The referendum on the Voice to Parliament has been thrown into chaos after election chiefs said a tick will count as a Yes vote – but a cross will not count as a No.
Australian Electoral Commission’s $600,000-a-year boss Tom Rogers made the surprise admission in an attempt to clarify the voting process on Sky News Australia.
He told interviewer Tom Connell: ‘Just for people listening, please make sure you write on that box, Yes. or No, in English.’
But then the commissioner added: ‘I need to be very clear with people.
‘When we look at that, it is likely that a tick will be accepted as a formal vote for Yes but a cross will not be accepted as a formal vote.’
The revelation has sparked a storm of controversy over concerns the advice favours Yes voters, and thrown a shadow over the result before a single vote has been cast.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton branded the move ‘outrageous’ and said he would be demanding answers from the AEC over the commissioner’s admission.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot said the advice appeared to be evidence that authorities were trying to support a Yes result winning.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s referendum on the Voice to Parliament has been thrown into chaos after election chiefs said a tick will count as a Yes vote but a cross won’t count as No
Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers (pictured) made the admission in an attempt to clarify the voting process
‘The problem with all of this is that there’s a suspicion officialdom is trying to make it easier for one side,’ he told 2GB’s Ben Fordham.
‘At least as initially reported, it seems that it’s going to be easier to get a Yes vote than a No vote, if a mere tick is going to count for a Yes but you’ve got to specifically write ‘no’ to vote No.
‘This is the worry all along – that there is there is a lot of official bias in this whole referendum process.’
Commissioner Rogers went on to admit that all votes marked with a cross would not count in the final tally for either side and will be discarded as informal votes.
He dismissed concerns the move lowered the bar for the Yes vote in the referendum which is budgeted to cost the country $365million.
‘No, not all,’ he said. ‘They couldn’t be taken that way.’
But Mr Abbott said the move did unfairly shift the balance in favour of the Yes campaign.
‘It’s not a level playing field,’ he said. ‘It’s not a fair fight and if a tick is a Yes, why wouldn’t a cross be a No?
‘The only way to get away from this kind of confusion is to make it absolutely crystal clear that you either vote No or you vote Yes.
‘But marks of one sort or another that are neither No nor Yes don’t count.’
He added: ‘Given that this is such an important issue, given that this is the biggest change in our constitution that we’ve ever been asked to make, there should surely be no confusion or uncertainty about what constitutes a valid vote.
‘And unfortunately – I don’t want to be personally critical of the electoral Commissioner – but nevertheless, it does seem that this is causing confusion and that’s a real problem.’
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot said the Electoral Commissioner Rogers’ advice appeared to be evidence that authorities were trying to support a Yes result winning
Shadow minister Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is leading the opposition’s No campaign which has been dealt a blow with the official AEC advice and thrown a shadow over the result
The AEC confirmed the commissioner’s approval of a tick as a Yes vote and said the use of a cross can be unclear about what a voter intended
Fordham joined the outrage, branding the decision ‘bizarre’ and added: ‘That sounds dodgy.
‘If you’re going to count the ticks, you’ve got to count the crosses, don’t you? Otherwise the Yes camp has an advantage.’
Mr Dutton later added that he thought it was a sign the system had been ‘rigged’ from the outset.
‘I think it’s completely outrageous,’ he told 2GB’s Ray Hadley. ‘I’m going to write to the AEC Commissioner today.
‘I don’t think we should have a process that’s rigged, and that’s what the Prime Minister has orchestrated from day one.’
The AEC confirmed the commissioner’s approval of a tick as a Yes vote to Daily Mail Australia and said the use of a cross could be unclear about what a voter intended.
‘As the commissioner said in his interview yesterday, there is the ability to count a vote if the intention is clear – that’s what the legislation requires,’ a spokesman said.
‘The issue with a cross is that on many forms people in Australian use in daily life, and in some other languages, it represents a ‘check mark’ indicating ‘yes’.
‘It therefore leaves it open to interpretation or challenge by a scrutineer.
‘A “tick” would also be open to interpretation and may not count depending on just how clear that mark is on the ballot paper.’
They confirmed they may also accept a Y or N as Yes or No votes but warned it may also be counted as informal if the handwriting is unclear.
They added: ‘This is why the commissioner said people need to write the full word ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in English, in full.
‘The formal voting instructions for the referendum are to clearly write yes or no, in full, in English.
‘This will be part of our campaign advertising, it is on our website, in the guides delivered to all Australian households, it will be the instruction on the ballot paper and will be re-enforced by our polling officials when people are issued with their ballot paper.
‘We expect the vast, vast majority of voters to follow those instructions.’