Delayed Voice referendum result is not evidence of vote-rigging

Delayed Voice referendum result is not evidence of vote-rigging

What was claimed

The verdict

The result of the Voice to Parliament referendum could be delayed to allow time for votes to be rigged.

False. The announcement of the Voice referendum result might be delayed in order to count pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

By Renee Davidson

An article published by The Guardian citing a possible delay in the Voice referendum result is being used by social media users to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the referendum’s electoral process. 

The article titled “Indigenous voice referendum results may not be known on voting day, AEC commissioner warns” was published by The Guardian on April 27, 2023. 

It was picked up by an anti-Voice Telegram channel with more than 1,250 subscribers, who shared a screenshot of the headline to falsely claim that a delay in the referendum result would be to allow time for votes to be rigged in favour of the “Yes” vote.

Aboriginal and Australian flags with headline from the Guardian Guardian headline used by social media users to sow doubt over legitimacy of referendum result

“They are preparing us for a rigged referendum,” the Telegram user wrote alongside the screenshot. “It’s exactly what they told Americans when Trump was leading the election count by a large margin. Then they stopped counting and overnight, a massive jump appears for Joe Biden.

“They are preparing us for vote-rigging. This is why it’s important to get involved, volunteer in the voting centres and make the NO VOTE so dominant it cannot be denied,” the user wrote.

Created in February, the Telegram channel’s description reads: “There is a dangerous political agenda behind the so-called “Aboriginal Voice To Parliament”. The channel encourages followers to disseminate its material onto mainstream platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. 

The channel’s post about the referendum’ electoral process has been viewed more than 8,800 times on Telegram. Screenshots of the post have been shared on Facebook, with other users copying and pasting the message in several Facebook posts. 

But the claim that a delay in the referendum result is to allow time for vote-rigging is false. 

According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the timing of a formal result being announced might be delayed in order to count additional pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes. 

“While there could be a public indication of a potential result on the night, if it is close it may take days or several weeks for additional pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes to come back to the AEC and be counted,” the AEC says on its website.

“The timing of a formal result declared by the AEC is entirely dependent on the margin in a state/territory, or nationally, against the number of votes yet to be counted,” the AEC says. 

AEC media officer Jess Lilley told RMIT FactLab in an email that while the AEC has often counted every vote in its possession at the end of each day of counting, it still takes time for overseas and postal votes to arrive. 

“In the days following voting day, there are millions of votes cast away from home (declaration votes) that are securely packaged, transported back to the relevant AEC counting centre and validated against the electoral roll,” she said.

Ms Lilley said the commission is legally required to wait 13 days after voting day for postal votes to return to the AEC to be counted. “If the result is particularly close, it could take the full 13 days to achieve an outcome,” she said. “‘Yes’ and ‘No’ votes are a bit easier to count than preferential numbering, however we won’t have all ballots in our possession on referendum night.”

For a referendum to pass, a “double majority” is needed. This means not only do a majority of Australian voters need to support the proposed constitutional change, but a majority of states - four out of six - need to support the change also. The votes of territory voters count towards the national majority only.

A close “double majority” vote could also impact the timing of the referendum result. Ms Lilley said it “could take time to get a clear result if the vote is close – either the national majority or a key state that is determining the second state-based hurdle of the double majority.” 

She rejected the claim that a delay in the AEC’s declaration of the referendum formal result would allow for the votes to be rigged. 

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Our motto is right, not rushed.Every single ballot paper is tracked at all stages of transport, counting and storage. Ballot papers are counted by 100,000+ temporary staff, supervised by permanent AEC staff and observed by scrutineers (non-AEC staff) – ensuring transparency and accuracy.”

The AEC requires all permanent and temporary staff to sign political neutrality agreements to ensure the agency is always politically neutral at every step of the process, she said.

“Additionally, the AEC undertakes a process called ‘fresh scrutiny’ where every single ballot paper is counted a second time,” she said. “This mandatory second count provides validation of the original, indicative count. Fresh scrutiny commences from the Monday after voting night as it does with an election.”

A referendum is a national vote on a particular issue to potentially change the constitution. In contrast to federal elections, there is no preferential numbering, as voters only need to vote either "Yes" or "No" in response to the proposed question for constitutional change.

The AEC has listed similar claims about the Voice to Parliament referendum being rigged on its Disinformation Register

Following the 2020 US election, several US fact checking organisations debunked the claim that thousands of excess Biden votes were found. Examples of these fact checks can be found here, here, here and here.


The verdict

The claim that a delay in the result of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum would be evidence of vote-rigging is false. The Australian Electoral Commission has warned that if the vote is close on referendum night, the official result may be delayed until all pre-poll votes, and overseas and postal votes are counted. To ensure transparency and accuracy, ballot papers are counted by temporary staff, who are supervised by permanent AEC staff and observed by scrutineers.

05 May 2023


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