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The dead don't vote ...

By Terry Gygar - posted Monday, 14 January 2008

The recent appointment of former State MP Mike Kaiser as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s Chief of Staff has again drawn attention to the “elephant in the corner” that the Australian Electoral Commission, the ALP and (it seems) the Coalition Parties, don’t want to discuss - the ease with which the Australian Electoral Roll can be “rorted” to skew election results and the apparent frequency with which this occurs.

Kaiser was forced to resign from the ALP and his seat in the Queensland Parliament in 2001 after admitting to signing a false electoral enrolment declaration in 1986. This was apparently part of a branch stacking effort related to an ALP pre-selection ballot. The incident didn’t badly affect his career in the Labor Party however, as he moved on to become Assistant National Secretary of the ALP, then Chief of Staff to NSW Premier Morris Iemma in 2005 and now holds the same position for Queensland’s Anna Bligh.

Phoney electoral enrolments have apparently been part of ALP culture for time immemorial. Peter Beattie, who feigned shock and horror in 2001 when Kaiser’s “indiscretions” became public, admitted, in his earlier autobiographical book In the Arena when discussing the 1983 election campaign: “Doorknocking Alexandra Hills was an interesting affair. One female member of the Labour Party was not at home when I called on her at the vacant allotment where she purportedly lived. To my not particularly great surprise, she later voted in the pre-selection.”


This surprisingly candid admission not only shows that Peter was obviously not surprised to find ALP members engaging in false electoral enrolments, which apparently were quite common knowledge, but also illustrates one of the tried and true methods of fiddling electoral rolls. These obviously experienced rorters admitted to fiddling pre-selections, but in doing so they also had the capacity to significantly influence general election results.

There are three simple ways of fiddling the poll:

  1. enrol people at existing addresses when the person enrolled not exist or does not live there;
  2. enrol people at addresses that don’t exist; and
  3. don't deprive the dead of the right to vote, just because they are no longer alive.

All three methods have been proven to be historically popular with the ALP (in Queensland at least) especially in marginal seats, where a few dozen votes can often make all the difference.

Method one led to the downfall of Mr Kaiser, but is not popular with the foot soldiers because it gives a real address at which investigations can commence. Only the most dedicated would take that risk today.

Getting the dead to vote is another matter. On July 26, 1989, Darryl Leonard Cox, pleaded guilty before Mr Page SM in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to falsely and knowingly signing an application for a postal vote in respect of a person who was dead. His actions were excused (in Hansard) by the local ALP MP on the grounds that: “When Darryl Cox signed a statement to be helpful to an elderly person, he was not aware that the person was dead …”. The ALP “Campaign Director” and chief spokesman at the time, Wayne Swan, was conspicuous by his silence.


Enrolling people at non existent addresses is perhaps the safest way to organise a rort. You can then forge a postal vote application (if you have a secure “letter drop” address) or, a safer alternative, vote absentee miles away with little fear of detection.

When I was unexpectedly elected to Queensland Parliament in the 1974 anti-Whitlam landslide, I became one of the first MPs to engage in direct mail. Without computers, this was an enormously draining effort which required the entering of the details of every registered voter on a white system card and then sorting the tens of thousands of cards in to street order and personally signing letters to be hand delivered to them. While this task was in progress, some interesting anomalies emerged - people were enrolled in parks, creeks, vacant lots and, most notably, several dozen had their addresses in the Lutwyche cemetery.

The Electoral Office didn’t want to know about it (some things never change) and I was forced to physically post a letter to each of these “phantoms”, ensure they were returned by the Post Office, and then pay a fee to object to the presence of each on the electoral roll. As a result, over 600 people were removed from the roll before the next election and, to my not great surprise, my majority went up noticeably. Now I can’t say for sure that these “phantoms” all voted Labor, but they certainly weren’t voting for me.

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About the Author

Terry Gygar RFD, LL B (Hons) is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, Bond University.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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