Bombshell ID plan for NSW voters

During the final sitting week of the NSW Parliament for the year, dominated by furious debate over legislation removing Independent Commission Against Corruption chief Megan Latham from her job, a parliamentary committee tabled a report containing an equally contentious measure.

The report on the 2015 state election from the joint standing committee on electoral matters suggested a range of improvements to NSW voting rules based on that poll.

It contains a bombshell recommendation that NSW voters be forced to produce photo identification before they are able to vote.

The requirement to produce photo ID to vote may sound fairly innocuous. Most of us have a driver's licence or some other form of identification.

Yet similar laws in the United States have prompted a huge outcry amid accusations they are driven by racism and a desire by the Republican party to disenfranchise African American, Latino, poor and young voters.

The introduction of voter ID in Pennsylvania has been credited with reducing the margin of US President Barack Obama's victory over Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

The effect of voter ID laws on this year's presidential election and whether they helped Donald Trump over the line in key states has been hotly debated.

Overwhelmingly, the justification for the introduction of voter ID laws in the US is that it will help reduce voter fraud – people impersonating others at a polling place.

Critics point out that voter fraud is virtually non-existent and the chances of an organised group of fraudsters swinging an election result are minuscule.

Despite this, similar arguments are being made in NSW. The committee report highlights what it sees are two problems: multiple voting (one person voting several times); and voter fraud via impersonation.

The NSW electoral commission told the committee it was confident there is "no large scale impersonation of other electors" that could threaten a state election.

Labor committee members warned about the large proportion of people without a driver's licence, like those in nursing homes.

There is also concern about the potential for disenfranchising Indigenous and young voters in NSW.

But the Liberal Party and Christian Democratic Party both backed introduction of voter ID as a way to crack down on voter fraud and the government-dominated committee has recommended it. In a nod to disenfranchisement concerns, it recommends there also be alternatives such as the ability to sign a statutory declaration or have another voter vouch for their identity.

But this is unlikely to mollify those who fear that, as in the US, the measure is a stealthy means of sidelining voters favouring left-of-centre political parties.

Unlike the US, voting is compulsory here, with fines for those who don’t. But any suggestion this might reduce the potential impact of voter ID laws is thrown into doubt by evidence showing the prospect of a fine has no impact on a large portion of the population.

More than 1.4 million Australians – nine per cent of those eligible – failed to vote for the House of Representatives at the 2013 federal election. This was the lowest result since 1922, when voting was optional.

In the NSW state election in 2015, voter participation fell to 90.5 per cent – a drop of two per cent compared with 2011.

The most discussed aspect of Trump's victory in terms of its potential impact on Australian politics has been the rise of the non-mainstream parties.

But, Premier Mike Baird might be paying particularly close attention to the effect of voter ID laws on the US result.

Introducing voter ID would be a controversial move that would almost certainly be cast by opponents as deeply unfair to Indigenous, poor and young and elderly voters.

But with the polls tightening, it could be an irresistible temptation before the 2019 election – Sean Nicholls, Fairfax Media.

VOTER ID: Will Premier Mike Baird pursue the introduction of voter identification in state elections before the next NSW poll in 2019.

VOTER ID: Will Premier Mike Baird pursue the introduction of voter identification in state elections before the next NSW poll in 2019.

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