For Commonwealth elections, the electoral roll closes at 8pm on the seventh calendar day after the writs are issued for the election.
The Bill proposes to allow eligible electors to enrol to vote, or update their enrolment details, at an early voting centre, or a polling centre on election day and be eligible to cast a provisional vote at that time.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) makes significant effort to ensure the accuracy of the electoral roll. Eligible electors are given the opportunity to enrol and update their enrolment.
At the 2016 election, the enrolment rate was 95 per cent of eligible Australians. The youth enrolment rate also increased from averages below 80 per cent to 86 per cent for the 2016 federal election.
In September 2017, the youth enrolment rate reached a high of 88 per cent, and continues to sit at 86 per cent in 2018.
This growth demonstrates the importance of both social media and traditional media in encouraging eligible voters to enrol. The AEC has noted in the past that the use of social media by electoral management bodies can help engage citizens, including encouraging enrolment. This can be supplemented by other organisations and individuals, including politicians.
Strengthening methods and advertisements which encourage voters to enrol, with a particular emphasis on online platforms and schools, could prove more effective than same-day enrolment.
Enrolment is supported by federal direct enrolment and direct update (FDEU) authority given to the AEC which allows the AEC to obtain information from other government agencies to update electors’ details, such as change of address. The AEC has previously reported to the Committee that FDEU, combined with the online enrolment process has contributed to the improvements in youth enrolment.
Close of rolls
Provisions of the Electoral Act require that there be a period between the issuing of the writs (formal notice that an election is to be conducted) and the election date where the rolls are closed to new electors.
Across Australian jurisdictions, the ‘close of rolls’ takes place, on average, a month prior to polling day. After the rolls have closed, no new electors may be added to the roll. Therefore, those who become eligible to vote (new citizens, people who turn 18 without having registered as a 17 year old) between close of rolls and an election are unable to vote, despite being eligible.
Table 3.1: Close of electoral rolls in Australian state and territories
7 calendar days after the issue of the writs
At issue of writ(a)
7 calendar days after the issue of the writs(a)
5–7 days after issue of writ
6 days after issue of writ(b)
8 days after issue of writ
At issue of writ(c)
2 days after issue of writ
29 days before polling day
Source: Parliamentary Library
Notes: (a) Election day enrolment is available so enrolment after close of rolls is possible
(b) 6 days after issue of writ
(c) Writ must only be issued 5 to 10 days after the proclamation after the dissolution of the Assembly
Although each jurisdiction takes its own approach to the close of rolls, it follows a consistent pattern. The Committee’s strong preference is not to introduce an inconsistency into this pattern which would potentially cause difficulties for electors, and state and territory electoral management bodies.
Comparing enrolment across the states and territories, there is also minimal evidence that the option of election day enrolment in NSW and Victoria significantly increases voter enrolment. (See Figure 3.1.) Instead, socioeconomic status, age, and interest in politics were more likely to affect participation.
Source: AEC website, ‘Size of the electoral roll and enrolment’
The Committee also notes that the close of rolls period is an important period for the AEC to conduct integrity checks to detect enrolment fraud and incorrectly processed enrolments.
While for the 2016 election there were no patterns that indicated enrolment fraud, it is important that the AEC continues to have the opportunity to perform these important integrity checks, which are a key component of protecting our electoral system.
Associate Professor Matthew Stubbs expressed two objections to polling day enrolment:
I think, for starters, it would likely lead to chaos but the other concern with polling day enrolment would be that it would tend to cheapen the process in a sense. Proper voting should not be something that you do on the spur of the moment; it should be something that you are actually thinking about and want to exercise that right.
Associate Professor Sarah Murray raised concerns about the ‘resource impact this could have, particularly on the Australian Electoral Commission and particularly if this is to be introduced as it is in the bill alongside lowering the voting age.’ She further noted:
In New South Wales and Victoria, there was a 2012 direct enrolment report which really outlined the considerable resource-intensive nature of allowing election day enrolment at polling places.
Ms Aisha Burns, a student from Applecross Senior High School in Perth raised concerns that on-the-day enrolment would encourage laziness noting:
While we are for the idea of lowering the non-compulsory voting age to 16, we are thoroughly against allowing enrolments on the day. This encourages people to slack off and turns voting into a spur of the moment idea, which is not how we want voting to come across. While this idea will increase voter participation, these votes will most likely not be thought through properly about how they could affect the Australian community. We want the votes that have been counted and been put towards political decisions to be thought through and allowing enrolments on the day is not the way to do this.
Mr Ryan Ewington, also an Applecross student, echoed these concerns when responding to the issue of the disproportionate number of young people facing enrolment issues because of frequent address changes:
I would just like to add you said it would make things easier for 16- and 17-year olds and that's a valid point because, us teenagers, we always want things to be easier and more convenient. But another issue for people our age is that if we have the opportunity to walk up on the day and do everything then, like Aisha said, it could encourage things like donkey votes and informal votes or simply procrastination and laziness.
The Youth Network of Tasmania (YNOT), while supporting a lower enrolment age, also recognised that:
… electoral day enrolment may present administrative and logistical challenges. We acknowledge that this proposed change may be resource intensive and potentially impact on the time it takes to finalise election results. YNOT believes that further debate on the merits of electoral day enrolment in reducing barriers to participation is required.
The Committee did not receive any evidence justifying the necessity to remove the ‘close of rolls’ period by introducing on-the-day enrolment. In contrast, this period is important for the Australian Electoral Commission in conducting integrity checks to protect the electoral roll from voter fraud.
The Committee also notes that Federal Direct Enrolment and Update has improved the national enrolment rate and accuracy, and the national enrolment rate is high. Where the enrolment rate is lower than the national average (for example remote communities in the Northern Territory), the Committee is aware that the AEC is undertaking specific enrolment activities appropriate to the relevant communities.
Without the evidence to justify the introduction of election day enrolment, and noting the resource-intensive nature of election day enrolment, the Committee does not support these provisions of the Bill.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Lowering Voting Age and Increasing Voter Participation Bill) 2018 not be passed.
Senator the Hon James McGrath
22 March 2019