|dc.description.abstract||Electoral bribery, in formal legal terms, is both a potentially serious offence and, in theory, guaranteed grounds for a candidate losing their seat on a (civil) election petition. Bribery, in the electoral context, is essentially the wrongful inducement through an undue benefit designed to influence electoral conduct. It can be committed by the mere offer to give or receive such a benefit. To the early 20th century, bribery was by and largely conceived of as the crude and quite literal buying of votes, through money or treating. Such practices bedevilled UK elections for several centuries. They appear to have grown out of cultural, possibly feudal expectations of reciprocity, and alongside the outright buying of seats, at a time when seats in Parliament became entrees to power rather than burdens of service. They reached their peak in the 19th century, as the franchise began to expand and modern notions of democracy came into being. This precipitated a 'war' on corruption, whose chief institutional weapons came to be: a mass, secret-ballot franchise; independent election judges; concerns over the cost of electioneering and consequent expenditure limitations; and the professionalisation of campaigning with the rise of centralised parties. This war left a paradigm of bribery in the legal mindframe as individualised transactions directly buying votes. In the more egalitarian climate of late colonial Australia, such vote-buying was less of a problem, although there is evidence of it being a regionalised concern, linked in part to cultural factors such as alcohol consumption and wagering. Despite the lessons of late Victorian England - that vote-buyers tried to hide or diffuse the practice through, eg, employment, payment for conveyances and 'charity' - it seemed assumed in Australia for most of the 20th century that electoral bribery was dead. However campaign practices are ever-evolving in the face of social, technological and electoral system changes. Mass electorates and new media technologies for example placed the focus of electioneering on advertising and media influence; a more plural society invested power in lobby-groups; and preferences came to determine the outcome of Australian elections. Politics, ever the art of deal-making, has thrown up a variety of deals, not between politicians and electors, but between politicians and other political actors, in which electoral support is traded. Examples of these include preference deals, 'dummy' candidates, inducements and payments between campaigns and candidates, (sometimes secret) policy for electoral support trades with lobby groups or the media, media endorsed candidates and a variety of parliamentary deals such as appointments for electoral advantage. If electoral bribery law were taken too literally, even obviously unobjectionable arrangements such as a direct preference swap might be impugned. This could gut the political realm of its freedom. Whilst there is no 'magic bullet' (such as secrecy/openness) which can be added to the elements of the formal definition of electoral bribery to perfect it, it is necessary to attend to the idea of 'political currency' to permit the realm of politics its independence. That is, there are certain goods in politics, such as preferences, which can naturally be traded for each other. Applying this reasoning, the emerging practice of 'vote-swapping' between electors is not to be equated with the selling of votes.
Outside the formal interpretation of bribery as a legal offence, it also serves as a powerful rhetorical device in contemporary discussions of electioneering. In particular, as a pejorative to describe pork-barrelling and public policy/expenditure 'bribes'. Indeed in a 1988 New South Wales case, an MP was unseated for excessive largesse on the eve of an election using government grants. The reasons why the law usually permits such activity under the exemption for public policy declarations and action open up consideration of the nature of metaphorical 'vote-buying'. Electors seem to abhor such vote-buying and yet respond positively to it. The tendency for the secret ballot to leave electors unaccountable for their voting choices is an explanation for this. Theorists, particularly from the US, have sought comprehensive, normative explanations and delineations of electoral bribery. These raise interesting questions about the electoral 'market' and its impact on governance, whether the ballot has an uncommodifiable essence, and notions of political equality. We can speculate as to the degree to which elections should be matters of pure self-interest as opposed to exercises in expression and ideology, and whether electoral bribery, crude or metaphorical, encourages disengagement. Ultimately, however, an understanding of electoral bribery is a matter for a detailed attention to the actual interplay of law and electoral politics, as it has evolved in a changing social and institutional framework, rather than for comprehensive normative prescriptions. Electoral bribery in most cases is not reducible to a moral judgement about an abstract notion of corruption, as the common law has always recognised. Nor are narrow, modern notions of corruption as the misuse of public positions for private gain much use when we are dealing with electoral politics, where ambition is an inextricable part of electoral competition. However attending to the idea of both candidacy and the ballot as 'offices' offers the possibility of civilising electoral conduct without denuding electoral politics of its political nature.||en_US