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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2028

Mr GRAY (Special Minister of State and Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity) (NaN:NaN:00) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present this bill to repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity as a precondition to these votes being included in the count for an election.

Provisional votes are a type of declaration vote cast at a polling place on polling day.

There are four main for a person to be asked to cast a provisional vote. First, the person’s name cannot be found on the certified list. Second, a mark already appears on the certified list which indicates the person has already voted. Third, the polling official doubts the person’s identity. Finally, the voter is a silent elector.

When casting a provisional vote, ballot papers are placed in an envelope. Written on the outside of the envelope are the voter’s details including name, address, date of birth and signature. This allows the Australian Electoral Commission to examine the eligibility of the voter before including the vote into the count—this is known as the ‘preliminary scrutiny’.

The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act currently require a person casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity by the first Friday following polling day. If the voter does not provide evidence of identity by this deadline the vote does not progress to ‘preliminary scrutiny’ and is not counted.

This requirement was put in place by the previous government in 2006. It resulted in a situation where provisional votes were dealt with in a way that was inconsistent with the treatment of other types of declaration votes—namely, absent votes, postal votes and prepoll votes.

At the 2010 general election over 28,000 provisional votes were rejected because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the deadline. There might be a number of reasons why a voter has not provided evidence of identity by the deadline. It does not necessarily indicate an attempt to vote fraudulently.

Out of the 28,000 rejected votes, the Australian Electoral Commission found over 12,000 instances where the name of the voter was subsequently found on the certified list. This result is not surprising as a provisional vote is cast in circumstances where a polling official has doubts regarding the voter’s identity or if a mark on the certified list appears to indicate the voter has already voted. It might also indicate a miscommunication between the voter and the polling official, or a simple mistake by the polling official in not finding the voter’s name on the certified list. Whatever the case, the result is that otherwise eligible votes were excluded from the preliminary scrutiny.

The requirement for a provisional voter to provide evidence of identity leads to inconsistency in the treatment of different types of declaration votes. Otherwise eligible voters who do not provide evidence of identity by the deadline would have had their vote counted if they had voted by absent vote, postal vote or prepoll declaration vote. There is no reason why otherwise valid provisional votes should be treated differently to other forms of declaration voting such as postal voting and absent voting.

This bill will repeal the requirement for voters casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity. Instead, if there is any doubt as to the bona fides of the elector, the signature on the provisional vote envelope will be compared with the signature of the elector on previously lodged enrolment records.

This amendment is supported by the Australian Electoral Commission which, in its submission to the inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2010 federal election and matters related thereto, recommended that the requirement for production of evidence of identity by provisional voters should be repealed.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Randall) adjourned.