21 October 2013


I'm watching with interest the debate in Queensland about proposals to mandate voter ID, ie voters in state elections would be required to provide proof of their identity (presumably by showing a state-issued identity card such as a drivers licence) before they get into the polling booth.

In a discussion paper [PDF] earlier this year the Department of Justice & Attorney General commented that
There is currently no requirement in Queensland or any other jurisdiction in Australia for a voter on the electoral roll to produce proof of their identity at the polling station in order to be allowed to vote.
The introduction of a requirement for proof of identity at polling stations has previously been considered on a number of occasions, including by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (in reports published in 2011 on the conduct of the 2010 federal election and in 2009 on the conduct of the 2007 federal election). The issue was also canvassed in a 2009 Green Paper on electoral reform released by the Australian Government (Green Paper).
3.1 Option – Introduce proof of identity requirements
The Green Paper included a comprehensive list of the arguments both for and against a requirement for voters to provide identification at polling booths.
In support of the introduction of proof of identity requirements, the Green Paper noted that the requirements could:
  • provide greater protection against voter impersonation, as voters could be visually checked against their photographic identification and against the electoral roll; and 
  • ensure greater confidence in the electoral process and the integrity of the results.
On the other hand, the 2009 Green Paper noted that:
  • it is at the enrolment stage that issues surrounding a person’s entitlement to vote should be resolved, which enables the polling process to proceed smoothly as the certified lists can be taken as ‘conclusive of a person’s right to vote’; 
  • a requirement to produce a photographic identity card or passport might operate in a discriminatory way against persons who do not have any photographic identity; 
  • an extensive public education campaign would be required to educate voters on the specific documents that would be accepted as proof of identity on election day; 
  • even with a substantial publicity campaign, it would be possible that a number of voters would be unable to, or would forget to, bring the appropriate documents with them, which would be likely to lead to a further increase in declaration voting; and 
  • additional polling staff would be required to check voter identities in order to reduce delays at polling places.
Given that Queensland would be the only jurisdiction to require proof of identity on polling day, there is a risk that the requirement would lead to voter confusion. Also, as there is no specific evidence of electoral fraud in this area, introduction of proof of identity requirements could be considered a disproportionate response to the risk.
Experiences in countries where voter identification is required vary. In the United States of America, for example, it has been noted that the requirement for identification has the potential to sway election results in some swing states. On 5 August 2012, the Financial Times reported that in Pennsylvania, for example, more than 750,000 registered voters did not have the required forms of identification and President Obama won Pennsylvania by only 600,000 votes. Voter identification laws in Canada and various European countries appear to be well established, although many of these countries already have a national identification scheme.