About this inquiry

On 21 September 2016, the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on all aspects of the 2016 Federal Election and related matters.


The Committee is conducting a review of political donations as part of its inquiry into the conduct of the 2016 federal election.



Past Public Hearings

20 Nov 2018: ACT
29 Jun 2018: Parkes, ACT
20 Feb 2018: West Perth, WA

4. Voter access

4.1
Ensuring access to the vote for all Australians is fundamental to protecting the enfranchisement of the population.
4.2
It is important that access to a range of convenient voting options is guaranteed for as many Australians as possible, particularly marginalised and remote voters. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) recognises this:
As voting is compulsory in Australia, the AEC endeavours to meet the needs of a diverse range of people when managing electoral events and preparing information for the public.1

Polling places

4.3
For the majority of Australians, attending a polling booth on election day is their primary means of engaging with the electoral process. There were 6 822 static polling places for the 2016 federal election which operated from 8am to 6pm on polling day, 2 July. This was a reduction from 7 695 static polling places at the last election in 2013. Polling place numbers for the previous four elections had remained stable at about 7 700, ‘despite a clear trend away from voting on election day in home divisions’.2
4.4
This reduction in the number of polling places was a result of AEC implementation of Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) recommendations from November 2014,3 to ‘abolish, replace or consolidate (as appropriate) static polling places that were expected to receive relatively few votes’.4
4.5
In response to the reduction in the number of static polling places, the AEC adjusted staffing levels and vote estimates, ‘to ensure that all polling places were allocated an appropriate number of polling staff, based on the expected number of votes to be issued at the 2016 federal election’.5
4.6
The AEC also established ‘superbooths’ in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Sydney and Brisbane superbooths issued ordinary votes for all New South Wales and Queensland divisions, respectively. The Melbourne superbooth issued votes for 24 Victorian divisions. The AEC submitted that these superbooths offered various benefits, including:
improved services for voters by offering more ordinary voting;
improved processing efficiency for the AEC by reduced declaration voting; and
provision of more timely election results through more ordinary voting.6

Queue times

4.7
The Committee heard evidence of longer queueing times at some polling places on election day compared with past elections. This was reflected in the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) 2016 Voter Survey, which revealed that there was 78 per cent satisfaction in response to the question ‘the length of time you had to wait’. This contrasts to 87 per cent satisfaction at the 2013 election.7
4.8
For pre-polling places, the rate of satisfaction concerning queue times was 95 per cent for this election.8
4.9
The AEC explained the longer-than-usual queue times:
The Senate voting changes, the number of candidates, the size of the Senate ballot paper and the increased number of names on the certified lists, which meant it took longer to look up voters, appear to have made voting for the Senate a longer process than in the past.9
4.10
This assessment was supported by anecdotal evidence provided by the Australian Greens:
Many people we spoke to who witnessed these delays suggested the cause was voters taking longer to fill in their Senate ballot papers due to the new requirement to fill in at least six boxes. This problem may have been exacerbated in states where the Senate ballot paper was very large due to the number of parties contesting the ballot.10
4.11
In response to suggestions that the AEC’s reduction of the number of polling places factored into increased queueing times, Mr David Molnar, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Tasmania, AEC, contended:
There is no direct relationship between the queueing figures I have seen, where we get to 30 minutes, and the booths we closed, because, equally, we adjusted the staffing numbers. There is no direct correlation between closing a booth and queueing increase.11
4.12
Some locations in New South Wales faced long queue times. For example, Bexley East in the division of Barton recorded queue times of 87 minutes at 8am and Hornsby Central in the division of Bradfield, 72 minutes at 10am. The AEC explained why this was so:
… some long queues and voter frustration would have been due to confusion created by the redistribution. Electors may have joined the ordinary voting line at a nearby polling place and were subsequently told that they were at a polling place outside of their enrolled division.
Additionally, eight out of the top 10 divisions in New South Wales where long queue times were experienced were dual polling places. Dual polling places are typically created in polling places located adjacent to divisional boundaries where the one polling place can issue ordinary votes for two of more divisions. Additional time is required to direct electors to the correct ordinary issuing point for the enrolled division.12
4.13
Queue times are a significant issue because they can have an impact on voters’ overall satisfaction with the electoral process. AEC research results:
… indicate that 20 per cent of Australian voters are likely to become dissatisfied and disappointed with the machinery of elections if they are required to wait longer than five minutes to cast a vote. Given the increasing scale of federal elections, with many more voters at each electoral event, it is unlikely the AEC will be able to continue meeting these community expectations without investing in automation to assist polling place throughput and overall voter experience.13
4.14
The Committee notes the negative impact that long queue times can have on the overall voting experience of some electors. It is also cognisant that the AEC is restricted in its ability to address the issue due to lack of resources and the increasing scale of federal elections.
4.15
The impact of queue times on the accessibility of polling places for disabled voters is discussed below.

