Beware of Postal Vote Application Forms from Political Parties and Candidates
In the lead up to elections, you have probably received one or more official-looking letters from political candidates containing a postal vote application form, especially if you live in a marginal seat electorate. In addition to the usual pre-election promises, these letters tell you that you have a right to 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 please don't rush and first have a closer look at the return envelope. Does it have the address of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)? Most likely — not. These envelopes are usually addressed to your MP, a political party candidate, or even some mysterious “Postal Vote Centre” or “Returning Officer” PO Box XXX to avoid mentioning any names or parties thus risking to raise the voter's suspicion. Unfortunately, such practice of political parties dispatching these letters and then receiving postal vote applications may be sneaky, but is not illegal. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 permits political parties and candidates to distribute their own versions of postal vote application forms. However, this practice can undermine and manipulate fair election in Australia, and, in order to maintain independent voting in a truly democratic country, it should not be permitted.
How to Vote by Post Safely and Democratically:
If you do need to vote by post, always send your postal vote application directly to the AEC. The AEC's address for postal forms is:
Australian Electoral Commission
Reply Paid 9867
[Your capital city]
(No stamp is needed if posted in Australia)
Check the address on AEC website, just to be sure. Sending your forms to any other address may enable political self-interests to override democracy, and even lead to misuse of your personal data.
If it better and safer to vote on election day at your local polling place. If you are unable to get to the polling place on election day, you can take advantage of the early vote option where you can vote in person at an early voting centre or any AEC divisional office in the weeks leading to an election. This will ensure that your personal information is safe and your voting right is not abused. Check the AEC website for voting options.
Mass Mail-Out of Postal Vote Applications by Political Parties can be Unfair and Dangerous
- It involves political parties in the postal voting application process and blurs the distinction between the participants in an election and its administrators, who, by law, are supposed to be independent.
- It inflates the percentage of postal voters beyond necessary and requires more resources and time to process the votes. People fill the postal vote application just because it is there, not because they really need it. The cost of processing a postal vote is 3–4 times higher than for an ordinary vote cast on election day or an early vote in person, which means an unnecessary loss of taxpayer money.
- It leads to a higher spending of taxpayer funds: if the form-sending candidate is an MP, the taxpayers pay for the whole form-printing and mailing enterprise. This is called “electoral entitlements” — funds allocated from the budget to political parties proportionally to the size of each party.
- It compromises the secrecy and integrity of the ballot, as the postal votes are cast in an uncontrolled environment.
- It jeopardises people's privacy and poses a threat to the safety of personal data. If an elector completes and posts an application distributed by a party, it would first go to the party mail centre where they collect the person's details to use them later in any manner they like. Political parties exempted themselves from the Privacy Act, which means they can use your name, date of birth, phone number, email address, enrolled address, postal address, place of birth and signature in any way they wish. They are not obliged to keep it safe, tell you what personal information they have filed on you, or let you access your file.
- It disadvantages smaller parties and independent candidates and further undermines the true democracy, because only large parties have enough taxpayer-funds, party resources, printing allowances and sophisticated elector databases to mass-mail postal vote applications to the enrolled voters.
- It increases the risk of corruption and fraud. When a completed postal vote application form is returned, the name of the person can be checked against the party's database (a violation of the secret ballot principle), and if their voting intentions or issues of interest has been previously identified (via door-knocking, telephone calls, “we value your opinion” survey letters, personal interaction, etc), the party can decide on how promptly it will forward the form to the AEC, and thus manipulate whether the application makes it to AEC on time. Forwarding of a postal voting application to the AEC can be easily delayed if the person has been identified as a non-supporter.
- Political parties are encouraging people to cast postal votes, because in close elections, especially in marginal seats, a few manipulated votes could make a huge difference. This solicitation to lodge postal votes has been a great success for the parties: in 2010 election only 49% of applications were sent directly to the AEC. The rest have passed through the hands of political parties, 98.7% of which came through the major parties.
- Often, the party postal vote application is the first information that an elector receives about the election by mail. If there is no information about other voting options, some voters, especially novice, may regard voting by post as a normal way of voting. Others would use the form as a convenience rather than because they really can't come to a voting centre on election day. Those genuinely unable to vote on election day could be left unaware of the early voting facilities.
- While parties are entitled to receive copies of the electoral roll and to communicate with electors, the inclusion of postal vote applications with the party campaign materials makes it look like the party has a special role in the course of the election, which may confuse some people and influence their vote.
- Federal and State Electoral Commissions regularly receive complaints from the voters who were confused about the origins of the postal vote applications they received. Those who didn't notice the trap were angered when they realised that they had handed their personal information over to a political party.
- After receiving your postal vote application, the party should forward the information to the AEC, for the AEC to process it and send you the ballot papers. Why not cut out the middle man? The main parties have been resisting this change because it gives them a political advantage.
Postal voting is an important option for those who are truly unable to reach a polling booth on election day, but it should be run by the independent Australian Electoral Commission, not by political parties who seek and use every advantage they can.
How You Can Help to Stop the Unsolicited Postal Vote Application Forms
If enough people become aware of the problem and stay vigilant, the spam-like, unsolicited postal vote application political trickery can be thwarted very easily:
- Use postal vote option only if you really need it.
- Make sure you are sending you postal vote application and/or electoral enrolment form directly to the AEC.
If nobody sends their filled forms to the parties, they will stop this practice of invasion of people's privacy, wasting taxpayer money and undermining the democracy under the guise of “service to electors”.