ELECTORAL AFFAIRS: by Julia PatrickNews Weekly
Ex-AFP commissioner slams AEC's Senate vote bungle
, April 26, 2014
Due to a recount for the Western Australian Senate after the federal election last September, 1,370 votes were found to have mysteriously vanished.
Former federal police commissioner Mick Keelty was called in to investigate what went wrong, and his report is scathing.
Meanwhile, the High Court declared the result invalid, necessitating a $23 million re-run of the election on April 5 this year. This time an insecure ballot box meant 75 votes were invalid, threatening a third Senate election.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) pontificates that elections are based largely on “trust”. That’s a charitable thought. How many businesses in the real world rely on “trust”?
Our electoral system is plainly dysfunctional and positively invites corruption. No ID is required to vote.
How many voters pre-polled or voted by post before election day — no questions asked, no ID required — then voted a few more times on election day?
How many voted from the grave? The unscrupulous could exonerate themselves from accusations of cheating by rationalising such a practice as noble-cause corruption — that the end justifies the means.
No, it’s not a conspiracy theory, just an obvious question in a system that’s tailor-made for fraud. If something dishonest can be done, it will be done.
But Keelty’s brief was not to comment on how to reform these absurdities in our voting system. It was to investigate the AEC’s preposterous administrative mismanagement, which only added to the shambolic charade we call a “democratic” election.
In his words, it was “a disaster”.
Official regulations were ambiguous and unclear, with diagrams so complicated that only an expert could decipher them. They were either side-stepped or ignored.
The 70,000 casual staff, who turned up to supplement the 850 regular electoral commission staff, were often unfamiliar with the electoral process, received inadequate or no training, did not understand their role and yet had the responsibility for running polling places.
Some scrutineers claimed that they did not know why they were there: they were just required to physically fill a spot.
Pictures show election material alongside piles of rubbish, and two election operations were being run in the same centre.
The contract for transporting votes from local polling places to the central counting-centre elapsed two months before the election, had not been renewed and a further offer of a tracking system was rejected. We can track parcels round the world, but not ballot boxes in WA.
These boxes could have been bar-coded, but they weren’t. Instead, names of polling places were crossed out or illegible and boxes reused.
There were questions on the neutrality of those transporting boxes in private vehicles and stored overnight in non-AEC premises, with instances of boxes of votes being loaded into utes and thrown from one to another in the middle of the night.
The recount centre was a shambles.
Voting papers were left in open, unsecured boxes overnight in the custody of a lone security guard who had not been vetted for political neutrality. There was no closed-circuit television.
None of the 1,370 ballot papers have turned up anywhere and critical evidence has been lost. They could have been tampered with, mistakenly thrown out with the rubbish or destroyed with criminal intent.
“I am not ruling it out,” was Keelty’s comment, “because the system was so bad I cannot.”
Following this electoral nightmare — “bungle” is a totally inadequate euphemism — the Australian Electoral Commission pledged that it would adopt all of Keelty’s recommendations. Have they done so?
But there’s little point in just tightening up round the edges. We need total reform in the way we vote, starting with voter ID as a basic requirement, and the introduction of a secure electronic roll which could erase a name from all rolls once a person had voted.
However, the signs are not good. Splitting the AEC’s responsibilities and forming a national election commission have been proposed. More talkfests, more submissions, more feigned indignation, leading to more on-going, masterful inaction. It is a national disgrace.
Meanwhile, AEC officials have been jetting off to the Solomon Islands and East Timor to advise them how to run their elections.
Julia Patrick is a Sydney based free-lance writer on social issues. For detailed information on how our electoral system has failed us, see Australians For Honest Elections (AFHE) at: www.afhe.org.au