News National AEC website confusion ahead of same-sex marriage postal vote

AEC website confusion ahead of same-sex marriage postal vote

The AEC website crashed as Australians rushed to check their enrolment ahead of the postal plebiscite for marriage equalirt
The AEC website crashed as Australians rushed to check their enrolment ahead of the postal plebiscite for marriage equality. Photo: AAP
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Voters have just 13 days to ensure they receive their postal vote for the same-sex marriage plebiscite, which has resulted in an online rush and confusion on how to change enrolment.

On Thursday, voters complained the Australian Electoral Commission website had crashed in the scramble to enrol.

The AEC on Friday clarified a faulty link had been distributed online, and reiterated the check enrolment site was accessible all day.

An http:// link was widely shared online, as opposed to the https:// secure link.

An AEC spokesperson said the forms had been fully operational all week with no outages.

“Just yesterday, the AEC received approximately 68,000 enrolment transactions, which compares to a daily average 4,000.

“The AEC has thoroughly investigated and believes that connectivity issues experienced by a small number of people may be due to the external promotion of an incorrect website link.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has been enlisted to run the postal vote, despite last year’s disastrous online census which was beset by website outages.

Ballots for the postal plebiscite will be delivered in the mail, meaning voters need to be enrolled at their current address in order to vote.

Earlier, a spokesperson for AEC said an inability to connect to the webpage “would likely be a connectivity issue potentially on the user’s side”.

Doubts emerge

Experts say the poll appeared to be a “shemozzle” and was unlikely to result in a legitimate, accurate representation of the public.

“Of all the modes of collecting information, this is the most likely to fail,” said Liz Allen, a demographer from the Australian National University.

Nicholas Economou, a political and social inquiry expert at Monash University, said the plebiscite was unlikely to deliver a practicable outcome.

“The fact [postal plebiscites] are so rare is an indication we shouldn’t be doing it at all,” he told The New Daily.

The turnout for the 1997 referendum was 46.9 per cent, while only one-third of voters aged 18-25 participated. The turnout rate in the 2015 Western Australian local government election was just 27.5 per cent.

Dr Economou said he expected about 60 per cent of voters to have a say in the postal plebiscite.

“Forty per cent won’t vote at all. Of the rest, 20 per cent will vote ‘yes’, 20 per cent will vote ‘no’, and 20 per cent will send their ballot back with some rude words on it. Or, one rude word followed by the word ‘off’.”

He said the postal vote was a case of “Brexit syndrome” and it would likely deliver an “ambiguous” result and lead to further uncertainty.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Melissa Donnelly said the ABS was already under massive pressure.

The union had been contacted by a number of ABS staff concerned about the agency’s ability to conduct a plebiscite, given its regular work and capacity constraints, she said.

Voters have until August 24 to check their enrolment, before ballot papers are mailed out by September 12, and returned by November 7. The result will be announced on November 15.

Who should check their enrolment?

Dr Allen said young people, Indigenous Australians, non-English speakers, homeless people and those in unstable housing would be underrepresented in the postal plebiscite.

“The way it’s being conducted actually doesn’t give everyone an equal chance,” Dr Allen said.

At the last federal election, more than 250,000 people aged 18-24 were not enrolled to vote. Experts said it was equally concerning that young people frequently move home – meaning they are less likely to be enrolled at the correct address.

More than 93 per cent of 15-24 year olds and 80 per cent of those aged 25-34 have moved in the past five years, according to ABS figures.

This would be a non-issue in an election, but ballot papers will be mailed out to people’s registered address in the postal survey. Australians will miss out on a vote unless their enrolment is corrected by August 24.

Dr Economou said there was a low participation rate in electorates that have a high percentage of renters, who were also more likely to be young.

Young people are also more likely to be abroad during the postal vote.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Australians living overseas could register at an overseas address and receive a ballot. Voters have reported experiencing difficulty registering their address overseas.

The AEC said it received 68,000 enrolment transactions on Thursday, well above the average of about 4,000. Most of those were updated addresses.

Change your enrolment address here. You can enrol to vote here.

*CORRECTION*: An earlier version of this article said the AEC website had crashed, however it has since been confirmed a faulty link shared online meant voters could not access the page.

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