What’s legal at the polling booth

The law is very specific about what is and isn’t allowed on polling day both inside and outside the booth. Photo: Phil Hearne Voting … it’s something rich, white Aussie men have been doing since 1840 but today it is the democratic right of all Australians. The right to vote was hard won by women and indigenous people, with a failure to cast your vote now resulting in a fine for breaking the law.

So what is legal and illegal on polling day both inside AND outside the booth?

What’s say on July 2 when the whole process of waiting in line has made you grumpy, you end up drawing your version of Mona Lisa all over the ballot paper, without numbering any boxes: this is called an informal vote. It means you marked the ballot paper, but you did not number every square so you’ve complied with the law but you have wasted your democratic opportunity. You can’t be fined for this however your vote will not count.

If you aren’t artistic enough to draw anything and you just number every square from the top to the bottom, this is called a donkey vote. This doesn’t incur a fine either as it is still valid and will be counted.

Not only can voters get in trouble for not casting their votes, but political parties and candidates can also get into hot water, including the people outside a polling booth making last-minute attempts to convince you to vote for their party.

A political party or candidate cannot publish or distribute electoral material which misleads or deceives a voter in casting their vote. For example, a sign saying, “don’t bother numbering the squares, just draw”, would be illegal, as this entices voters to cast an informal vote. This could result in a $1000 fine or six months in prison.

Other things that are illegal at a polling booth: A person can’t bribe you to vote for them or their political party or hinder the exercise of your free choice in deciding who to vote for. This is a $9000 fine and/or six months in prison. However, this doesn’t include handing out how to vote cards. Candidates and their teams cannot be within six metres of the entrance to a polling booth. Any soliciting of votes within this area can lead to a fine of up to $900.A person can’t use a loudspeaker or microphone outside a booth if it can be heard inside. The fine is also $900. A person must not write, draw or depict any electoral matter directly on any roadway, footpath, building, vehicle, vessel or place. The history of this offence goes back to the shortages of building supplies following WWII. It basically amounts to a graffiti type offence and does not cover printed and paid for signage. The fine is up to $1800.Scrutineers or officers inside the polling booth are not allowed to wear political badges or any emblem representing a candidate. This carries a $1000 fineThey are also not allowed to try to influence or communicate with voters in the booths. A breach of this rule can be six months prison and/or an $1800 fine.

If you see something you think may be wrong, contact the AEC on 13 23 26 or visit http://www.aec.gov.au/.

Happy voting and make sure you have your voice heard.

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Alison and Jillian Barrett are both principals at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. The Queensland sisters are experienced lawyers and passionate social justice campaigners. Alison juggles motherhood, as well as heading up a major legal practice area. Younger sister Jillian also leads a team of lawyers and sports a double degree in Law and Journalism.

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