Election 2019: Pesec complaint to AEC on election day voting advice

Genevieve Jacobs 24 May 2019 12

Pesec has expressed his concern about the instructions that were given to polling officials. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Senate candidate Anthony Pesec believes he may have been significantly disadvantaged in Saturday’s election and has complained to the Australian Electoral Office, alleging that some voters received incorrect advice about how to vote.

RiotACT first broke the story on Saturday night after comments from readers who had struggled to understand the Senate ballot paper.

“Post-election, many people have told me that they didn’t know how to vote and we have also heard a number of reports from people that AEC workers also didn’t provide correct advice,” Pesec said. The Pesec camp notified the AEC in writing about their concerns on Wednesday.

Because Pesec and his fellow candidate Gary Kent were grouped, rather than being registered as a political party, no name appeared on Box C for above the line votes, although both men’s names were printed below the line.

The pair had raised the name issue with the AEC before the election but were told, correctly, that legislation does not permit grouped candidates to be named above the line. With seven columns on the Senate paper, Pesec believes that many people may have assumed that one box had to remain blank. His how-to-vote cards were prepared to mitigate this risk.

“The rules are what they are, but it appears some staff were incorrectly advising people at several booths about whether they could number the blank box. Apparently, the AEC sent messages to all booths mid-morning, clarifying that an above the line vote in the blank box was valid”, he said. Pesec believes this indicates the AEC thought there was a problem.

The AEC’s Evan Ekin-Smyth confirms that messages were sent to all polling booths in Canberra after the Pesec team had raised the matter on election morning. However, he says, the issue was not raised once during the three-week pre-polling period when around 100,000 votes were cast.

“Mr Pesec told us he was concerned about instructions to polling officials. These were anecdotal observations, but we did confirm with all our officials that above the line votes were valid and confirmed our standard instructions to vote one to six at least above the line or one to twelve or more below.”

The AEC has received correspondence from Anthony Pesec and will reply to him. They say the ballot paper complied with legislation and unmarked boxes have appeared on a number of other ballot papers around the country. Mr Pesec also has the option of making a formal submission to the Joint Standing Committee that looks at the conduct of the election.

“We’ll look at the details and get back to him,” Evan Ekin-Smyth said. “Ballot papers aren’t marked, so they don’t tell you anything. You can’t ascertain what happened at the polling booth and whether the unmarked box is the voters’ preference or a problem. But we’ll do our best to ascertain what happened and respond.”

For his part, Pesec is still considering whether he will run again or not. He’s likely to make a submission about whether non-party candidates are disadvantaged by the current legislation.

He’s also hoping that when the vote count is completed, it will indicate that his below the line votes are proportionally higher than his above the line votes, indicating that there was a problem with the ballot paper. And he wonders if his vote would have been boosted enough to harvest more preferences and change the result.

“I gave it all I had, working seven days a week on this. I’ve had really good feedback about how it was run, people complimented us on the campaign and we had great volunteers. It was disappointing to see the result when we were fighting the disadvantage of the blank box. It’s a bit heartbreaking, but I’m proud of the campaign we ran.

“In the end, it’s good for democracy for people to be able to run as independents, but it’s already hard enough as an independent without the infrastructure of a party system for people to step aside from their day jobs and lives,” he said.


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12 Responses to Election 2019: Pesec complaint to AEC on election day voting advice
John Moulis John Moulis 2:53 pm 25 May 19

Tony, the problem wasn’t the ballot paper, it was you and the other independents promising “real action on “climate change”. I was sick and tired of hearing these ads on a conservative radio station and realising that there were no independents pledging to end wasteful and pointless spending on so-called “climate change” and pulling us out of the Paris Agreement.

In the end the only people to turn to were Zed, One Nation and the Fraser Anning candidate.

I hope this proves to be a lesson to aspiring candidates in future. “Climate change” is a mug’s game and a political Bermuda Triangle where political leaders and candidates disappear. For your own sakes, don’t go there again.

James Daniels James Daniels 9:24 am 25 May 19

I've scrutineered at three federal elections now and have two points I'd like to make. Firstly, I barely had a chance to look at the Senate ballots as the HoR count took so long but I did notice there appeared to be more votes for Pesec under the line than above the line. Looking at the 2016 ACT Senate votes, only 15% of all votes were under the line, every single group had more above the line than under the line votes and no group had more than about 30% of its votes under the line. If my observation about Pesec's votes is backed up across the other booths and we end up with his vote something like 60% under the line, its likely to be a very significant statistical outlier. This would suggest people were confused by the blank box above the line and either skipped it or went under the line to make sure their vote counted. The second point is that the count seemed slower than at any other booth I've scrutineered and too many of the AEC staff only had a superficial knowledge of what constituted a formal vote. To put that into context, I had one hours training in 2013 and looked at the AEC website for maybe 15 minutes prior to scrutineering in 2016 & 2019 but I still knew more about formal votes than the AEC staff who had presumably done more substantial and recent training. With such a skectchy knowledge of what constitutes a formal vote, I could easily see some of them giving the wrong advice to voters if asked about the blank box above the line. Given my observations, I think there are two changes that should be made. Grouped independents should have some descriptor printed above the line and AEC training should be improved.

Andrea Lloyd Andrea Lloyd 10:35 pm 24 May 19

Why wasn’t the blank column marked Independent group or Pesec group. Not too hard is it? There seems to have been some very dodgy decisions and advice from the AEC this election.

Beth Baldwin Beth Baldwin 9:40 pm 24 May 19

Hmmm... I didn’t even know grouping was a thing? But if he made the choice it’s hard to call whether he was disadvantaged?

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 9:33 pm 24 May 19

Um did it affect the result? Nope!

Anna Francesca Clancy Anna Francesca Clancy 8:14 pm 24 May 19

I didn’t really know who Anthony Pesec was but I knew his name should have been on the voting slip and it was very confusing to vote not knowing if I was doing the right thing by ticking his box when there was no name there. I was worried about invalidating my vote. Unacceptable whichever way you look at it. And I am sure that it would have affected preferences on the day as people may have been cautious and left that box untucked..

Michael Richer Michael Richer 7:42 pm 24 May 19

Why poor me get over it sunshine

    Natasha Van Oudheusden Natasha Van Oudheusden 7:52 pm 24 May 19

    Michael Richer it’s supposed to be a democratic process. Whether you like him or not, people have the right to receive the correct information and make an informed decision

Kath Ras Kath Ras 7:39 pm 24 May 19

I agree too. Received conflicting advise from several staffers inside the polling area on how to vote. From this I have a feeling my vote, at least, may have been void.

Kristy Hancock Kristy Hancock 7:24 pm 24 May 19

I think he has a valid point, I didn't work directly on his campaign but was handing out his how to vote cards on election day and there were a few people who were confused by it, including other volunteers who questioned it.

Grimm Grimm 5:36 pm 24 May 19

Oh get over it Pesec. You lost. You weren’t even close. This just makes you look petty and ridiculous. Definitely not the kind of sore loser anybody will want representing them.

    Garfield Garfield 8:39 am 25 May 19

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t believe in our electoral system needing integrity as long as your side wins. Our ballot papers should be easy for voters to understand and if AEC officials don’t understand them and provide incorrect advice to voters seeking clarification, its a problem. I’m not saying it would have changed the outcome, but from some of the comments on these stories there were people who wanted to vote for him who didn’t because they were confused or provided poor advice. At least he would have received a little more funding to offset the money he spent in providing an alternative to voters.

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