Australia is experiencing election fever. Election day was on 2 July, Australians en masse went out to vote on Saturday, but we still don’t have a new government. As everyone waits for the answer to the question of who will lead our country, I have a question for you: did you get to vote?
I got a letter in the mail from the Australian Electoral Commission earlier this year suggesting that I update my address. I logged into the website and updated my details, and I thought that that was all I needed to do in preparation for my upcoming democratic participation.
So when I got a letter a couple of weeks later telling me that they couldn’t process my application because I wasn’t actually on the electoral roll. Considering I had voted in the last election, I was really surprised. How can I go from being on the roll to all of a sudden being off it.
The answer is in the Electoral Act 1918
(https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C00697). Under Section 114(4) of the Electoral Act, The Electoral Commissioner must object to the enrolment for a person for a Subdivision of a Division if the person’s name has been placed on the Roll for that Subdivision in respect of a particular address and at the date of the objection, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the person doesn’t live at that address, and has not lived at that address for a period of at least one month.
In plain English, this means that if the Electoral Commission finds out you don’t live at your last address anymore and haven’t lived there for over a month, then they are obligated to take you off the roll.
But how do they find out? Well, the answer is on the Australian Electoral Commission website. Every year, the Electoral Commission systematically reviews the roll and about 2% of enrolled voters are removed this way (http://www.aec.gov.au/Enrolling_to_vote/About_Electoral_Roll/Roll_review.htm).
This is what happened to me. Sometime last September, I was taken off the electoral roll. So, when I went to update my address this year, I didn’t actually have an enrolment to update. Then by the time I figured out what had happened, it was too late: the roll had closed. I wasn’t alone in being disenfranchised. I had a couple of friends on Facebook who were shocked to see that they weren’t actually enrolled and were now excluded from voting in this year’s Federal election. In 2016 there are 15.5 million people enrolled to vote in Australia. If 2% of enrolled voters are removed from the roll every year, that means that nearly 310,000 Australians are struck off the roll every year. That is quite a lot of voters.
The next question to ask is who are these 310,000 Australians getting taken off the electoral roll?
I have a couple of guesses. Students who move house often. Victims of domestic violence. People who are homeless. The thing is, updating your electoral enrolment within a month of moving house, is not going to be at the top of your priority list if you don’t even have a house.
On the other hand, who are the people who won’t have to worry about updating their addresses? People who own their own homes. All of a sudden, the system is sounding a little feudal.
Now, there are two kinds of people in this world. The people who find out that they aren’t on the roll and shrug and say, “oh well”, and the people who chase that decision down the path of review to the bitter, bitter end. As someone who falls in the latter category, I very much appreciate that I am in the minority. Most people would simply take a deep breath and let this go. Then there is the other issue that if the Electoral Commission finds out you don’t live at your last registered address, they don’t have to try super hard to find you – they can just send their notification to your last known address.
The last question is: where did that leave me on election day? Well, by Friday evening my internal review had not yet been finalised. So, come election day, I went down the local primary school with my boyfriend and my dog. I lined up. I put in a provisional vote which will be sent to my local division for assessment. I bought a democracy sausage. I ate said democracy sausage. I bought a coffee and walked home feeling like even if my vote doesn’t end up counting, I did everything I could to make it.