Campaigners and party volunteers at polling places

4.16
Campaigning by candidates, party volunteers and a range of community groups and non-governmental organisations at pre-polling and polling places is an important part of the Australian election landscape. Section 340 of the Electoral Act governs rules for canvassing near polling booths. This section states that it is an offence to engage in the following acts within a polling booth, or within six metres of the entrance to a polling booth:
canvassing for votes;
soliciting the vote of any elector;
inducing any elector not to vote for any particular candidate;
inducing any elector not to vote at the election; and
exhibiting any notice or sign (other than an official notice) relating to an election.14
4.17
The Committee heard evidence that campaigning outside of polling places can cause access issues for some voters. Voices for Indi, for example, submitted that some activities of campaigners may be in breach of s. 340 of the Electoral Act and are intimidating for some voters:
Indi had 10 candidates at the 2016 election and it was highly contested. At the Wangaratta pre-poll, there were up to 15-20 people handing out HTV [How to Vote] cards at any one time. Such a large number of people converging on 1 or 2 voters as they picked a path through to the polling booth was at times intimidating for some, especially older people. Further, some of the candidate/supporters, were quite aggressive in their determination to get their card into the hands of the vote[r]s, escorting voters up the steps to the front door, in clear breach of the AEC rules. While on occasion the AEC asked some people to move back, the behaviour was repeated and the rule flouted.15
4.18
Mr Jeffrey Pope, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Victoria, AEC, informed the Committee of some other issues experienced at polling booths in Victoria which may have caused some electors to feel intimidated:
We did have a couple of challenges particularly at our Berwick pre-poll in the division of La Trobe where the CFA [Country Fire Authority] matter was quite prominent. There was a presence from the United Firefighters Union as well as the CFA and political parties. That was one example where we called the Victorian police to come down and assist the OIC in just making sure everybody kept calm and remained focused on what they were there to do. Similarly we had an incident at Langwarrin polling place in the division of Dunkley where we had to call the police for an alleged assault between party workers…We had some other lower level allegations of intimidation.16
4.19
Confidential evidence received by the Committee also highlighted abusive altercations between campaign volunteers and suggested that volunteers be banned from handing out how-to-vote cards at polling places.
4.20
In contrast to this, Mr Michael Maley (private capacity), noted the generally ‘calm, peaceful and friendly atmosphere on polling day… the absence of overt presence of police and military, and… the typically polite way in which representatives of different political parties or candidates deal with each other’.17
4.21
Mr Maley suggested that ‘these characteristics of polling day are underpinned by strong cultural foundations: a widely shared societal understanding that the election process is to be respected and supported, and that everybody—including parties, candidates, scrutineers, canvassers and voters—has a role to play in ensuring its success’.18
4.22
The Committee also heard evidence that the activities of volunteers and party campaigners are ‘a vibrant part of a robust democracy in action’ that should be supported. Family Voice Australia recommended that:
The current provisions for handing out how-to-vote cards at polling booths should be maintained and no steps should be taken to curtail this democratic activity.19
4.23
The AEC, too, recognises the importance of political activities at polling places. Ms Marie Neilson, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Western Australia, AEC, informed the Committee:
Our policy is pretty much to allow party activities where we possibly can, because…it is an incredibly important part of the political process. Where the owners [of polling premises] do not allow us to have party workers outside, we try to negotiate a compromise. If we cannot, we will let the candidates and parties know and put a table inside where they can put their how-to-vote materials, at least.20
4.24
While the Committee recognises that the activities of campaigners and party volunteers at polling places can be intimidating for some voters, it regards the right of parties and other organisations to campaign at polling places, within the legislated rules, as an integral component of Australia’s electoral process and an important service to assist voters to be well-informed about their choices. It, therefore, does not consider that changes to the rules on campaigning at polling places are necessary.
4.25
However, it does note that the actions of some political actors can make the voting experience difficult and unpleasant for electors through excessive behaviour at polling places. It hopes the AEC, all political actors, including third-party groups, and candidates will remain vigilant in ensuring these rules are upheld and ensure voters are able to access polling places free from interference and/or intimidation.
4.26
In his submission, the Member for Swan, Steve Irons, noted that site limitations imposed on a polling place by the site’s building owner resulted in the AEC ruling that party representatives would be unable to hand out How to Vote (HTV) cards. Mr Irons MP noted ‘the absence of party workers on site removed an important layer of scrutiny of the electoral process’.21
4.27
As noted throughout this report, parties and their representatives including volunteers at polling places, play an essential role in informing voters and ensuring the proper conduct of elections. The Committee notes that, due to the nature of election timing, the AEC generally secures venues with short notice and can be limited in its capacity to negotiate conditions. However, the Committee agrees that a venue’s capacity to accommodate party workers conducting the normal activities of distributing HTV material should be a criteria in selecting venues for polling places.

Recommendation 14

4.28
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission, when selecting polling places, consider the need to physically accommodate all political party booth workers, thereby ensuring there is no restriction on the ability of workers to distribute How to Vote material.

Access for disabled voters

4.29
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) engages with disability spokespeople from around the country through its Disability Advisory Committee, which meets at least once a year.22 The Committee aims to ‘enable the AEC to promote greater accessibility, inclusion and participation in the electoral process by people with disability’.23
4.30
Through this forum, the AEC is able to meet with peak disability organisations and provide them with ‘specific information on the range of services’. It also provides an ‘opportunity for representatives of the disability sector to discuss matters related to the election’.24
4.31
Before every election, the AEC inspects thousands of premises to determine their suitability as polling places. In this process, ‘the AEC places a high priority on premises that have appropriate access, noting the constraints of availability and other suitability criteria’.25
4.32
Table 4.1 shows accessibility rankings for the 2013 and 2016 elections.
Table 4.1:  Polling place accessibility ratings
2013
2016
Number
Per cent
Number
Per cent
Static Polling Place
Full
903
11.7%
170
2.5%
Partial
5,405
70.2%
6 103
89.5%
None
1,389
18.0%
549
8.0%
Pre-poll Voting Centre
Full
202
31.3%
59
9.1%
Partial
389
60.3%
553
85.2%
None
54
8.4%
37
5.7%
Combined
Full
1,105
13.2%
229
3.1%
Partial
5,794
69.5%
6 565
89.1%
None
1,443
17.3%
586
7.8%
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 35.
4.33
The AEC explained that ‘more robust and accurate assessments by inspectors against the accessibility criteria is likely to have contributed to the reduction in the number of premises assigned a “fully accessible” rating’ between the 2013 and 2016 elections.26
4.34
Mr David Molnar, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Tasmania, AEC, explained the meaning of ‘partial’ accessibility:
For instance, a polling place might have a slight ramp going in, or it might have a car park provided for disability access, but it might be too far away from the polling place. There are all these criteria you have to meet. Sometimes it does not quite meet all of them, but it can meet the majority of them…That is what we call ‘partial’. It certainly satisfies the main areas of disability access but not all.27
4.35
As part of the AEC’s focus on improving disability access to polling places, it introduced a new inspection tool in the lead-up to the 2016 federal election:
One of the key changes implemented by the AEC…was to improve the capture, storage and publication of premises accessibility information via the Electronic Premises Inspection Tool (EPIT) project. The aim was to provide the public with more detailed information about the accessibility of polling places.28
4.36
The EPIT initiative received positive feedback from advocates for disabled voters. Ms Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director, People with Disabilities WA Inc., for example, noted that ‘[w]e were very pleased to see the AEC website listing polling places and their access…It is a fantastic assessment’.29
4.37
Ms Jenkinson also pointed out some issues with the EPIT system:
What it also showed was the depth and breadth of the problem, because one of the issues with the tool was that, although it was useful, it showed pretty much every polling booth needed assisted access to some degree. The way that was done was with the icon that said ‘assisted access’ but when you looked in detail what assisted access meant could be from as little a thing as the car-parking is not within 50 metres of the polling booth to there is a flight of stairs—so quite a big difference if you are not looking at the detail…if people are coming along to a polling booth they are not necessarily going to look at all the detail and there is an expectation that they will be able to access the voting facilities…
It is only by clicking down that you find out that it is actually fully wheelchair accessible but just not accessible for someone with a vision impairment. We found that not a lot of people necessarily went into that detail…30
4.38
The Committee acknowledges the work the AEC has done in providing detailed information on the accessibility of pre-polling and election day polling places. It notes that improvements could be made in how this information is presented to electors, with greater clarity on the meaning of ‘assisted’ and ‘partial’ access.

