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No guarantees against voter fraud in upcoming Voice referendum
The Australian Federal Police has declined an opportunity to allay concerns about electoral integrity in the lead up to Australia’s Voice to Parliament referendum.
Rumours have swirled about the integrity of the referendum in recent weeks, following disinformation circulating mainly on social media encouraging informal votes, voter suppression and multiple voting.
Some of these have been swiftly nipped in the bud, such as a Yes23 campaign post encouraging No voters to cast invalid votes. The post was deleted within 24 hours at the request of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
However, not all disinformation encouraging subversion of electoral processes has been properly extinguished, leaving burning embers of doubt over the competence of the agencies charged with guaranteeing the integrity of this weekend’s referendum.
A few weeks ago, Labor MP Meryl Swanson (who is Yes for the Voice) posted an early voting notice to social media with the hashtags #voteearly #voteoften.
The AEC reportedly received many complaints over the #voteoften hashtag, which was perceived as a cheeky encouragement to cast multiple ballots. The AEC responded that casting multiple votes is an offence,that it had been in touch with the MP, and that the post had been edited to remove the #voteoften hashtag. The AEC added, “Use of an often-misunderstood colloquial saying that shouldn’t have occurred and was amended.”
It’s hard to imagine in what other ways the ‘colloquial saying’ #voteoften might be understood in the context of early voting across multiple locations, but giving the benefit of the doubt, this error of judgement on behalf of MP Swanson had the AEC tied up for the next couple of days in the comments under social media posts questioning - can people actually ‘vote often’?
The AEC's responses simply poured more fuel on the fire:
“If someone votes at two different polling places within their electorate, and places their formal vote in the ballot box at each polling place, their vote is counted.
“We cannot remove the vote from the count because, due to the secrecy of the ballot, we have no way of knowing which ballot paper belongs to which person. However, the number of double votes received is incredibly low, and usually related to mental health of age.”
In other words, voting more than once is illegal, but yes you can do it.
In a subsequent thread on multiple voting, the AEC clarified that multiple voting can slip through because hard copy voting rolls are widely used (although will be 5, 500 electronic lists in operation at this referendum), which means that double votes can only be picked up after the referendum when the rolls are reconciled.
The AEC confirmed that, per federal election law, voter ID is not required when marking one’s name off on the roll. However, “Multiple marks against the electoral roll have never in Australia’s history of federal elections and referendums been larger than the margin in a contest. If it was, it would be identified and a result could be challenged in court.”
So what happens to people who vote more than once at a federal election or referendum?
Nothing, according to a Sydney Morning Herald investigation published in 2015, which reported that none of the almost 8,000 identified cases of voter fraud from the 2013 federal election had been prosecuted. From the SMH:
“Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was "disturbed" that of the nearly 8000 cases of suspected voting fraud passed to the Australian Federal Police, not a single case has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
"Of the 7743 suspect cases referred to the AFP, just 65 were investigated and not one will progress to conviction."
The AEC advises that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is responsible for voter fraud prosecutions. I contacted the AFP to seek comment, including a link to the above SMH article, noting that, “The obvious concern arising for voters is that, though voting more than once is illegal, no one will be appropriately penalised for it.”
An AFP spokesperson replied, “The AFP has no comment.”
None of this is evidence that voter fraud will happen in the Voice referendum. But the AFP’s track record of inaction against voter fraud, and its reluctance to provide assurances that action will be taken in the future, along with the AEC’s apparent limitations in its ability to control voter fraud, will not sit well with those whose trust in government agencies and institutions is already at a low ebb.
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