Declining electoral enrolment continues to present a significant challenge not only for Australia, but for many countries and jurisdictions. Existing paper-based enrolment requirements under Commonwealth legislation are a deterrent to the current generation of Australians who are accustomed to conducting business with government agencies through electronic transactions. The introduction of flexible approaches which modernise electoral enrolment processes is a vital component for addressing the challenge of declining enrolment.
The New South Wales Parliament has taken legislative action to address concerns over declining enrolment levels by introducing a new automatic enrolment system for state and local government elections. NSW will no longer rely on the Australian Electoral Commission to prepare and maintain rolls for NSW elections.
Under the NSW legislation, the NSW Electoral Commissioner will assume responsibility for preparing and maintaining a roll for each NSW electoral district using enrolment data supplied by the Commonwealth and data held by various NSW government agencies.
The NSW legislation could have significant implications for the conduct of federal elections if Commonwealth legislation is not amended to allow for similar provisions. Having two different enrolment regimes operating at the Commonwealth and State level creates the potential for elector confusion. Of particular concern is the scenario whereby voters in NSW are enrolled automatically for that state’s elections and mistakenly believe that they have also been enrolled for the purpose of federal elections.
If granted the power to implement similar automatic enrolment measures, the AEC has acknowledged that it would proceed with caution and conservatism, and would apply carefully designed business rules to ensure the integrity of the electoral roll is maintained. The committee supports Commonwealth legislation being amended to allow the AEC to automatically enrol electors on the basis of data provided by trusted agencies.
To ensure that automatic enrolment does not inadvertently limit the ability for eligible electors to exercise the franchise, election day enrolment is proposed as a safety net to capture those electors who have not been picked up through automatic enrolment processes, as well as those who have been removed from the electoral roll in error or enrolled at the wrong address.
This report includes a dissenting view from the Coalition senators.