Recommendation 15

4.39
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission consider revising information provided for voters to give greater clarity concerning the meaning of ‘assisted access’/’partial access’.
4.40
The Committee heard evidence from submitters about others issues concerning accessibility to polling booths. ParaQuad Association Tasmania Inc., for instance, informed the Committee that:
Access in the immediate vicinity outside polling places can be problematic for larger electronic chairs, especially in more remote rural areas. Sloping, gravely surfaces were mentioned as an issue.31
4.41
Lack of disabled parking at polling places and appropriate access from disabled car parks to polling places were other issues of concern. ParaQuad Association Tasmania Inc., emphasised the need for ‘increased parking for people with disability close to polling places’. Chairman, David Cawthorn, informed the Committee:
Disabled parking is one thing, as well as not enough accessible parking at polling booths and people parking in them when they do not have permits…We probably need more disabled parking and maybe someone could patrol the use of them in some way.
Also, ramp access from car parks needs to be clear, not blocked. Sometimes in the car parks you have to get up kerbs or something like that, so they put temporary ramps in place, but people just park across them so you cannot access them.32
4.42
Long queue times were also raised as an accessibility issues for some disabled electors. People with Disability Australia submitted:
People reported queue times that were long, and for many these queue times were longer when compared to previous elections. This impacted negatively on a number of people’s ability to vote, due to physical incapacity or impact on their psychosocial wellbeing. Some people’s needs were accommodated, either by staff who allowed them to vote without queue, or by the provision of seating while queuing. Unfortunately this wasn’t a universal experience. A number of people reported to us that [they] had to give up and leave a polling place due to pain or exhaustion that they experienced as a result of these long queues.33
4.43
The Committee is mindful that queueing can be a tiring and painful experience for some disabled and elderly electors, which can act as a barrier to some people’s participation in the electoral process. While the Committee acknowledges that the AEC works to keep queueing to a minimal, queue times remain an issue for disabled voters even when they are comparatively short.

Recommendation 16

4.44
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission considers the feasibility of offering express-lane queuing options for disabled, pregnant and elderly voters, or, otherwise the provision of seating options for those needing to sit down while queued.
4.45
Ms Jenkins raised the issue of people with cognitive disability and noted: ‘Accessibility is not just about physical access, but also information being made available in easy-read and easy-English formats.’34 The Committee agrees that it is desirable that election-related material be available in these formats.

Recommendation 17

4.46
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission consider providing election-related material in easy-to-read and easy-English formats.
4.47
Blind and low vision voters experienced frustrations due to lack of access to candidate information. While acknowledging it is outside of the AEC’s mandate, Vision Australia noted ‘there is little access for people who are blind or have low vision to local candidate information, party platform positions, and how to vote cards’.35
4.48
The Committee hopes that candidates, parties and other organisations make efforts to provide election information in a range of accessible formats.

