At the 1999 referendum, about Australia becoming a republic, the No vote was 11 per cent stronger in postal voting than it was on referendum day. At the 2022 federal election, backing for the conservatives was 3 per cent higher in postal voting than on polling day.
A government spokeswoman said there was nothing unusual about the timing of the writs being issued, citing the 1999 Howard example.
“Once the writs are issued, enrolment closes seven days later,” she said.
“We’ve made it easier for people to enrol to vote – because Indigenous Australians have long had a lower rate of enrolment.”
A government source who was not authorised to speak publicly said the referendum act made postal voting processes clear and if “No campaigners within the Coalition don’t understand the law, they themselves agreed to less than a few months ago, that’s a matter for them”.
ABC election analyst Antony Green did not offer a judgment on Price’s claim. But he noted voters could ask for postal ballots immediately after regular federal elections were called, rather than when the writs were issued. This is the only material difference between election procedures in a referendum and regular poll.
“It would have been better when the act was reviewed that it had been brought into line,” he said.
Even though the AEC can not yet receive applications to vote by mail, the Liberal Party has been sending No flyers that include a QR code for a Liberal Party website that allows people to apply for a postal vote, although it makes clear official applications haven’t opened yet.
Labor’s national secretary, Paul Erickson, wrote to the AEC on Wednesday seeking an investigation into the flyers, arguing it was misleading to instruct voters to “apply now” for a postal vote when it was currently impossible to do so.
“I am concerned that the material distributed by the Liberal Party, which purports to
inform people about how they can vote in the upcoming referendum, actually
misleads Australians about the referendum process,” he wrote.
“Among other consequences, the distribution of this misleading material may lead many Australians to provide their personal information to the Liberal Party under the mistaken belief that they are making a valid application for a postal vote.”
The AEC wrote back to Erickson saying it had raised the issue with the Liberal Party and believed it was being addressed, which Erickson subsequently said was an inadequate response.
Similar websites are used by the Coalition and Labor at federal elections, and the AEC emphasised on Wednesday the practice was “legal and occurs every election/referendum”.
AEC commissioner Tom Rogers said this week he did not know what political parties did with the post vote information and preferred voters applied through the AEC.
The Coalition’s claims about postal voting represent the second occasion in a fortnight it has questioned whether referendum processes are advantaging the Yes side.
Late last month, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton argued it was unfair that ticks be regarded as Yes votes but crosses would not be considered a No.
The AEC rebuked Dutton, citing legal advice that stated a tick was a sure sign of a vote in the affirmative but crosses were sometimes used to affirmatively mark boxes on forms and therefore could not be automatically classed as Yes or No.
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