23 August 2023

AEC ramps up education campaign to counter Voice misinformation

| Chris Johnson
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four people standing by referendum pamphlets

Referendum pamphlets are on their way to your mailbox now as part of the AEC’s education campaign. Photo: AEC.

In the face of the growing spread of misinformation about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum, the Australian Electoral Commission has entered the main phase of its education campaign.

Ahead of any announcement confirming the date the referendum will be held, the AEC has launched advertisements reminding Australians to get ready to vote.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he will announce the date of the referendum (widely expected to be 14 October) during an event in South Australia next Wednesday.

The AEC’s campaign, titled Your Answer Matters, lets voters know how much their say on polling day is needed.

Showing across various television channels, as well as online, social media and in cinemas, the ad campaign highlights the importance of the referendum.

Radio and press advertisements are included in the campaign, which also points to information resources and material translated into foreign and Indigenous languages.

READ ALSO Voice referendum pamphlets are on their way

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said it was a deliberate decision to start the advertising campaign before the date has been announced.

“It’s been 24 years since we last had a referendum,” Mr Rogers said.

“Approximately 6.4 million enrolled Australians weren’t of voting age when we had our most recent referendum in 1999 – for a lot of people the role of a referendum won’t be familiar.

“This campaign ramps up the public education we’ve been doing all year, educating Australians about the importance of referendums and how to cast a formal vote.”

In addition, the campaign will encourage people to update their enrolment details or take the necessary steps to enrol to vote.

There has been a surge in the number of Australians enrolling to vote, including accelerated rates of Indigenous and youth enrolments.

But Mr Rogers said more work needed to be done in this area.

“This isn’t the time to rest on our laurels. We’ve seen record growth over the past six months but we’re conscious there’s still more to do,” he said.

“And it’s also important that newly enrolled Australians turn out to vote at the referendum as well.”

The advertising campaign explains why referendums are held and how to correctly complete the ballot paper.

It also encourages people to check the source of information about the voting process.

A dedicated website has just been launched and a podcast series featuring AEC spokespeople is forthcoming.

The AEC does not discuss the topic other than outlining what the question will be on the ballot paper and hosting the Yes/No case pamphlet, which outlines the official cases written and authorised by parliamentarians.

Distribution of the pamphlet is now underway and households across Australia will be starting to receive them in their letterboxes.

Early in its preparations for the poll, the AEC set up a disinformation register to counter erroneous statements about the referendum process.

One misconception answered on the register is that voting in the referendum is voluntary, just “like the 2017 Marriage Law Postal Survey”.

READ ALSO What should we make of the Voice referendum polling?

“Referendums are compulsory, like a federal election,” the register states.

“The AEC did not run the Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017. The postal survey was neither a referendum nor a plebiscite, and was run by the Bureau of Statistics.”

Other misinformation tackled on the register include answers to allegations of the referendum being rigged and false statements about the validity of the Constitution.

“We’re being about as active as we can be in order to educate people about the first referendum in Australia for nearly a quarter of a century,” Mr Rogers said.

“We’ll also be continuing our well-regarded ‘firm but friendly’ approach to answering questions on social media.

“Voter education for the 2023 referendum is as important as it has ever been given it’s been 24 years since the last one.”

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If the the AEC is going to count ticks as a yes vote why won’t they count crosses as a no vote?

While I can see the logic in counting a tick as a yes, I think it’s ridiculous to introduce any “discretion” into the counting of the formality of voting papers.

If the instructions say “Write ‘Yes’ or ‘No'” then that should be the only acceptable format for a formal vote.

Having worked at polling booths as an official, I know that when a voting paper is handed out, the voter is given very explicit instructions on how to cast a formal vote. Officials will have undergone a lot of training in how to handout papers, etc.

It’s not going to be hard for AEC officials to explain the process – there’s only two options. The staff are also able to assist voters to cast their vote if they are confused or for any reason unable to do so themselves.

will there be scrutineering of the vote counting?

Yes. “Every aspect of the count is open to be viewed by scrutineers”

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