Pre-poll voting

4.49
Early voting36 remains a long-term and growing trend among the Australian electorate. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) submitted:
… the trend of increased early voting continued at the 2016 federal election reflecting the Australian community’s increased mobility and desire for flexibility in how and where they cast their vote. There is clearly a demand for a range of voter services, which is demonstrated by the fact that pre-poll and postal voting now account for nearly one-third of all votes issued.37
4.50
Early voting includes pre-poll votes submitted at pre-poll voting centres (PPVCs) in the lead-up to election day. The AEC established 649 PPVCs across Australia.38
4.51
At the 2016 federal election a total of 3 249 874 Senate and 3 233 640 House of Representatives votes were submitted at PPVCs. This contrasts to 2 507 373 Senate and 2 491 766 House of Representatives votes at the 2013 election.39 A breakdown of pre-poll voting appears in Table 4.2.
Table 4.2:  Pre-poll voting, 2013 and 2016 federal elections
2013
2016
Pre-poll votes cast as ordinary votes
Senate
1,982,859
2,722,701
House of Representatives
1,982,660
2,724,164
Pre-poll declaration votes
Senate
524,514
527,173
House of Representatives
509,106
509,476
Total pre-poll votes
Senate
2,507,373
3,249,874
House of Representatives
2,491,766
3,233,640
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 28.
4.52
While the increase in pre-poll voting reflects an on-going trend, one factor in the increase for the 2016 federal election was the concurrence of election day with the school holiday period. Many electors were travelling away from their electorates on polling day and therefore cast early votes at PPVCs.40
4.53
Electors need to be eligible to cast a pre-poll vote. Schedule 2 of the Act—Grounds of application for postal or pre-poll vote—stipulates the grounds for pre-poll (and postal) voting. These include:
absence from one’s electorate on polling day;
being more than eight kilometres from a polling place on polling day;
having a serious illness, infirmity, or approaching childbirth; or
being unable to attend a polling booth due to a reasonable fear for one’s wellbeing or safety.41
4.54
Despite the legislated eligibility requirements for pre-poll voting, research suggests that ‘convenience’ is consistently given as the main reason people vote via the pre-poll service.42 ‘Convenience’ is not included in Schedule 2 of the Electoral Act as legitimate grounds for a pre-poll vote.
4.55
Related to this point, Mr Greg Northover (private capacity) informed the Committee:
Ostensibly pre-poll is provided as an exceptional way to cast a vote where it is known that voting on polling day would not be convenient (i.e., impossible). There is an anecdotal view that in 2016 an increasing number of people chose to cast a pre-poll vote on some pretext in order to escape the inconvenience of having to turn up and likely queue with the masses on polling day.
4.56
Mr Northover continued:
This submission is ambivalent about this being a good thing or a bad thing. It is merely noted that it is happening and the AEC and Committee may need to consider the implications of this.43
4.57
Other submitters were more explicit in their criticisms of the increase in pre-poll voting. Mr Lex Stuart submitted:
… the CEAct [Commonwealth Electoral Act] should be improved, and an education program be implemented, to require almost all voting to take place on the actual election day. The current laws contain legal criteria for eligibility for pre-poll and postal voting, but the law has not been enforced by the AEC, resulting in huge increases in recent years of numbers of pre-poll and postal votes. These criteria should be tightened, and the AEC should enforce them, with the objective of requiring as much voting on the actual day as is possible.44
4.58
Some submitters expressed strong support for pre-poll voting services. Unions NSW, for instances, noted the importance of pre-poll voting for ‘the growing number of workers required to work on weekends and unsociable hours’ and for ‘voters with a disability or who care for someone with a disability’.45
4.59
Unions NSW submitted that it was:
… concerned suggestions to remove or limit pre-poll are motivated by political parties and campaigners who are more concerned with their ability to staff pre-poll booths than the accessibility of the electoral system for all voters.46
4.60
The Australian Greens, while supportive of pre-polling services, suggested that ‘the extended pre-polling period is putting party organisers and their volunteers under pressure’. They recommended that ‘the period of pre-polling is reduced to two weeks before election day’.47
4.61
Mr Jeff Waddell (private capacity) submitted:
Either the restrictions around early voting are lifted to allow people to vote at early voting centres regardless of whether they can vote on Election Day Saturday or not; or we change the ‘Saturday, Election day’ to be an ‘Election Weekend’ and open many Polling Places on both a Saturday and a Sunday.48
4.62
The Electoral Integrity Project’s survey of voters revealed that: ‘When asked when elections should be held, about half the respondents said on a single day while 28 per cent said over a weekend and 16 per cent said over a week’.49
4.63
Currently, ordinary pre-poll votes cast for the House of Representatives are counted on election night, following the close of the polls. Ordinary pre-poll votes for the Senate are counted on the Monday after the election.50
4.64
Mr Antony Green (private capacity) touched on the issue of counting pre-poll votes on polling day. He submitted:
In New Zealand, the manual counting of advance votes begins in secret on polling day before the close of polls. The aim is to release the advance vote results as soon as possible after the close of polls.
This would be possible in Australia with an appropriate change to the Act.
I do not propose to recommend polling day counting of pre-poll votes because of the likely difficulty of having scrutineers available. However, it should be considered as an option.51
4.65
On another issue, the Liberal National Party noted that ‘given the length of the election campaign, it was surprising that the locations and times for pre-poll voting centres and mobile voting were not confirmed by the AEC until the day before pre-poll voting commenced in many instances’. They suggested that ‘better forward communication by the AEC of voting locations should be a priority’.52
4.66
In response, Mr Thomas Ryan, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager, Queensland, AEC, stated:
By law, we have to do it at least the day before, and we have a service commitment of a week before. Those details were published on the website long before pre-polling. There might have been some adjustments in terms of times in regional areas…But for all intents and purposes the pre-poll hours and locations were published and we met the commitment.53
4.67
The Committee hopes the AEC will continue to meet its service commitments to publicise the locations and times of pre-polling booths one week prior to the opening of the polls.

Recommendation 18

4.68
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to restrict pre-poll voting to no more than two weeks prior to the date fixed by the writs for election day.

