Absentee voting is an open door to fraud in voting. If such an open door exists – one that may lead to power and gain by such fraud – it will be used.
What is that open door? That open door exists, in that any voter in a state can vote in any polling-booth, in any other electorate than his/her own within that state.
For example, if there are an average of 30 polling-booths in each of 49 federal electoral divisions in New South Wales, there will be 1,470 polling-booths. Then, as my daughter would say, so what?
It is a very big “what”. To offer such a service as absent voting to voters in all 49 NSW federal electorates, the Australian Electoral Commission has to print enough different sets of blank ballot-papers to be available in all of the 1,470 polling-booths in those electorates.
These blank ballot-papers are supplied in packs of 10, but only those applying to the House of Representatives will be different for each electorate. Those applying to the Senate will, of course, be the same as the relevant candidates are elected to represent the whole state. One pack of 10 issued per electorate amounts to 14,700 ballot-papers issued.
Larger polling-booths have more packs for starters. In either case, polling-booth liaison officers have further supplies according to demand while paper and facilities to print more are also available.
None of this would be of serious concern if absent voters were a rare species, given that the options of pre-poll and postal voting are available as are interstate voting centres – all of which options, incidentally, have been severely criticised for their failings in that they are open to fraud, whereas absent voting has not.
Surely questions should be asked if a single polling-booth in Cabramatta in a recent NSW state election had 400 absentee voters. This surge inflicted great stress on its volunteer workers, who had to check the validity of each of these votes on a temperamental computer – a means of checking not yet available in the federal system.
The question should certainly be asked of the Australian Electoral Commission as to why the total of absent votes cast in the 2007 federal election had risen to 851,951, or 6.22 per cent, of the total vote, according to its website. This represented a massive 6,660 per electorate if evenly spread across 150 electorates, but of course it would not have been so. (Final figures for the recent August 21 federal election are not yet available).
This extraordinarily lax practice of issuing blank ballot-papers, either pre-printed or printed on site, rests on an indefensible proposition that the 70,000 or so casual workers, and hundreds of officials, in the operation are universally honest. A great deal of proven recent evidence in the history of voting says otherwise.
Furthermore, what audit, or security, exists of all those packs of blank ballot-papers sitting in cupboards, if delivered days before the election, or lying on the back-seats of the vehicles of polling-booth runners as they do their runs, or in transit by post or van to their rightful electorates after polling day?
This form of absentee voting should be abolished, in favour of the proxy-voting system of the United Kingdom, as no electoral system should tolerate the fact that hundreds of thousands of blank ballot-papers, available in the polling-booth where they are filled out, will not be counted on the day but at some time in the days that follow as they arrive in divisional offices.
The wholesale distribution of complete sets of blank ballot-papers – 48 times in excess of what is needed in the local electorate – should not be tolerated. The possibility of voting fraud by this means is much more likely to have occurred in our recent federal election, given the scale of the stakes involved.
Dr Amy McGrath OAM is president of the H.S. Chapman Society. Website: www.hschapman.org