Culture

Everything You Need To Know About The Postal Survey On Marriage Equality

Time’s running out to enrol to vote in the postal survey on marriage equality — you’ve got until midnight tomorrow to update your details on the electoral roll to ensure you receive a survey form.  

If you’ve been putting it off, or have no idea what’s going on, now’s the time to take five minutes and get up to speed. We’ve answered the questions you’re likely to have below.

Wait, What’s The Survey?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia. The government has decided that rather than just voting in Parliament to change that, it’s going to send out a voluntary survey in the post to see what Australians think.

Specifically, the survey will ask “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, and offer two check boxes for “yes” and “no”.  

It’s being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and mailed out via Australia Post.

How Do I Enrol?

Checking you’re enrolled to vote is easy and extremely urgent — you have until midnight tomorrow (that’s Thursday, August 24) to do it. While only people who are over 18 before August 24 can vote in the postal survey, 16 and 17-year-olds should still enrol to vote in preparation for future elections.

All you need to do is go to http://www.aec.gov.au/, or:

  • Click here to check your enrolment
  • Click here to update your address if you’ve moved since you enrolled (you’ll need a valid ID)
  • Click here to enrol for the first time (you’ll need a valid ID)

It takes less than five minutes, so do it now — we’ll wait.

What Happens Next? When Do I Vote?

Survey forms will start being mailed out on September 12, which means they’ll probably arrive in your mailbox between September 22 and 25.

If your form gets lost, spoiled or stolen, you’ll have until 6pm on October 18 to request a new one. The details for how to do this haven’t been released yet.

Once you have a form, you need to complete it and post it by 6pm on 27 October. Remember that the post takes time, and the ABS needs to receive your form before 6pm on November 7. They’re strongly encourage you to return your survey as soon as you can to avoid dramas.

What If I Can’t Receive A Paper Form?

If you’re overseas, in remote Australia, or have a disability that makes filling out a form impossible, there will be a paperless response option.

To access it, you’ll need to request a Secure Access Code from the ABS between September 25 and October 20. There are no instructions on how to do this yet, though it looks like it will be possible via the ABS website or by calling the information line.

That code will then allow you to submit a response via phone or online.

If you’re overseas, you can authorise a trusted person to receive your envelope at your home address and fill in your survey on your behalf. It’s also not yet clear how a person does this.

If you’re homeless or have no fixed address, you can use the above options or pick up a form in person from an ABS pickup location between September 25 and October 20. The ABS has yet to advise where these locations will be.

How Will People With Difficulty Reading English Vote?

The survey form will only be available in English, but the ABS say it will be mailed out with information in 15 languages on how to contact the Translation and Interpreter Service (TIS).

I’m Still Confused About How My Vote Will Work?

It’s not just you — this whole vote has come together at the last minute, and the ABS is still ironing out the issues. There’s a dedicated phone line (1800 572 113) that you can call between 8am and 8pm with questions.

Do I Have To Vote?

No, you don’t. The survey is totally optional, and you can just rip up your form if you don’t want to participate.

You should seriously consider voting, though, for the sake of LGBTQI+ people who need your help to achieve equal rights. If you’re undecided, here’s a young gay teen writing about what the vote means to them.

What Question Will They Ask?

It’s a simple Yes/No question: “Do you support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

We don’t yet know what the wording of the legislation that parliament will vote on will actually look like. That’s a secret.

Can I Draw Dicks On My Vote, Include Glitter, Or Get Otherwise Crafty With It?

To be on the safe side, probably don’t. The official word from the ABS is that “graffiti, or additional comments written on survey forms, could invalidate the survey form if a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response cannot be determined”.

If you obscure your vote or include material (e.g. glitter) that messes with mail processing machinery, you risk your response being destroyed and not counted. Probably not worth the risk.

What If Someone Steals My Form From My Mailbox?

The ABS has said they can’t guarantee forms won’t be stolen, though it remains illegal to open someone else’s mail.

People whose forms are stolen will be able to contact the ABS to request a new survey form, though, and the barcodes of forms reported as missing or stolen will be cancelled so that votes are not duplicated.

Does That Mean It’s Not Anonymous?

The ABS says that survey responses will be anonymous, and that no one with access to the results will also have access to information linking barcodes and respondents.

Jonathan Palmer, the ABS official responsible for the survey, put it like this: “Basically, the code is going to be our way of marking people off to record that they’ve submitted a response. The people who do the mark-off won’t see the name or address of the person for whom that code corresponds.”

Uh… I’m A Millennial And I’ve Never Had To Use The Post?

Good news! It’s easy.

The postal survey form you receive will come with a reply-paid envelope, which means you don’t need to pay for a stamp or write an address. All you’ll need to do is pop your completed form inside, and take it to a post box or post office to send.

You can find your nearest P.O. box by searching your suburb here. If you live in a city or suburban area, chances are there’s one very close to your house. Here’s what a post box looks like.

What’s The Campaign Going To Look Like?

At the moment, both the “yes” and the “no” campaign are gearing up to try to persuade voters, and there’s…absolutely no restrictions on what they can say. Ordinary elections have advertising restrictions prohibiting stuff like malicious campaigning, misleading information and bribery, but as this is just a postal survey, none of that applies.

The government is planning to introduce legislation to change this, but that could still be weeks away given that Parliament is not sitting right now.

When Do We Get The Results?

The results will be published on November 15 on the ABS Website. They’ll be broken down into Yes/No/Invalid counts for the entire country, as well as for each state, and each electorate.

Unfortunately, these results won’t have any effect on the law itself. The Government has said that if “yes” wins, it will allow a conscience vote on same sex marriage. This has a good chance at passing Parliament, but MPs can vote however they want, so there’s still a possibility it might not.

And if “no” wins, there’ll be no conscience vote and the Government will continue to block legislation seeking to legalise same sex marriage.

How Do We Know Who Won?

The result will be determined by a simple majority — whichever side gets 50% + 1 of the vote nationally will win.

Though “winning” is probably the wrong term, given that this is just a “postal survey” and not an actual binding plebiscite or anything.