Postal voting

4.69
Like pre-poll voting, postal voting is a vital service to ensure people are politically enfranchised within the compulsory voting regime. As touched on above in relation to pre-poll voting, those eligible to apply for a postal vote include: remote voters, voters unable to attend a polling booth due to a range of reasons, carers of seriously ill or infirm persons, registered silent electors, registered overseas voters, and members of the defence force serving outside of Australia.54
4.70
The number of people making use of postal votes continued to rise at the 2016 federal election. For 2016, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) processed 1 510 640 applications for a postal vote. This was an increase from the number processed in 2013-1 329 948.55 Table 4.3 provides postal voting numbers for the Senate and House of Representatives for the last four federal elections.
Table 4.3:  Postal voting at federal elections 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016
2007
2010
2013
2016
Senate
704,563
804,973
1,126,528
1,217,528
House of Representatives
706,466
807,376
1,133,630
1,223,019
Source: AEC, Submission 66, p. 7.
4.71
The majority of these postal votes were received by the AEC prior to the
2 July polling day. The Electoral Act allows a 13-day period after the close of the polls for postal votes to be received. 230 116 votes were received following the close of the polls, but within the 13-day period. 4 930 votes arrived after the deadline and, therefore, were excluded from the count.56 Additionally, 7 397 postal votes were cast after the 2 July poll and were, therefore, rejected.57
4.72
Mr Andrew Reid (private capacity), an Australian citizen resident in Cairo, Egypt, is registered as a General Postal Voter. He noted that the AEC had declined to establish an Overseas Voting Centre (OVC) in Cairo, thus requiring him to vote via postal ballot. He claimed that due to the inefficiencies of the postal system, his postal vote failed to arrive at the AEC before the cut-off date for receiving postal votes. He contended that it is ‘farcical that Australian citizens living outside major foreign capitals have to rely on the efficiency of foreign postal systems in order to cast their vote’.58
4.73
Mr Reid suggested that the model in use ‘by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), where overseas electors receive ballot papers by mail, but then scan the completed ballot papers and return them via email to the VEC’ could be applied to federal elections. He recommended that the Electoral Act be changed to:
… allow ballot papers for registered overseas electors to be scanned and sent electronically to the AEC.59
4.74
E-mail submission and web-loading options for voters unable to attend polling places are discussed in Chapter 6.
4.75
Of the 4 930 postal votes which arrived after the 13-day period following the close of polls, 2 837 of these were sent from overseas locations. By contrast, 1 174 overseas postal votes were admitted to the final count.60
4.76
Given that more overseas postal votes fail to arrive in time to be admitted to the count than those that arrive within the 13-day period after the close of the polls, the Committee hopes the AEC will investigate methods to reduce this gap.
4.77
Web-loading of ballot papers is discussed in Chapter 6.
4.78
The Committee heard evidence of confusion over who can act as an authorised witness to a postal vote, particularly for someone voting overseas. According to Mr Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer, AEC, the purpose of the witness is to ‘ensure that the person has actually cast their vote before the close of polls on polling day…And that is all they are attesting to’.61
4.79
Section 193 of the Electoral Act outlines who can act as an authorised witness. The Act states:
(1)An elector whose name appears on a Roll is an authorised witness.
(2)Outside Australia, the following persons are authorised witnesses:
(a)
an officer of the Defence Force of the naval, military or air forces of a Commonwealth country;
(b) a person appointed or engaged under the Public Service Act 1999;
(c)
a member of the civil public service of a State or Territory or of a Commonwealth country;
(d) a Justice of the Peace for a State or Territory of a Commonwealth country;
(e) a minister of religion or medical practitioner resident in a State
or Territory or a Commonwealth country;
(f) an Australian citizen.62
4.80
Judith and Geoffrey Hinspeter informed the Committee that they sent postal votes from the United States of America. They submitted that they had no contact with any other Australian citizens, nor other authorised witnesses listed in s. 193 of the Electoral Act. Believing that they could not witness each other’s vote, they returned their ballot papers to Australia without the authorised witness box signed. They later received a letter from the AEC informing them that their votes were invalid.63
4.81
On this point, Ms Laura Sinclair submitted that
The definition of authorised witness is not made clear to people exercising a postal vote on the certificate form attached to the postal vote envelope, nor is it made clear in the printed leaflet supplied to postal voters. Bone fide ballots can be, and I suspect are, excluded from the count because what would seem reasonable voter interpretations of the term do not strictly accord to the act. 64
4.82
The Committee believes that there could be greater clarity in postal voting materials on who can act as an authorised witness and what function the authorised witness serves. This is especially so given common-sense understandings about the ineligibility of family members to act as a witness for certain documents.

Recommendation 19

4.83
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission consider revising its postal voter material to ensure greater clarity on who can act as an authorised witness and the role of an authorised witness.
4.84
ParaQuad Association of Tasmania Inc. suggested that some disabled electors may be unaware that they can apply to become General Poster Voters, enabling them to receive election material by post at every election without having to apply each time. They recommended that:
People who are eligible to vote who are on a disability benefit or aged pension be notified regularly, by their usual mail that they can apply for a postal vote. It’s currently advertised in the media, but we feel a letter with the pertinent information with it would serve people better. Many people do not know they can register for ALL future elections.65
4.85
The Committee agrees that for many disabled or otherwise eligible voters, becoming a General Postal Voter is the most convenient method to engage with the electoral process. The Committee believes that this service could be better advertised to some electors.

Recommendation 20

4.86
The Committee recommends that the Australia Electoral Commission work with disability advocates to better inform eligible disabled electors of the General Postal Voter application process.

Overseas voting

4.87
Australians overseas are not obliged to vote at federal elections. Despite this, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) provides access to the vote in a number of overseas locations.
4.88
The AEC set up 95 overseas posts which functioned as Overseas Voting Centres for up to two weeks before election day. Major locations included London, Hong Kong, New York, Singapore, Shanghai, and Berlin. Other locations included Port of Spain, Pohnpei, Brasilia, and Sapporo. Overseas Australians could also apply for a postal vote.66
4.89
The provision of these in-person voting services is costly for a number of reasons. The AEC notes:
In-person overseas voting is resource-intensive for the AEC, both in terms of costs and staffing, given the logistical management and reliance upon external contractors to despatch election materials across the DFAT global network. In addition to AEC resources, the delivery of overseas voting services represents a significant impost on overseas posts.67
4.90
While acknowledging that the provision of in-person voting services at overseas locations is resource intensive, the Committee believes that this remains an integral component of the political enfranchisement of the population. It hopes the AEC continues to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that Australians overseas have reasonable access to in-person voting services.
4.91
The AEC received a total of 71 406 votes sent to Australia from overseas. The majority of these were pre-poll votes issued at overseas posts.68 These pre-poll votes were cast as declaration votes ‘which were sealed and returned to the voter’s home division in Australia for scrutiny and counting’.69
4.92
Of these votes sent back to Australia, 118 were not received in time to be included in the count. These 118 votes were sent from Santiago in Chile and had failed to arrive in time due to an administrative error by the courier.70 This meant that a total of 71 288 overseas votes were included in the final count.
4.93
Concerning this issue, the AEC submitted:
The AEC was mindful of the potential impact on close seat results if ballot material was late or missing. Close seat analysis shows that the Santiago consignment did not impact final results.71

Recommendation 21

4.94
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission continues to work closely with its external contractors to ensure the integrity of logistics processes for the transmission of votes back to Australia.

