Thursday, September 18, 2014

A hole in our democratic protections

There's been a couple of stories in the media over the last few days about voting by the intellectually disabled, focusing on the risk of abuse. The right, as always, are using this as an argument to limit the franchise by imposing a competency test (at which point we should keep in mind that many of them are quite open in their belief that anyone who doesn't vote for ACT is literally insane and cannot be trusted to vote "properly"). Meanwhile, they've missed the bigger problem:

In Hamilton, Bupa Rossendale and Dementia Care Hospital manager Adriana Ciolpan said their 90 residents were deemed incompetent by medical professionals and could not vote.

"Medically, they are not deemed able to vote. They are all under power of attorney," Ciolpan said.

"We follow legal requirements.

"We can't make them vote. We cannot accept voting papers for them because we don't want someone else to abuse them. They have been deemed incompetent and that's a legal document," she said.

"All the letters we receive, we send them back saying they're incompetent and can't vote. It should be the same everywhere," Ciolpan said. "But if they are not deemed incompetent by a doctor, we cannot stop them from voting."

Andrew Geddis thinks this is OK because those affected lack the requisite intention to vote. Which may or may not be true depending on the particular individual. But there's also the fact that electoral enrolment is compulsory and failing to do so is a crime. And by doing this, this hospital is making criminals of its residents.

And this exposes a bigger problem. I looked in vain for a clause in the Electoral Act which made preventing someone from registering to vote a crime, and could not find one. And this is a huge hole in our democratic protections. We rightly protect the right to vote with the secret ballot and protection from intimidation; we do this because in the past the rich have threatened to punish the poor for voting against them, or for voting at all. But they don't need to do any of that if they can just stop you from registering as an elector. Clearly, we need to protect the right to register in the same way.