The laws we have around Election Day are just a bit silly. Yesterday everyone’s Twitter feeds were a bit like this:
Because by the rules spelled out by our Electoral Commission:
On election day (from midnight on 19 September until 7pm on 20 September) there is a general prohibition of the publication of any statement that is likely to influence which candidate or party a person should, or should not, vote for.
“Likely to influence” must be one of those phrases which make lawyers high-five. Is it likely to influence someone’s vote if I say “remember those totally creepy Colin Craig billboards? I miss them already”? Is it likely to influence someone’s vote if a candidate says “No politics today, but seriously, fuck alpacas, man”? (If you know Megapope you know that’s a certainty.)
You’d want to say it’s all about being reasonable (another word lawyers love) and common sense, but let’s look a little further down that page:
The Commission recommends candidates and parties temporarily deactivate their Facebook campaign pages to avoid the risk of supporters committing an offence by posting on your page.
Yep. As a candidate, you literally have to make sure that no one who was already voting for you posts a message on your Facebook page just in case its poignant eloquence is the deciding factor for someone who was deliberately seeking out your Facebook page.
(Yes, there are difficulties with the Facebook algorithm popping stuff from daaaaaaaaaaays ago to the top of your Feed because it’s cool, but that’s Facebook’s problem.)
And this doesn’t apply just to candidates or political parties who obviously have a specific vested interest in getting you to vote one way or another. It applies to everyone.
Hence the Twitter tumbleweeds.
One thing that bothers me about this situation is this: on Election Day I could go and vote, and then find a busy cafe in my electorate and sit there all day drinking coffee with a friend, loudly declaiming who I voted for and why they should get elected, inflicting my partisan political opinions on everyone who walks in, signalling my membership of their community by virtue of being in their local cafe. And that is 100% legal.
But I can’t go on Twitter, where everyone who follows me absolutely already knows I’m a partisan hack, where my bio declares me to be an “overwrought socialist” and links to my blog where my leanings are clear, and say the same thing (or even just say, “Just voted for Ginny, woo!”) Because that is an Election Advertisement.
The problem is we’re still dealing with a law which was not written with Election 2014 in mind:
Now, is it the biggest breach of my basic human rights to not be allowed to say things online which everyone who already follows me knows I think? And which I’ve been merrily saying for the past two weeks even as over 700,000 people were getting their vote on?
It frustrates me to see people (sorry, Giovanni) saying things like “but it doesn’t hurt anyone”. I don’t think we should keep archaic, irrelevant laws on our books just because it’s not a Really Big Deal. (And I have to note that it’s the exact same argument which gets used to support not reforming our abortion laws – laws which do hurt people, but which just don’t get a lot of press coverage.)
Yes, I like the way Election Day is free of hoardings and actual political advertisement. But there are two big problems:
- It’s totally contradictory now we have early voting
- It’s stopping ordinary voters – not just political wannabe pundits like me – from being allowed to express themselves for no apparent good reason, given point 1.
Bloody cinematographs, people.