Australian Defence Force Personnel

4.95
At any one time, a significant number of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are deployed overseas. As at June 2018, for instance, over 2 400 personnel are deployed at a number of overseas locations, including the Middle East, Sudan, Afghanistan and the Philippines.72 At the time of the 2016 federal election, a large number of ADF personnel were deployed at Hawai’i, USA, for participation in the annual Rim of the Pacific joint military operation.
4.96
In order to ensure access to the vote for these overseas ADF personnel, ‘the AEC and ADF delivered a customised voting service, primarily postal voting’, for the 2016 federal election. ADF personnel were encouraged to apply to become General Poster Voters, or otherwise, apply for a postal vote online. Two hundred and twenty-two ADF personnel postal votes were returned to Australia from overseas locations for this election.73
4.97
In-person voting services were offered to ADF personnel at a number of OVCs, depending on the location of these personnel. For the 2016 federal election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) established an OVC at the Australia Consulate in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, to cater for participants in the Rim of the Pacific joint military operation. Seven hundred and eighty-five votes were issued at this OVC.74
4.98
In correspondence with the Committee, the then Defence Minister, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, expressed the ADF’s overall satisfaction with the voting services provided by the AEC for the 2016 federal election. She suggested that dispatch of postal votes at the earliest possible time would allow the ADF time to forward these to ADF personnel for completion and return to Australia. She also suggested that the provision of on-line voting services for ADF personnel would greatly reduce difficulties for their participation in the electoral process.
4.99
The issue of electronic voting is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

Recommendation 22

4.100
The Committee notes the importance of Australian Defence Force personnel being able to vote in a timely and efficient manner, and recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission ensures that postal votes for Australian Defence Force personnel are dispatched at the earliest possible time to allow the ADF time to forward those to its personnel for completion and return to Australia.

Mobile voting

4.101
Mobile polling services are delivered by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to places where the Electoral Commissioner determines they are needed. Mobile polling can commence up to 12 days before election day and can be conducted on election day.
4.102
This election, there were 557 mobile polling teams which visited almost 3 000 locations by land, sea and air. The types of locations these teams visited included:
hospitals;
aged care facilities;
prisons;
homelessness service providers; and
remote locations.75
4.103
The Committee received evidence of some issues concerning mobile polling teams in some locations.
4.104
Mr Lincoln Folo, Campaign Director, Liberal National Party of Queensland, informed the Committee that ‘[a]t the Townsville Hospital booth we recognise that the AEC tried to get around to everybody but did not have the resources to get to all the electors in the hospital who were entitled to and wanted to vote’.76
4.105
The Committee heard evidence that mobile polling teams were unable to attend, in particular, Townsville Hospital’s subacute ward.77 On election day, the ward had 39 in-patients who were there for long-term stays. Dr Craig Costello informed the Committee that, according to information he had received, these patients were assured that the AEC mobile polling team would eventually get to them so that they could vote. Later in the day, the AEC informed hospital staff that: ‘Look, we are not going to get there. Please give them [the patients] the advice to write a letter [to the AEC] so they do not get fined’.78
4.106
Dr Costello provided evidence that other patients in other parts of the hospital had also missed the opportunity to vote. Dr Costello estimated the number of voters missed by the polling team to be ‘north of 50 in total.’79
4.107
Given the closeness of the result for the division of Herbert, which was 37 votes80, these 50 votes could have changed the outcome of the election.
4.108
Ms Laura Sinclair (private capacity), similarly submitted to the Committee that:
Residents of nursing homes, aged hostels, and hospital patients missing out on the opportunity to vote by failure of nursing staff to inform them of time and place or failing to include them in the round.81
4.109
She gave the example of Garden Settlement nursing home, where some residents missed out in the opportunity to vote and later received failure to vote infringement letters from the AEC. She contended:
… one of the residents inquired well before polling day as to what arrangements were in place to enable him to vote. Evidently the staff member he spoke to said something along the lines of ‘Leave it to me. I’ll arrange it’. If the AEC polling staff visited Garden Settlement he and perhaps 18 others were left out. I note that the scrutineer’s handbook states that ‘Once determined the places, days and times of mobile polling arrangements are published on the AEC website’. This is not a lot of help to many elderly voters in nursing homes, or, hospital patients. They rely on advice by administrators or nursing staff.82
4.110
Mr Brian Jeffrey, a resident of Garden Settlement, informed the Committee that he had relied on the facility’s staff to arrange to vote, but later realised that the AEC had left the nursing home before he had the opportunity to cast his ballot. He was subsequently sent a failure to vote notice from the AEC.83
4.111
The Committee is aware that AEC mobile polling teams have to rely on co-operation with staff of the facilities they visit to ensure all residents are notified of voting options. The Committee hopes that the AEC continues to work closely with facility management to ensure all residents are properly notified of the times and locations of mobile polling team visits.

Recommendation 23

4.112
The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission strengthen and improve co-operation with the management of the facilities their mobile polling teams visit to ensure that all electors have the opportunity to vote.

