The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has addressed concerns that Australians currently living in remote areas of the country or in overseas locations may not be able to participate in the voluntary, legally questionable postal plebiscite via mail, by confirming a "paperless vote" is an option.
ABS deputy statistician Jonathan Palmer told a Senate hearing into Finance and Public Administration on Thursday afternoon that the government body is weighing up several options for Australians who are worried they may not be able to lodge their vote before the November 7 cut-off due to their living arrangements.
ABS tells senate committee that plebiscite will have a "paperless" option for people who can't mail in - possibly phone or online system— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) August 17, 2017
ABS says people overseas, or people with disabilities, may be eligible for that system but it "won't be open to everyone"— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) August 17, 2017
"It could be an online form, it could be a touch-tone telephone solution, it could be an SMS text message but we are still working out what could be the best option for a paperless return," he said.
It is expected the ABS will further clarify its comments regarding a paperless voting system for the plebiscite in the coming week.
In that same hearing, Palmer also acknowledged the ABS can't prevent Australians filling out the wrong ballot form for any voting slips that are sent to the wrong location due to individuals having moved homes. He conceded that the ABS' fraud prevention processes would be heavily reliant on Australians reporting their own forms as missing.
ABS still trying to work out what to do with paperless options - nothing decided as yet.— Shalailah Medhora (@shalailah) August 17, 2017
The update also comes as many young Australians voiced concerns that the rushed process and confusing nature of the postal plebiscite might see them miss out on an opportunity to have their say on the issue.
(If you haven't already, make sure you enrol to vote or update your details before August 24)
Do not underestimate young people. Young people will find a postbox. #auspol— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) August 10, 2017
The postal plebiscite, or voluntary survey, was announced just last week, with the cut-off date for new enrolments or changing details such as a new address being on August 24. Despite the ticking clock, the Australian Electoral Commission's website still advises that "the Australian Bureau of Statistics is... currently finalising the survey process" and that "the ABS will provide details when they are available".
For many young Australians living, working or travelling overseas, this lack of official information has been confusing and stressful when it comes to enrolling on-time and the logistics of the snail-mail system -- that is, whether their paper ballot will arrive at their address and then arrive back in Australia in time to be counted.