Support in voting

Recommendation 9–5               Section 234(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) should be amended to provide that if any voter satisfies the presiding officer that he or she is unable to vote without assistance, the presiding officer shall permit a person chosen by the voter to assist them with voting.

Recommendation 9–6               The Australian Electoral Commission should provide its officers with guidance and training, consistent with the National Decision-Making Principles, to improve support in enrolment and voting for persons who require support to vote.

Recommendation 9–7               The Australian Electoral Commission should investigate methods of maintaining the secrecy of votes of persons who require support to vote.

9.37       The ALRC recommends that the Electoral Act be amended to allow for broad support in voting. Australia’s obligations under the CRPD include ensuring the accessibility of voting procedures, facilities and materials; protecting the right to vote by secret ballot; and where necessary, and at their request, allowing persons with disability assistance in voting by a person of their choice.[49]

9.38       Section 234(1) of the Electoral Act currently provides:

If any voter satisfies the presiding officer that his or her sight is so impaired or that the voter is so physically incapacitated or illiterate that he or she is unable to vote without assistance, the presiding officer shall permit a person appointed by the voter to enter an unoccupied compartment of the booth with the voter, and mark, fold, and deposit the voter’s ballot paper.

9.39       In order to ensure consistency with the ALRC’s overall approach to support, and compliance with the CRPD, the ALRC recommends that the provision be amended. Specifically, the section should adopt more appropriate language and be broadened to offer assistance to more people who may require support in exercising their right to vote.[50] Australia needs to ‘adopt concrete measures to support people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote on an equal basis with others’.[51]

9.40       Advocacy for Inclusion argued that a person should be entitled to vote if they can make their views known via any means of communication, and that they should be provided with ‘appropriate social and technological supports’.[52] It was suggested that, where there is an objection to a person voting, an independent body should verify whether or not the person’s voting preference can be ascertained.[53] Advocacy for Inclusion suggested people with disability should have the option of accessing support from an electoral officer to cast their vote, subject to safeguards and monitoring.[54]

9.41       NACLC stated that AEC officers should be provided with ‘appropriate education, training and guidance material’ to assist them to decide whether a person requires assistance.[55]

9.42       Guidance material could cover assistance in marking and depositing the ballot paper at the polling booth, but also support in relation to enrolment and declaration votes.[56] For example, a person may require support to complete enrolment forms, update their address, or to obtain and understand information about candidates or voting procedures.

9.43       The AEC and various state and territory electoral commissions have introduced a range of measures to increase electoral accessibility.[57] A self-advocacy group in South Australia reported positive experiences of assistance at the 2013 federal election:

Most of us had a very good experience voting. Our support workers helped us to get to a polling booth and ask the volunteers working at the booth to help us make our vote so our support workers didn’t influence our vote.[58]

9.44       One critical issue with respect to voting is the right to a secret ballot. PIAC submitted that ‘ensuring a secret ballot is an essential element of Australia’s democracy, yet this is not readily available to people with disability’.[59] Case studies submitted on the Electoral Reform Green Paper illustrated the limitations of the current system:

One of our (DDLC) clients stated that her closest accessible polling booth was 45 minutes away by electric wheelchair and would cost around $20 to $50 if she caught a taxi. Consequently, our client decided to vote at her closest polling booth, which was ten minutes away by electric wheelchair. However, as the polling booth was not accessible, she was forced to vote outside. She did not have sufficient privacy and felt very undignified. Furthermore, our client was unable to place the ballot in the ballot box herself as the ballot box was outside the building and therefore had to rely on electoral officials to do it for her.

One of our (PWDA) clients stated that at his local polling booth there was no easy English information available. The polling booth official was unable to communicate the steps required to fill out the ballot paper. Fortunately he had visited the booth with his father, and his father provided instructions. Our client did feel pressured to vote for a particular candidate, as he was aware that his father had voted for that party all of his life.[60]

9.45       A number of stakeholders suggested support mechanisms that would allow persons with disability to vote independently and in secret. Mechanisms might include the use of logos or symbols; templates; assisted voting; electronically assisted voting (EAV); and outreach models.[61] One man who used EAV during 2007 federal election described it as an ‘empowering experience’—being the first time in his life that he was able to vote independently.[62]

9.46       The AEC is well-placed to examine options for secret voting for persons with disability, including by reviewing national and international best practice in technological advances.[63] The ALRC recommends that the AEC should investigate methods of maintaining the secrecy of votes for people who require support in voting.