, it’s quite a tricky thing to oppose because, at least on the surface, this is just a way to ensure democracy for all. In reality, it’s unlikely that the Government would have pushed this legislation though for entirely altruistic reasons – they would have been well aware that this would damage the Coalition – but unfortunately for the opposition, that’s not quite a good enough reason to not go ahead with this.

Their other complaint is that this is going to compromise the integrity of the electoral roll. On this point they have a bit more ground to stand on. This system does make it easier for incorrect information about voters, especially where they live, to be recorded. In fact, Christopher Pyne has taken this one step further, saying that there should be new voter ID laws for a federal election.

Huh. So, in summary?

All stats seem to indicate that this will have an impact on next year’s election, and that it won’t be a positive one for the Coalition. Tony Abbott is confident that the opposition is actually going to scoop up a good chunk of these new voters anyway, and that’s certainly not impossible. Either way, both sides know how tight the 2013 contest is going to be, and 1.5 million new votes are enough to make a difference.

Does this mean that there’ll be fewer sausages available at my voting station? …I mean, I guess that could be the case – but that’s not really the biggest thing to take away from this.

The opinions expressed in The Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Project or the Ten Network.