It seems there is some debate in various states in the USA about preventing vote fraud by requiring ID to be presented when voting (and whether or not that actually works). This got me thinking; what stops dodgy voting practices over here in Australia?
My first thought was that compulsory voting takes care of it all for us. Unlike the USA, we don’t have to worry about people pretending to vote as someone else, because everyone has to vote. If someone votes twice at the same booth, their name will already be crossed off and the alarm will be raised. If someone votes twice at different booths, presumeably they take those big ledgers and cross check them against each other to discover it (at least I hope that the “have you already voted today?” question isn’t the last line of defence against vote stacking).
But what’s to stop someone simply enrolling twice (or more) in different electorates? With different fake names? I wouldn’t put it past some political parties, given their blatant unethical behaviour in the past regarding fake “how to vote” cards. Let’s take a look at the electoral enrolment form:
All that is required for a new enrolment is that the enrolment form be witnessed by someone who is already enrolled. So pick someone you dislike, (or just someone at random after you steal their junk mail) and fake their signature. Viola, Mr Dude Awesome of 1 Rad St Bodaciousville Victoria is now eligible to vote. Or is he?
What kind of checking goes on behind the scenes? Surely somewhere the government has a big list of all citizen’s names right? When you are born, you go on the list. When you immigrate and naturalize, you go on the list. So couldn’t they check this list to make sure Mr Dude Awesome actually exists? Well yeah sure, after all “Mr Dude Awesome” sticks out like a sore thumb. But what if we picked “John Smith” as our fake name? Then instead of matching one entry, they’d have to check the number of John Smiths enrolled versus the number of John Smiths eligible to be enrolled. But don’t we all know someone who hasn’t ever enrolled or voted, and has never got in trouble for it? I don’t think this type of checking will work.
Obviously at some level a rigged election becomes obvious. If the enrolled population in an electorate doubles despite no change in demographics, someone has to be cheating. But vote rigging wouldn’t need to be so blatant in order to effect the election results. Need I remind you that the most recent federal election was the closest ever, with control being decided by who the independant MPs chose to back? A hundred or so fake voters in a swinging electorate could easily make all the difference, but how could we detect them?
Unfortunately (in this case) voting is anonymous. If we could match up the new enrollee’s actual votes, we could see a disproportionate shift to the party doing the rigging. Instead, all we can try is to compare an electorate’s votes with its pre-poll results, but that would probably be messy and inconclusive. Besides, at best these kind techniques can only determine that rigging has taken place after the fact, they can’t nab the fraudsters when they show up to the booth, which means they get off scott free.
What about checking the address of the newly enrolled person? Somewhere the government must keep a list of all street and suburb names. Surely they can check that the address is at least valid; hell, I can do it myself with google maps. To get around this the perpetrator could supply a valid address at random from the street directory and just hope that the existing tenants aren’t too thorough in marking their mail “not at this address” and shoving it back in the postbox. But who among us hasn’t received mail for an old tenant and simply chucked it out? Still, it is one way of checking that could possibly lead to the culprit being nabbed when they show up at the voting booth.
Ultimately I can’t think of an effective and elegant way of detecting vote stacking like this but I’ve only spent half an hour thinking about it. Someone smarter than me at the electoral commission has probably spent a lot of time on it, and the systems are all in place… I hope?