Apology from AEC Required After Giving Wrong Information on New Senate Voting Rules

The Australia Institute is calling for an apology and explanation from AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers after the Commissioner gave wrong senate voting instructions to listeners of RN Breakfast on the morning pre-polls open for the 2019 Federal Election.

With early voting for the federal election starting today, Monday 29 April, mass public confusion still exists around Senate voting changes introduced in 2016 at the last election. Australia Institute research shows that almost half of voters are mistaken on how the new Senate voting rules work, which could have a big impact in a tight election contest.

The Australia Institute gave respondents the actual text instructions printed on the new Senate ballot papers, and found:

  • Almost one in two voters (47%) mistook voting 6 above the line as voting for ‘the party you dislike more than any other party on the ballot paper’ (i.e. ‘putting last’.) 32% disagreed.
  • One third of voters (32%) agreed numbering beyond 6 disqualifies the voter’s ballot paper. 37% disagreed.

However, under questioning by Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast, the AEC Commissioner added to this confusion by:

  • incorrectly telling listeners ‘one to six above the line’ rather than – crucially – that voters are able to vote at least one to six.
  • when asked to clarify for listeners that preferencing parties one to six above the line equates to voters preferencing their top six choices (i.e. voting six above the line does not equate to ‘putting last’) the Commissioner chose not to clarify and instead suggesting however voters would like to mark their votes is up to them.

[Full transcript provided below]

“The AEC Commissioner should immediately apologise and issue clarifying advice for his erroneous advice given on national primetime radio on the morning pre-polls open,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute.

“It is distressing that the AEC Commissioner is not more concerned that so many voters are clearly mistaken on how to make their intentions clear at the ballot box. With record high voter enrolment this election, it is important the true intentions of voters are reflected at the ballot box.

“Australia Institute research shows when reading the AEC’s own ballot paper instructions, one in two voters mistook voting 6 as ‘putting last’ and one in three thought numbering beyond 6 boxes above the line would disqualify. An urgent review of these instructions is clearly needed and booth workers need to better informed.

“Otherwise, people who think they are putting any particular party last will actually be voting for them. Australia Institute research shows that one in two voters think you should vote six for the party you dislike more than any other, and that many people think you can’t go beyond six.

“Voters should be encouraged to fill as many boxes as they can to maximize the power of their vote, not as few as possible.

“The Senate is important. Whichever side forms government after May 18 will have its legislative agenda determined in the upper house. Senates can make and break a government so it would be a travesty if the will of the voter is not being reflected in its make up.”

TRANSCRIPT RN Breakfast 29 April 2019

Fran Kelly: “A survey by the Australia Institute suggests that one in two of us don’t understand the new Senate voting rules that we introduced at the last election which means that some of us could be preferencing parties that we actually don’t support. The Australia Institute wants the electoral commission to urgently review the instructions it gives to voters at the ballot box. What’s your reaction to that?

Tom Rogers, AEC Commissioner: “Look, I think we did a very good job at the last election of informing people of what those changes are and we’re doing the same thing again. If people are confused I would urge them to visit our website where there’s a practice voting tool they can jump on and actually have a go and make sure they are casting a formal vote. And I think we did a reasonable job of explaining that last time.”

FK: “Just remind us what it is, so it’s not voting 1 above the line or every number below the line that’s the old system.”

TR: “That’s exactly right. One to six above the line, one to twelve below and that’s as part of the legislative change as you’ve said Fran before the last election. And I would urge people to actually have a go at the practice voting tool to make sure they’re comfortable with that before they get into the booth on the day.”

FK: “Okay, and one to six above the line means that’s your top six? It’s not your first best and your last best, is it?”

TR: “However you want to mark those votes is up to you, and again obviously it’s important for citizens to be informed before they go into the booth and I’d urge them to do that as well.”

New Senate Voting Rules:

  • As of the 2016 election, on a Senate ballot paper, instead of voting 1 above the line or all the numbers below the line, voters need to number at least 6 parties above the line, or at least 12 boxes below the line.
  • Voters should understand that every box they number is preferencing that party or candidate ahead of all parties and candidates they leave unnumbered
  • Voters should be encourage to number as many boxes as possible on the Senate ballot, not just the minimum of six above the line or 12 below the line.

Full polling brief including additional detail of the results of the move to Optional Preferential Voting in the 2016 election.

Related research

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