Failure to vote in the Voice referendum will not count as a Yes vote

Failure to vote in the Voice referendum will not count as a Yes vote

What was claimed

The verdict

If you boycott the Voice referendum, your vote will automatically be counted as a Yes vote.

False. If a voter does not cast a vote, or casts an informal vote, this will not be counted in the final result. The outcome of a referendum is decided by the number of formal Yes votes cast versus the number of formal No votes cast.

By Eiddwen Jeffery

A viral video opposing the Indigenous Voice to Parliament mentions that boycotting the referendum will count as a Yes vote. But this advice is incorrect.

The claim is made by First Nations woman Mebbingarri Cindy Roberts in a video in which she encourages people to cast a vote because boycotting the referendum would automatically count as a Yes vote.

Ms Roberts, a Widjabul woman and activist from Lismore, New South Wales, does not support the proposed Indigenous Voice. 

In an 18:37-minute monologue published on her website and on Youtube, she advocates the case for Indigenous sovereignty and treaty, but says Australians should make sure they cast a vote in the referendum.

“A lot of people out there are saying boycott — don’t boycott [the referendum] because that gives them [government] a yes vote, an automatic yes vote,” she says.

Extracts from her monologue were then shared to social media where they have been spreading fast. 

But the voting information being circulated is incorrect. 

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) spokesperson Evan Ekin-Smith told RMIT FactLab in an email, “if someone doesn’t cast a vote they simply do not get a say” in the referendum outcome. 

Mr Ekin-Smith said the same goes for informal votes: “If someone casts an informal vote (blank ballot or unable to be counted for either yes or no) then it simply goes into the informal pile.   

“The results of a referendum are measured in percentages. The number of formal yes votes cast versus the number of formal no votes cast. Nothing else,” he said. 

Voting is compulsory in Australian referendums for eligible voters aged 18 and over. People who do not vote can expect to receive an administrative fine of $20.  

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament referendum seeks to alter the Australian Constitution to recognise Indigenous people as the First Peoples of Australia and to create a permanent advisory body, to be known as the Voice. 

To successfully alter the constitution, the proposed referendum must achieve a Yes vote by a national majority of voters (more than 50%) from all states and territories, and a majority of voters (more than 50%) in a majority of states. This is referred to as a double majority

graphic showing Australia and states required to pass the Voice referendum in blue and purple. Source: Australian Electoral Commission

If this is not achieved, the referendum will not be successful in changing the constitution. The result of a referendum is binding, meaning the Australian Government must act on what voters decide.

The exact date for the referendum has not been set but it is expected to be held between October and December.

There has been an increase in electoral misinformation in the lead up to the referendum, including false claims that the referendum will include a second question on whether Australia should become a republic and that American voting machines will be used to “rig” the referendum. 

Claims such as Ms Roberts’ could be considered a “false dilemma” as defined by the AEC’s Disinformation tactics page. The AEC says a false dilemma is where "a limited number of choices or sides are presented as mutually inclusive, when in reality more options are available”, also known as the “either-or fallacy”.


The verdict

The claim that a failure to vote in the Voice referendum will automatically count as a Yes vote is false. People who do not vote, or cast an informal vote, will simply not be counted. The referendum will be decided by the number of formal Yes votes versus the number of No votes cast.

15 August 2023


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.