Beware of postal vote application forms sent by political parties and candidates

In the lead up to an election, you have probably received one or more official-looking letters from political candidates containing a postal vote application form. Besides the usual pre-election promises, these letters tell you that you can vote by post: all you need to do is to fill the form with your personal details and return it in the included reply-paid envelope.

Sounds easy and convenient, but don't rush yet! Have a closer look at the return envelope. Does it have the address of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) or the Electoral Commission of your state or territory? Most likely, it doesn't. These envelopes are usually addressed to your MP, a political party candidate, or even some mysterious “Postal Vote Centre” or “Returning Officer” at PO Box XXX to avoid mentioning any names or parties and risking to raise the voter's suspicion. Unfortunately, this practice of political parties dispatching such letters and then receiving postal vote applications may be improper and detrimental, but unfortunately not illegal. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 permits political parties and candidates to distribute their own versions of postal vote application forms, which sadly creates an avenue for manipulating Australian elections. So, since the law provides no protection, to maintain fair elections and independent voting in a truly democratic country, Australian voters need to be aware of the implications of this practice and avoid it whenever possible.

How to Vote Safely

It is safer to vote on the election day at your local polling place, or, if you are unable to get to the polling place on the day, use the early vote option that lets you vote in person at an early voting centre or electoral divisional office in the weeks before the election. This will ensure that your personal details are not passed through third parties and your voting rights are not abused. Check the AEC or your state/territory EC website for the voting options.

If you do need to vote by post, always send your postal vote application directly to the relevant Electoral Commission. For example, for postal voting in federal elections, by-elections and referendums the AEC address is:

Australian Electoral Commission
Reply Paid 9867
[Your capital city]

No stamp is required if posted within Australia.

For up-to-date address information, check the AEC contact page and postal voting FAQ. For state, territory and local government elections, check their sites: NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, ACT, NT

In recent years, the electoral authorities began moving away from paper forms and push toward online enrolment via website forms and online uploads of scanned paper documents. In this case, the person usually has to give their email address and/or mobile phone number, thus creating a potential for becoming a victim of online, sms or phone call scam (a person who has never given their email or phone number to the electoral authorities would know that any contact claiming to be from EC is fraudulent). If you want to protect the privacy and security of your contact details, do a thorough search on the relevant electoral site for paper options, or call them and ask how to enrol, change your address, or apply for postal voting without filling any online forms and giving email or phone numbers. Offline options do exist, but they can be well hidden.

Danger to Democracy and Privacy

Mass mail-out of postal vote applications by political parties and candidates should be ignored and left without response. Sending your forms to any address that does not belong to the AEC or a state/territory EC may enable political self-interests to override democracy, and even lead to misuse of your personal data, because:

Postal voting is an important option for those who are genuinely unable to reach a polling booth, but it should be run by the independent Electoral Commission, not by political parties who seek and use every advantage they can.

You Can Make a Difference

When enough people become aware of the problem and its consequences, and stay vigilant, the spam-like unsolicited postal vote application political trickery will be thwarted. To make a difference:

If nobody sends their filled forms to the parties, they will have to stop this practice of invasion of people's privacy, wasting taxpayer money, and undermining democracy under the guise of a “service to electors”.

Comments

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Thank you for spelling this all out. Of course I was under no illusion that politicians would be doing anything that doesn't benefit them, but I couldn't understand for years, why mail the postal voting forms? I do now.

Anonymous, 16 July 2015

Not that politicians are particularly trusted, but this is a good awareness page on what is happening during election campaigns.

Samantha J., 3 March 2019

Good analysis. But it must be mentioned that the Electoral Commission is also a guilty party when it comes to infringing the privacy of Australia citizens. The AEC doesn't see it that way, but that doesn't make it Ok. Having everyone's details for making sure everyone votes is a good thing. It means Australian voting results are not determined by a vocal minority, like it happens in the US. But the citizens data AEC holds must be used for purpose of elections ONLY. It should not be given to everyone who wants it: researchers, credit reporting agencies, betting exchanges like Betfair, marketing companies like Acxiom, consumer data analysts like The Global Data, and gods know who else. Some of these are foreign companies, and some already had incidents of personal data theft. A simple search for 'Equifax hacking' will show the sort of company the AEC trust our data to. It is also unclear why AEC want to know everyone's email address, phone number and occupation. Neither or this data is required for voting. It can only be used for other purposes, to which, given a choice, the majority would have never consented. How ironically undemocratic for an institution that is meant to be guarding democracy! Putting a long list on AEC site of who they give our data to is not enough, because we cannot opt out of this data sharing, nor do we have a choice of not registering with AEC.

A. G., 25 September 2020

Source:  annystudio.com