The consequences of a court ruling about signage at polling booths are being felt as campaigning for the Eden-Monaro by-election gets under way.
Sheena Boughen was handing out pamphlets for Labor’s candidate, Kristy McBain, at the Bega pre-polling booth on Wednesday afternoon when she was approached by an Australian Electoral Commission official.
He asked her to take down a sign about how to lodge a valid vote.
“He said the words are fine,” she said.
“But it’s the colour purple that’s the problem.”
The sign in question carried a message about how to lodge a vote, with purple lettering on a white background, reading “Remember, you must number every square.”
“The purpose was just to help voters ensure their vote was valid,” Ms Boughen said.
She co-operated and her husband removed the sign immediately.
With early voting beginning today, the official guide to the #EdenMonaro by-election (an expanded guide outlining COVID-19 safety measures) is starting to hit mailboxes. All households & PO boxes in the division will receive one pic.twitter.com/i6s09r9A1n
— AEC ✏️ (@AusElectoralCom) June 15, 2020
After last year’s federal election, the Federal Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns ruled on purple signs with Chinese writing and misleading advice on how to vote.
The court found the election result was not influenced by the Chinese-language signs, which used similar colours to the Australian Electoral Commission and told voters “the correct way to vote” was to put a ‘1’ next to the Liberal candidate’s name.
That case has allowed the AEC to broaden the interpretation of what constitutes a misleading sign.
As a result the AEC now has new rules on purple signs that imitate AEC signage.
It says that purple and white signs are misleading or deceptive when they are positioned to make it look like they carry a message from the AEC, rather than the political party actually responsible for the sign.
The AEC’s new rules also ban signs that imply that the only way to cast a valid vote is to vote for a particular party.
The ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, says it’s a good thing the AEC is moving to protect its official branding, as long as it applies the new rules consistently.