Constitutional Referendum to Be Held in Australia
FROM MY PERSPECTIVE...
Providing Information to the Electorate
by Bill Gray
In each edition, Elections Today provides an opportunity for the head of one electoral commission to offer an opinion on the election-related issues facing their country. Mr. Bill Gray focuses on Australia's upcoming referendum.
On November 6, 1999, the people of Australia will address two constitutional questions: will the nation remain a monarchy or become a republic?, and will a new preamble be inserted in the Constitution? They will do so by voting at a referendum organised by the Australian Electoral Commission.
The conduct of such a referendum is the only way of amending Australia's Constitution. The proposed changes have to be approved by a majority of voters overall as well as by a majority of voters in at least four of Australia's six states. The votes of people living in Australia's internal or external territories only count towards the overall majority.
Every voter will be given two ballot papers, each of a different color, one on the republic issue, and one on the preamble issue. He or she will vote by writing «YES» or «NO» on each ballot paper to indicate his or her position on the proposed changes.
A major task which therefore arises is that of giving voters information about the proposed changes, so that they can know what they are really voting on. This is done by delivering to each of around 12.2 million voters a pamphlet which sets out the proposed changes to the Constitution as well as arguments of up to 2000 words for and against the proposed changes put together by their respective parliamentary supporters and opponents. The production and distribution of the pamphlet is the responsibility of the Australian Electoral Commission.
For the forthcoming referendum, the pamphlet will be 64 pages long. Some 1500 tons of 52gsm paper will be required, and two special mill-runs have occurred to produce it. The pamphlets will be individually shrink wrapped and addressed to each voter. Approximately 50 tons of additional paper will be required just for the mailing labels.
In preparation for the mail-out to voters, an initial extract of data on the postal addresses of voters will be made from the Commission's Computerized Roll Management System. The data will then be provided to Australia Post, which will re-sort the addresses into an order which reflects that actually followed by postal officers when they make their deliveries. Because of the lead times involved, this will have to be done before the rolls for the referendum have dosed. To compensate for this, two further extracts of data, covering approximately 200,000 records, will be needed to reach those people who have newly enrolled, or who have changed address, since the time of the initial extract. The AEC will also update the data so as to ensure that voters who have died since then will not be sent a pamphlet.
The aim of the arrangements is to ensure that as many pamphlets as possible are delivered by October 23, fourteen days prior to polling day. To meet this objective, pamphlets for remote and overseas voters will be sent first, beginning October 4.
The mechanics of polling day will closely resemble those for an Australian federal election. Voting will be compulsory, and those who fail to vote without a valid and sufficient reason will run the risk of a fine. To enable people to meet their obligations, a great range of polling facilities will be provided. Based on figures from the 1998 federal election, the AEC will be establishing around 7,775 ordinary polling places; 475 mobile polling teams to visit nursing homes and similar establishments; 48 mobile polling teams to operate in remote areas; thirteen mobile polling teams to operate in prisons (visiting 42 prisons); 421 pre-poll voting centres; 99 overseas voting posts (at diplomatic missions); and voting facilities at Australia's research bases in Antarctica.
Some 67,600 casual polling staff will be employed, and they will make use of 19,900 large cardboard ballot boxes, 18,090 small ballot boxes, and 118,364 large voting screens. Once the polls have closed, ballots will be manually counted at the polling places, and the results will be phoned in to Commission offices, where they will go into the Commission's computer network. The results will then be disseminated electronically: data will be fed to the main media organisations and newswire services, and will also be published through the Internet.
Mr. Bill Gray
is the Electoral Commissioner of the Australian Electoral Commission