In the previous federal election, according to AEC figures, only 5% of detainees eligible to vote successfully enrolled. With 30% of detainees are Aboriginal these low rates of enrolment for those in custody are concerning as the coming Voice Referendum aims to empower Indigenous voices.
In a nation-wide first, the ACT Acting Corrective Services Commissioner Narelle Pamplin has whitelisted the Australian Electoral Commission website for prisoners’ computers in their cells, thus enabling them to enrol online. This is an encouraging step towards achieving prisoner participation in the upcoming referendum. The NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Kevin Corcoran hasn’t done the same for the 12,280 prisoners he holds despite requests and the computer tablets and laptops all prisoners have in their cells. With the rolls closing on Monday September 18 at 8pm, other States and Territories have to return paper applications to enrol, which has failed in the past.
Prisoners serving under three years are eligible and legally required to enrol and vote (Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) s93(8AA) Sch2 s.109). All Prisons Commissioners are legally required to notify the AEC of incoming prisoners each month and before the rolls close, in order to remove those with longer sentences from the roll. That information could and should be used to ensure the enrolment of all detainees who are eligible, but that hasn’t happened despite years of lobbying. Under section 7 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, the AEC is responsible for promoting awareness to all eligible electors and there is a heavy penalty for not doing so.
Detainees can enrol to vote using the ‘Prisoner Enrolment Form’ on the AEC website. We call upon Commissioners in all jurisdictions to have their staff assist the process by providing the necessary identification for full enrolment to happen now as is legally required and using the process described by the AEC. If the laws giving prisoners power is ignored then other laws’ validity can be questioned.