Voting services for blind and low vision voters

4.113
Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) submitted that the introduction of telephone-assisted voting for blind and low vision (BLV) voters at the 2013 federal election ‘brought us one step closer’ to ‘securing a method of casting a secret, independent and verifiable vote for people who are blind or vision impaired’.84
4.114
Ms Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director of People with Disabilities WA Inc., also informed the Committee of ‘positive feedback on the ability to use a secret ballot by phone, from people with vision impairment’ she had received.85
4.115
The telephone voting system for BLV electors involves a two-step process of registration and voting. The system was open for registrations on 13 June to 12 pm 2 July, and open for voting between 14 June and 6pm on polling day. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) the ‘service allowed people to cast their vote in secret and with a degree of independence’.86
4.116
During these periods, 2 175 people registered to use the system and 1 998 people voted via the system. The figures for the 2013 federal election were 3 066 and 2 834, respectively.87
4.117
The AEC offered the following explanation of the drop in use of the system:
The increase in the number of Senate candidates made telephone voting in the larger states more onerous. The list of candidates is read to voters by an AEC staff member, and in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria there were over 100 candidates in the Senate, taking up to 20 minutes.88
4.118
Vision Australia, while supportive of the telephone voting service, conveyed to the Committee that it is their:
… strong view that the call centre model, regardless of the manner in which it is implemented, does not provide people who are blind or have low vision with the same amenity and convenience as the rest of the community, not does it represent a secret and independent vote.89
4.119
The Committee heard evidence of other issues with the telephone voting system. BCA, Vision Australia, and People with Disability Australia pointed out that as many as 400 individuals in Queensland who used the telephone voting system, incorrectly received infringement notices for non-voting following the election.90
4.120
BCA elaborated on the issue:
BCA reported this matter to the AEC and received a response stating that people who had received the infringement notices should call the AEC to have the matter resolved. It was stated that a processing error had occurred, meaning that the data from Queensland participants who used… [the] telephone voting service has not been incorporated into the national database. The nature of the processing error was not made clear. BCA was however, assured that the votes of people who received the infringement notices were counted. While this was communicated to people affected, understandably, scepticism among these people is high.91
4.121
In order to avoid such misunderstandings in the future, which serve to undermine trust in the electoral process for BLV Australians, BCA recommended:
That a user verification code be provided after the vote of a person who is blind or vision impaired has been cast over the phone. This code should be delivered using the existing methods that have been successfully implemented for the delivery of pin numbers to voters.92
4.122
The Committee shares these concerns over the impact such administrative errors can have on trust in the electoral process. The Committee considers that these misgivings can be alleviated if voters are able to confirm that their vote has been properly submitted and accurately received.
4.123
In a submission to the Committee’s review of the AEC’s 2016-17 Annual Report, Vision Australia argued for the NSW iVote system to be extended federally. This Committee agrees that given that this is Vision Australia’s preferred option, that it should be considered as a short-term measure on a fee-for-service basis, only for blind and low vision voters. Although risks remain with this technology, the cohort of voters who would be eligible to access the system is reasonably small and nationally widespread so this minimises both the risk and the attractiveness of this system to interference. The benefits for BLV voters outweighs this risk.
4.124
Vision Australia highlighted the decrease in use of telephone voting compared to the 2013 election. In their analysis, they identified 4 factors contributing to the decrease:
although anonymous, none of the voting options available at Federal elections provide a secret vote.
there is a strong objection to the lack of independence. While it is certainly more convenient to telephone from home, rather than having to attend a designated polling place, it still requires a third party to record a vote.
no means to verify their vote had been recorded as intended. There is an awareness that any human-mediated process introduces the possibility of errors, and such errors are more likely to occur when the process becomes complex, such as “below the line” voting for Senate Ballots.
the amount of time needed to prepare, and then use, the telephone-assisted voting service. People feel uncomfortable about “inconveniencing” call centre operators by asking them to repeat lengthy candidate lists, numerous times, during the voting process. This led to feeling pressured to vote quickly, and in as simple a way as possible (“above the line”).93
4.125
BCA, Vision Australia, and People with Disability Australia all recommended the adoption at the federal level of a voting system similar to New South Wales’ iVote system.94

Recommendation 24

4.126
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government investigate the feasibility of extending the NSW iVote system to blind- and low-vision voters only in federal elections.

