The Coalition for Open Government has a pair of posts up discussing ways to improve the enforcement regime around electoral law. In the first, they argue that having four different groups responsible for enforcement is a recipe for buck-passing and inaction, and propose folding the relevant functions into a single independent body with prosecutorial power. In the second, they argue compellingly for treating violations of election law as the serious crimes that they are:
Breaches of the serious electoral laws need to carry penalties commensurate with the seriousness of the offences – it is ludicrous that a candidate found destroying ballot papers cast for their opponent faces at most 6 months’ imprisonment, and worse that a party deliberately overspending it’s spending cap can’t even be charged (and in individual in that party convicted of that corrupt practice faces at most a $4000 fine and 1 year in prison).
Politicians and others who deliberately flout the rules we have in place to protect our elections from corruption should face stiff penalties – penalties that, with strict enforcement, will act as a real deterrent to anyone considering breaching the law.
They propose imposing criminal liability on parties, aligning the regimes under the Broadcasting and Electoral Acts so parties face similar offences for violating either, and increasing penalties so that they are commensurate with other offences and actually act as a deterrent. As they point out, you can get 7 years for stealing a car or anything valued at over $1000. Isn't stealing or attempting to steal an election just as serious?
I support these proposals. While the restructuring of election bodies may not be able to be done properly before the next election, the foundations can be laid for it to start soon afterwards, and prosecutorial power can at least be devolved. Increasing penalties for breaches however is something we can do quickly. The question is whether self-interested politicians will do it, or whether they'll once again write the law to suit themselves.
(Hat tip: DPF)