12 March 2007

Important South Australian anniversary overlooked by government

Peter Brent, speaking on ABC RN's Perspective on Friday, drew attention to a significant anniversary: 150 years since South Australia's first election under self government. As Brent explains, the event has an added significance: it was the first election in the world run by a chief electoral officer, W R Boothby.

The transcript (click the link to read it) is brief and well worth reading, Here's an extract describing some of the Boothby-driven innovations:

Boothby also changed the ballot paper. The Victorian version had voters crossing out the candidates they did NOT want; under Boothby's alteration they now put a cross in a box next to the candidate they DID want. By the end of the century this system had swept much of Europe and America, where it is still often called the Australian Ballot.

Perhaps even more importantly, he re-invented the way electoral rolls were constructed. Previously it had been left to electors to enrol, now the government door-knocked every house in South Australia.

As the decades rolled by, Boothby's power, and the organization below him, continued to grow, and eventually his enrolment procedure, other reforms and the very structure of his electoral fiefdom, were adopted around the globe.

After his death in 1903, a federal electorate was named after him. As far as I can tell, nowhere else on the planet has named an electorate after an electoral official.

Yes, they took their elections seriously in South Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Nowadays in South Australia we don't seem to take our history very seriously. True, last week there was a conference "The Politics of Democracy in South Australia"arranged by the History Trust of South Australia and the State Electoral Office. The History Trust also has an exhibition "The Voice of the People: Democracy comes to South Australia" which runs until 31 August, but there's nothing about the anniversary on the Premier and Ministers' website, which you may think, as I do, is a pity.

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