Monday, 2 January 2012

The New Year has begun with a

badly edited letter appearing in the state newspaper. As it is the lead letter this worries me. It gives an entirely unintended meaning to the whole thing. Sigh.
I was talking about the suggestion that Australians should show some form of photo ID to vote. The suggestion is that this would prevent people from voting twice.
Attendance at the ballot box (not actually voting) is required by law if you are an adult Australian citizen. You cannot actually force someone to vote but the law requires you to attend a polling station, have your name marked off, accept the ballot papers, mark them and place them in the boxes provided.
The actual marking of the ballot papers cannot be enforced of course but the rest can be and is enforced.
Deliberate multiple voting is rare. There is some evidence of it among confused elderly people and, occasionally, migrants. There was a case which received wide publicity at a state election where someone claimed a family had voted more than 150 times in the names of other people. I suppose it could be done. I do not know. Why anyone would bother is beyond me.
But the idea of having to have photo ID in order to vote in a country where attendance at the ballot box is compulsory does bother me.
Australians have indicated a strong dislike of the idea of a national ID card over the years. We already have a national ID card of sorts in our Medicare cards - but these do not have photographs. Medicare cards are also limited in their use. You cannot require them as ID for other services - although they can be used in some circumstances.
There are also numerous ways in which the government and other organisations collect information from us - more ways than most people are aware of. I also avoid "loyalty cards" for big organisations. They all keep central data bases of what you buy when you use them. I remove as much tracking information as I can from the computer. I give out a minimum of personal information to government departments. All the same I know that they hold far more information about me than is necessary or desirable. Information is collected for the sake of collecting information. It "might be useful one day".
But, a national photographic ID card? Oh yes, I know there are places which have them but they are used in much the way our Medicare card is used. If we went down this route the purpose would be different. No government would go to the expense of introducing such a system just in order to ensure a few citizens did not attempt to vote twice. They would look at where else - and how often - they could require it to be used. It may start out well but what government could resist (ab)using such a card at other times?
What is more it would not stop the confused voting at more than one polling station while we still have a system where names are marked manually off the rolls.

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