  • 1
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Annual Report 2016-17, p. 62, <https://annualreport.aec.gov.au/2017/contents/files/aec-annual-report-2016-17.pdf>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 2
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 29.
  • 3
    Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Report No. 4 2014-15, <https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/g/files/net4816/f/ANAO_Report_2014-2015_04.pdf>, accessed 21 June 2018.
  • 4
    ANAO cited in AEC, Submission 66, p. 29.
  • 5
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 29.
  • 6
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 29.
  • 7
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 25.
  • 8
    AEC, Submission 66:18, p. 8.
  • 9
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 25.
  • 10
    Australian Greens, Submission 89, p. 6.
  • 11
    David Molnar, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Tasmania, AEC, Committee Hansard, Hobart, 14 November 2016, p. 8.
  • 12
    AEC, Submission 66.3, p. 4.
  • 13
    AEC, Submission 66.18, p. 8.
  • 14
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), ‘Electoral Backgrounder—polling place offences’, 15 March 2018, <https://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/Publications/backgrounders/polling-places-offences.htm>, accessed 14 June 2018.
  • 15
    Voices for Indi, Submission 55, p. [1].
  • 16
    Jeffrey Pope, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Victoria, AEC, Committee Hansard, Melbourne, 15 November 2016, p. 13.
  • 17
    Michael Maley, Submission 5, p. 6.
  • 18
    Michael Maley, Submission 5, p. 6.
  • 19
    Family Voice Australia, Submission 27, p. 13.
  • 20
    Marie Neilson, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Western Australia, AEC, Committee Hansard, Perth, 18 November 2016, p. 5.
  • 21
    Mr Steve Irons MP, Member for Swan, Submission 117, p. [1].
  • 22
    Kevin Kitson, First Assistant Commissioner of Network Operations, Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Committee Hansard, Hobart, 14 November 2016, p. 13.
  • 23
    AEC, ‘Disability Advisory Committee: Terms of Reference’, 27 March 2018, <https://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/Publications/files/disability-advisory-committee-terms-of-reference.pdf>, accessed on 7 June 2018.
  • 24
    AEC, Annual Report 2016-17, p. 62, <https://annualreport.aec.gov.au/2017/contents/files/aec-annual-report-2016-17.pdf>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 25
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 34.
  • 26
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 35.
  • 27
    David Molnar, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager for Tasmania, AEC, Committee Hansard, Hobart, 14 November 2016, p. 3.
  • 28
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 34.
  • 29
    Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director, People with Disabilities WA Inc., Committee Hansard, Perth, 18 November 2016, p.13.
  • 30
    Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director, People with Disabilities WA Inc., Committee Hansard, Perth, 18 November 2016, p.13.
  • 31
    ParaQuad Association Tasmania Inc., Submission 131, p. [1].
  • 32
    David Cawthorn, Chairman, ParaQuad Association Tasmania Inc., Committee Hansard, Hobart, 14 November 2016, p. 21.
  • 33
    People with Disability Australia, Submission 124, p. 5.
  • 34
    Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director, People with Disabilities WA Inc., Committee Hansard, Perth, 18 November 2016, p.13.
  • 35
    Vision Australia, Submission 35, p. 5.
  • 36
    The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) notes that the term ‘early voting’ ‘includes all pre-poll votes, postal votes and votes cast through hospital, remote or other mobile teams’. See: AEC, Submission 66, p. 27, n. 1.
  • 37
    AEC, Submission 66:15, p. 3.
  • 38
    AEC, Annual Report 2016-17, p. 33, <https://annualreport.aec.gov.au/2017/contents/files/aec-annual-report-2016-17.pdf>, accessed 3 December 2018.
  • 39
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 28.
  • 40
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 27.
  • 41
    Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, Schedule 2.
  • 42
    A Rojas and D Muller, ‘Early Voting in Australian Federal Elections: Causes and Consequences’, Australian Political Studies Association 2014 Conference—Sydney, p. 6, <https://www.aec.gov.au/About_AEC/research/files/apsa-2014-early-voting-in-australian-federal-elections-causes-and-consequences.pdf>, accessed 14 June 2018; also: The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 4.
  • 43
    Greg Northover, Submission 40, p. 11.
  • 44
    Lex Stewart, Submission 118, p. [3].
  • 45
    Unions NSW, Submission 87, p. 4.
  • 46
    Unions NSW, Submission 87, p. 5.
  • 47
    Australian Greens, Submission 89, p. 5.
  • 48
    Jeff Waddell, Submission 3, p. 9.
  • 49
    The Electoral Integrity Project, Submission 52, p. 4.
  • 50
    Australian Electoral Commission, ‘Candidates Handbook: Counting the votes’, <https://www.aec.gov.au/Elections/candidates/candidates-handbook/counting.htm>, viewed 13 June 2018.
  • 51
    Antony Green, Submission 30, p. 8.
  • 52
    Liberal National Party, Submission 68, p. 2.
  • 53
    Thomas Ryan, Australian Electoral Officer and State Manager, Queensland, AEC, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 November 2016, p. 7.
  • 54
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), ‘Postal vote application form’, <https://www.aec.gov.au/by-elections-2018/files/pva-form.pdf>, accessed on 13 June 2018.
  • 55
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 30.
  • 56
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 31.
  • 57
    AEC, Submission 66:2, Attachment C2, p. [1].
  • 58
    Andrew Reid, Submission 9.
  • 59
    Andrew Reid, Submission 9.
  • 60
    AEC, Annual Report 2016-17, p. 34.
  • 61
    Paul Pirani, Chief Legal Officer, AEC, Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, p. 26.
  • 62
    Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s. 193.
  • 63
    Judith and Mr Geoffrey Hinspeter, Submission 34, p. [1].
  • 64
    Laura Sinclair, Submission 37, p. [1]. Emphasis in original.
  • 65
    ParaQuad Association Tasmania Inc., Submission 131, p. [1].
  • 66
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 32; Appendix B.
  • 67
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 32.
  • 68
    AEC, Submission 66:2, Attachment B2, p. 6.
  • 69
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 32.
  • 70
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 32.
  • 71
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 32.
  • 72
    Department of Defence, ‘Global Operations’, <http://www.defence.gov.au/Operations/>, accessed 27 June 2018.
  • 73
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 33.
  • 74
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 33.
  • 75
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 32.
  • 76
    Lincoln Folo, Campaign Director, Liberal National Party of Queensland, Committee Hansard, Brisbane, 25 November 2016, p. 28.
  • 77
    In strict terms, Townsville Hospital was setup as a static polling place—Douglas Central. Staff from the polling place took on mobile polling duties while attending patients in the hospital. Thomas Ryan, Electoral Officer and Queensland State Manager, AEC, Committee Hansard, 31 January 2017, Townsville, p. 27.
  • 78
    Craig Costello, Submission 32, pp. [1]; Craig Costello, Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, p. 4.
  • 79
    Craig Costello, Committee Hansard, Townsville, 31 January 2017, p. 3.
  • 80
    AEC, ‘Herbert, QLD’, <https://results.aec.gov.au/20499/website/HouseDivisionPage-20499-165.htm>, accessed 25 June 2018.
  • 81
    Laura Sinclair, Submission 37, p. [1].
  • 82
    Laura Sinclair, Submission 37, p. [4]. Emphasis in original.
  • 83
    Beverly Montgomery on behalf of Brian Jeffrey, Submission 33, p. [1].
  • 84
    Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), Submission 28, p. [1].
  • 85
    Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director, People with Disabilities WA Inc., Committee Hansard, Perth, 18 November 2016, p.13.
  • 86
    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Submission 66, p. 33.
  • 87
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 33.
  • 88
    AEC, Submission 66, p. 33.
  • 89
    Vision Australia, Submission 35, p. 3.
  • 90
    BCA, Submission 28, p. [2]; Vision Australia, Submission 35, p. 7; People with Disability Australia, Submission 124, p. 5.
  • 91
    BCA, Submission 28, p. [2].
  • 92
    BCA, Submission 28, p. [3].
  • 93
    Vision Australia, Submission 35, pp. 8-9.
  • 94
    BCA, Submission 28, pp. [3-4]; Vision Australia, Submission 35, pp. 9-14; People with Disability Australia, Submission 124, p. 6.

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