Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Rolling duties

I've previously discussed the fact that, compared with the UK, the electoral enrolment system in Australia relies much more on voters to take the initiative to enrol. While the resulting expection that the rolls be kept up-to-date from month-to-month has advantages over relying on a yearly update, the system leaves plenty of room for enrolments (or changes) to simply never happen.

The NSW government has announced plans to improve the accuracy of the rolls by automatically using information held by government agencies (such as the current sponsor of the state cricket team). From the point of view of reducing the burden on voters, and removing disenfranchisement caused by simply neglecting to enrol, although would be worth paying some attention to who might not be covered by any of the information sources.

Criticism of the plan describes it as an invasion of privacy - using personal information for purposes other than for which it was supplied. In a country where voting is compulsory, there are people who are deliberately not on the roll. Will this sort of enforced enrolment cause these people to be more reluctant with their information in other circumstances?

The question of compulsory voting itself is an interesting one, often phrased in terms of whether voting is a responsibility or simply a right. I thought of this recently when events caused me to remember discussing the fact that Australians are required to update their enrolment within a month of changing address, not simply wait until an election is imminent.

My point then, which also helps explain why enrolling is compulsory even in places where voting is not, was simply that voting in elections are not the only use of the electoral roll. Appearing in a jury is not something we tend to see as a right. It is certainly treated as a responsibility, or as the Sheriff's material and court officers repeatedly describe it, a "civic duty".

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