With Parakeelia[1] in the news at the moment I thought it was worth reviewing the information being provided to the major parties for analysis via the electoral roll.

In short: if the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has it, the political parties[2] get it. The primary source for this post is the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 s90B. This is a monster of a section so I won’t be reproducing it in full in this post[3] – see the link for details.

Overview

S90B (1) outlines who the AEC must provide information to, and when. There’s a fairly long list here, but the points to watch for are:

  • The AEC doesn’t get a choice here. The provision of information under this section is mandatory so don’t complain to the AEC. If you don’t like what’s discussed below, take it up with your representatives in parliament;
  • Item 4: Political parties can get a habitation index (see below) by division. Just the thing for organising door knocking;
  • Item 4A: Political parties can obtain voting information (see below) on request;
  • Item 5: Political parties with members in the house or senate can request a copy of any roll at any time; and
  • Items 10A & 14A: Independent senators and members of the HOR also get access to voting information.

5 carries with it 90B (2) which carries with it the “additional information” held by the AEC (see below). It looks like the AEC does have some discretion here, but is still not allowed to charge for the provision of the additional information.

In most cases subsections 3A – 3C provide for the provision of the information in electronic form. So there’s the data load needed by any system to prime analysis.

Subsections (4) and (5) cover other organisations that may acquire access to roll information, subject to any fees that the AEC may charge. Medical research is probably the most important of these.

Subsections (6) to (8B) limit what the AEC can provide, with a number of exceptions. The strongest protections apply to silent electors, and defence personnel serving outside of Australia.

The next sections discuss some of the details of the additional information that is available.

Habitation Index

Defined in subsection 10, this is probably less necessary once the entire roll is available electronically, but would still have its uses:

habitation index, in relation to a Division, means a list of electors for the Division arranged, in a manner determined by the Electoral Commission, by reference to the respective places of living of the electors whose names are on the Roll for the Division.

i.e This is a divisional roll sorted by address, rather than by name.

Voting Information

This is defined in subsection 10 as follows:

voting information, in relation to an election, means information that

a) contains the names and addresses of the electors who voted at the election (other than itinerant electors, eligible overseas electors and electors whose addresses have been excluded from the Roll under section 104); and
b) indicates whether or not each of those electors voted at a polling place; and
c) if the elector voted at a polling place for the Division for which the elector was enrolled, indicates the location of the polling place.

So, in other words:

  • Who voted; and
  • Which polling place they voted at (if they voted at a polling place).

Given that, if I recall correctly, the AEC also publishes the 1st preference counts by polling place via the Virtual Tally Room, this suggests some interesting lines of data analysis[4].

Additional Information

The roll itself is basically name and address (see s83). The additional information, also defined in subsection 10 is everything else. And I do mean “everything else”:

additional information about a person included on a Roll means the following:

(a)  the person’s postal address;
(b)  the person’s sex;
(c)  the person’s date of birth;
(d)  the person’s salutation;
(e)  the census district in which the person lives;
(f)  the most recent enrolment date and enrolment transaction number for the person;
(g)  whether the person is:

(i)  not entitled to be enrolled as an elector of the Commonwealth; or
(ii)  not also enrolled as a State elector, Australian Capital Territory elector or Northern Territory elector; or
(iii)  less than 18 years old;

(h)  whether the person is a general postal voter;
(i)  whether the person has only recently been enrolled;
(j)  whether the person has re‑enrolled and, if so:

(i)  the Division and State or Territory in which they were previously enrolled; and
(ii)  the enrolment transaction number for the person’s previous enrolment;

(k)  the electoral district for the purposes of State or Territory elections in which the person lives;
(l)  the local government area in which the person lives;
(m)  the Australia Post delivery point identifier for each address of the person.

One key point to note here is the enrolment transaction number at points (f) & (j), as these are definitely suited to building a system with a complete enrolment history over time.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, if the AEC has it, a political party can probably get it. And this is likely to be the foundation data sets for any analysis programs run by any established party, with Parakeelia only being one of the companies doing this analysis for the parties.

 

[1] And the Labor equivalent whose name escapes me at the moment. I suspect that the Greens probably have something similar as well (even if it hasn’t hit the news).

[2] Plus any independents in the House of Representatives or Senate.

[3] I will be quoting a fair chunk of it however. J

[4] But I’m sure the parties aren’t using this to produce probable voting patterns for individual voters.