Up to 100.000 disenfranchised Australians may now vote on August 21

 

Before the changes were made, voters had seven days after an election was called to enrol. Under current law, the rolls shut at 8pm on the day election writs are issued for all new enrolments and three days later for those who need to update their addresses.

Chief Justice Robert French ruled yesterday the amendments being challenged were “invalid”.

The court did not publish reasons for its decision but it ordered the commonwealth to pay the plaintiffs’ costs.

The Electoral Commissioner was the defendant in the hearing, which stretched over two days.

The Australian Electoral Commission and the commonwealth were supported by the Attorney-General for Western Australia.

GetUp! national director Simon Sheikh said the ruling could have a significant impact on polling day.

“Clearly 100,000 Australians who can now exercise their right to vote is an extraordinarily large number,” Mr Sheikh said.

“With marginal seats across the country and an extremely tight election, (this) could have a massive impact on the election.”

Yesterday’s decision was expedited because of the election, after a request to the court by the Electoral Commission.

Ms Rowe and Mr Thompson brought their challenge after they missed out on being correctly enrolled when writs were issued on July 19. About 20 lawyers, led by Ron Merkel QC, worked around the clock on the case on a pro-bono basis.

Mr Thompson told The Weekend Australian yesterday he was proud to be part of a significant change to the Australian democratic landscape. “I think it’s a great thing; it’s much bigger than Shannen and I,” the 23-year-old Sydney student said.

AEC spokesman Phil Diak said voters affected by the decision would have to cast a declaration vote and provide an accepted form of evidence of identity on polling day.

Wayne Errington, a lecturer in politics at Adelaide University, said he believed the Coalition would be the biggest loser from the court’s ruling.

“If most of those 100,000 are younger voters, well, it’s certainly the likelihood that the Coalition would get very little of those votes,” Mr Errington said. About 1.4 million Australians — or about 6 per cent of the population — are not enrolled to vote, with 70 per cent aged between 18 and 39.

Patrick Keyzer, professor of constitutional law at Bond University, said the decision was “surprising” but believed it would have major future legal ramifications.

“It’s a significant development in electoral law, it advances the notion of a right to vote in constitutional law,” Professor Keyzer said. “I think that any future parliament would be reading this case carefully before it disenfranchised voters in the future.”

Greens leader Bob Brown welcomed the decision, saying the amendments should never have been passed.

Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig also welcomed the ruling.

But Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson said he was concerned it would open the door for electoral fraud.

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