Flat White

Polling failure and fraud

30 June 2016

11:57 AM

30 June 2016

11:57 AM

Apart from empowering the British people and returning sovereignty to the United Kingdom, Brexit has exploded the myth that betting markets are infallible predictors of elections. The last British election had already demonstrated the fallibility of opinion polls. Meanwhile in Australia, opinion polls are even more fallible because they don’t ask three crucial questions which are essential because of the curious openness of our system to electoral fraud.

Not that pollsters claim infallibility. They usually publish a margin of error and insist, correctly, that they are attempting to find an opinion at a particular point in time. Obviously this is not sealed in concrete. People do change their minds.

As to the margin of error, this seems to be usually in the range of about 3%. How extraordinary it was then this week that the newspapers were so excited because the two party vote had moved less than 1% in favour of the Coalition. Very much within the margin of error, the change was next to meaningless.

The most prominent of the polls is Newspoll. It is not of course infallible but it is highly regarded. Nevertheless it has some deficiencies. For example, in determining the way in which votes for smaller parties allocate their preferences, Newspoll relies upon the preferences made at the last election. This is not unreasonable, but it is possible that these voters may well have changed their minds. This could be so, for example, when Malcolm Turnbull became the Liberal Party’s most left wing leader after he knifed its most conservative leader since John Howard. He did so to the acclamation of Greens voters. Would a significant number of Greens now preference the Liberals? I suspect they wouldn’t but who knows. Newspoll also relies on landlines although many young people today only have mobile telephones.

More importantly no pollster asks three crucial questions. These are essential because of our unique electoral system. This was designed by the politicians who in this exercise are hardly disinterested. In one important aspect, they have been greatly assisted by activist judges.

The first of the three crucial questions is “How many times will you vote?” There are at least four incentives which encourage multiple voting. We no longer have to vote in a polling station in our electoral subdivision. We are not required to provide any proof of identity when voting. This does not require the introduction of identity cards in Australia. We already have driving licences, and that facility has been extended to non-drivers. Alternatively, the electoral commission could send each voter a bar-coded post card which could be read electronically at the polling station.

The politicians have curiously resisted requiring that whenever a person votes, this would be noted on an electronic roll. This would block any attempt to vote a second time anywhere in the Commonwealth and indeed the world. The introduction of pre-polling encourages multiple voting. An election should reflect the view of the country on election day after everyone has heard and seen the election campaign. Postal voting should only be allowed in the most limited circumstances.

The reason for a second crucial question is demonstrated by a comment attributed to Gough Whitlam when Joe Riordan lost the seat of Philip in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. “Comrade, comrade, how negligent of you. To lose a seat in which there is not one but three cemeteries is unforgivable.” The second question is: “Will you be voting for any dead people?” If the answer is in the affirmative there should be a follow- up question:  “If so how many?”

The third question is the most important. The Howard government pushed through legislation when it had a Senate majority. This closed the rolls on the same day that an election is called. Before that there was about a week between the calling of the election and the closing of the rolls. In that week, the electoral commission was inundated with a tsunami of enrolments. Enrolling is extraordinarily simple and easy to fabricate. The commission just didn’t (and still doesn’t) have the resources to check these before an election. Journalist Bob Bottom investigated use of fictitious names at fictitious addresses in Queensland more than two decades ago. His inquires were also followed up by the Nine Network’s then-current affairs flagship, the Sunday program.

The constitutionality of the Howard law was challenged by GetUp! in the 2010 election. The High Court bent over backwards to hear two plaintiffs who were both in breach of the electoral law. One hadn’t enrolled and the other hasn’t informed the electoral commission of a change of address.  This was despite the fact that it was common knowledge that an election was imminent.

An urgent hearing was held and the High Court gave its decision before the election, without revealing how the judges had voted and without giving their reasons. His or her reasons were released about four months later, just before Christmas, when nobody noticed. They found the Howard legislation unconstitutional, an extraordinary decision because the Constitution clearly gives this power to the Parliament. It was a narrow decision, 4:3.

As a result of the High Court decision, GetUp! says  100,000 additional names went on to the roll, with  many of these in marginal seats. GetUp! claimed its action had ensured that the Gillard government survived, albeit as a minority government. The election was very close and it’s clear that if the High Court had ruled that the legislation was valid, as it obviously was,  Tony Abbott would have won the 2010 election .

Accordingly, pollsters should ask a  third and absolutely crucial question “Will you voting for any fictional people in this election, including those at fictional addresses?” with the follow-up in the event of an affirmative answer “If so, how many?”

It pollsters asked these three questions, – and received honest answers from people who are clearly dishonest – we would have more accurate predictions of the elections.

More importantly, the need to ask these questions would confirm to everyone that there is an urgent need to remove the potential for fraud from our electoral system.

David Flint is presenter of ‘Safe Worlds Conversations with Conservatives’ on SafeWorlds TV and You Tube

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