Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Disenfranchising the poor

DPF responds to my criticisms of the UK electoral enrolment system with some criticisms of his own directed at New Zealand's system. he concludes by saying

I can’t think of a system more open to abuse than one with no eligibility check for enrolment, no proof of ID for enrolment and no proof of ID for voting.
Let's look at the facts here. According to the Justice and Electoral Committee's Inquiry into the 2005 General Election, a total of three cases of enrolment fraud were detected during the 2005 election. All were reported to the police. 21 cases of dual voting were discovered during the 2005 election, and these were also reported to the police. The conclusion is that voter and enrolment fraud in New Zealand is relatively rare. Despite this, the National Party (and its mouthpieces like DPF) insist that we must require physical ID at all stages of the electoral process. Here's what the Electoral Enrolment Centre had to say about that:
One possible solution to dual voting and other forms of identity fraud during the enrolment and voting processes is to require voters to produce proof of identity before enrolling and voting. This option might reduce the relatively small incidence of electoral and voter fraud. However, requiring proof of eligibility might result in more people choosing not to vote. The Electoral Enrolment Centre told us that requiring a person to produce proof of eligibility when applying to enrol or vote would create a significant barrier to participation. Voter turnout has generally decreased since the 1987 general election, and such a requirement might result in further decline.
Which is of course the point. But it's not just about reducing turnout generally, but about reducing turnout amongst those more likely to support the left. The blunt fact is that the poor are less likely than the rich to have the required forms of ID or be comfortable dealing with bureaucracy, and thus less likely to be able to vote under such a system. Which is exactly what National wants. This isn't about preventing fraud - which is virtually nonexistent in New Zealand - but about disenfranchising the poor by stealth.

(The Republicans in the US are particularly bad at this as well. Kevin Drum has some good stuff on it here and here).

Unlike those on the right, I believe in democracy. One person, one vote, regardless of wealth. I think it is vitally important that every eligible voter - every New Zealand citizen or resident - is able to express themselves on election day and have their say in who gets to govern us. Obviously, our electoral authorities should take precautions to prevent fraud, and they do: every enrolment is cross-checked, and dual voting is easily detected and the votes disqualified. Those checks are reasonable and justified. What is not justified is erecting barriers to democratic participation in an effort to shift the result. National's friends in America may think that is acceptable electoral politics; New Zealanders do not.