No basis to claims Voice referendum will be rigged

No basis to claims Voice referendum will be rigged

What was claimed

The verdict

The federal government will rig the referendum for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament to ensure a successful Yes vote.

False. There is no evidence whatsoever that the federal government will rig the Indigenous Voice referendum to ensure a Yes vote. Voters will cast secret ballots under the auspices of the Australian Electoral Commission, an independent statutory authority committed to safeguarding the integrity of the vote count.

White and purple Australian Electoral Commission voting centre sign on the pavement Credit: ABC Kimberley, Jessica Hayes.

By Eiddwen Jeffery

Opponents of the Voice to Parliament are drawing on Trumpian-style politics to falsely claim the federal government will rig the referendum to ensure a Yes outcome.

Several Facebook users have posted a range of claims over the past few months asserting that the Voice referendum will be rigged to ensure the Yes vote prevails. 

“YES VOTE WILL BE RIGGED”, one user headlined their post. Another post read, “The yes vote will get up because it will be rigged”, while another said, “We know that the voting system is rigged and those in government power always have hidden agendas.”

Election officials and a professor in digital media research say there is no evidence for these claims.

All federal elections and referendums in Australia are conducted and supervised by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC,) an independent statutory authority established in 1984.

The referendum due later this year seeks to alter Australia’s constitution to include recognition of First Nations Peoples and establish a federal advisory body known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament

AEC spokesman Evan Ekin-Smyth told RMIT FactLab by email that the electoral body had “noticed an uptick” in claims of rigging for the referendum being directed at its social media accounts. He said the claims were “nonsense”. 

“These general claims of rigging seem to be one of many that have no basis in fact. They are based on absolutely nothing,” he said. The AEC recently published a thread on social media site X (formerly Twitter) summarising some of the claims it had received.

“If people have a legitimate concern based on actual information then they can of course make a complaint to the AEC via our online complaints form,” Mr Ekin-Smyth said. 

Objectors could also request a recount or lodge a challenge in the courts after the referendum if they disputed the result, he said.

Professor Axel Bruns, director of the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology, told FactLab that claims of election rigging gained prominence after the 2020 US presidential election when Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden. 

Since then, similar claims had increased in Australian elections but had been kept at bay in part due to efforts by the AEC, he said. 

However, Professor Bruns said rigging claims could become more prominent in the Voice to Parliament vote, as referendums were conducted differently to elections. 

“In our regular elections, what we do is we vote for a number of parties and use preferential voting, so it's a much more complex choice that we normally make when we go to elections. With a referendum it's simply ‘do you want this or don’t you?’ It lends itself to American style campaigning,” he said.

“This sort of campaigning of putting your side forward and attacking the other, discrediting the other even, is very common in the US. In this case, in this particular referendum, we are seeing it also very much imported into the Australian context.”

Unfamiliarity with the referendum process had provided an “open door for people making all sorts of outlandish claims about the referendum and how it works and misleading voters about the process itself,” Professor Bruns said.

Baseless claims of electoral rigging undermined trust in the integrity of the electoral system overall, he said.

“As soon as you start claiming that one election is rigged, then of course it creates the impression that perhaps all elections are rigged and this sort of stuff happens all the time, so ultimately it reduces people's trust in democracy,” he said.


What steps does the AEC take to ensure sound elections?

The AEC is the federal independent statutory authority responsible for maintaining the electoral roll, delivering polling services and raising awareness of the electoral process.

According to AEC's Mr Ekin-Smyth, the referendum voting and counting process follows these steps to protect against rigging: 

  1. Every voter gets a private space in a voting screen to cast their vote.

  2. The private vote is then deposited into a small ballot box that is sealed and guarded. 

  3. That ballot box is transported through a chain of custody to where it will be counted.

  4. The vote is counted then recounted for the validation process. 

  5. After it has been counted twice, it is stored. 

Mr Ekin-Smyth said security is organised for the transport, storage and counting of ballot papers and results are published in real time to ensure transparency of the count. 

Overseeing every step of this process are scrutineers whose job is to observe every part of the voting and counting process and ensure transparency in the referendum process. 

Scrutineers can be appointed by registered political parties, the governor-general or state authorities and can challenge decisions made on the formality of ballot papers, the counting of ballot papers and they can also inspect ballot security arrangements. 

Claims of rigging in relation to the Voice to Parliament referendum have surfaced before. In June, FactLab debunked a false claim that American electronic voting machines would be used to change the vote outcome.


The verdict

False. There is no evidence to suggest the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Referendum to be held later this year will be rigged. The Australian Electoral Commission is committed to conducting the referendum with full security measures in place to ensure integrity and transparency in the vote count.

16 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.