A voter drops his ballot paper into the ballot box at the Lilly Pilly polling booth during the Australia's general election in Sydney on May 18, 2019. ( AFP / Saeed KHAN)

Australian voters can mark ballot papers in pencil or pen: electoral commission

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

As Australians geared up to vote in federal elections, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram posts warned them to fill out ballots with a pen rather than a pencil to ensure their vote was counted. However, the Australian Electoral Commission said that ballots marked correctly with either pencils or pens were valid. The Electoral Integrity Project, which focuses on the democratic quality of elections around the globe, said it was confident that ballots marked with a pencil remained secure. 

"Use pen not pencil as pencils can be erased - also take photo," reads a Facebook post shared on April 6.

"No more libs, no more labs," the post continues, referring to the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party, the country's two main political parties.

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post as of April 18, 2022.

The post was shared ahead of the 2022 Australian federal election, which is scheduled for May 21.

Other instances of the claim have been viewed thousands of times after being shared on Facebook and Telegram, as well as on Twitter here and here.

However, the claim is false.

'Not erased'

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which oversees elections in the country, says on its website: "Pencil marks are not erased. Polling officials are never alone with ballot papers."

As required by law, the AEC must provide "an implement or method for voters to mark their ballot papers". Pencils are used due to their reliability, as they do not run out and work better in tropical conditions, the AEC says.

On its website, the commission explains its process to ensure ballot papers are secure.

"Prior to the ballot box being used, the empty box is shown to any Scrutineers and other people present before it is closed and sealed," it says.

"Numbered security seals are used to secure the ballot boxes. The seal number will be recorded by the polling official in charge and will be witnessed.

"The ballot boxes in use are visible at all times during the poll and are guarded by a polling official. Ballot boxes which are full remain sealed and are stored in a secure place.

"Ballot papers are kept secure at all times and are never left unattended."

The commission tweeted that it was up to voters if they decided to use a pen or pencil.

Baseless warnings about voting with a pencil have previously circulated online, including ahead of the Canadian federal election in 2021.

Holly Ann Garnett, director of the Electoral Integrity Project, which focuses on improving the quality of elections around the world, told AFP that in Australia -- as with Canada -- that there was a "very strict" chain of custody with ballots.

"There is no opportunity for ballots to be manipulated or erased at any point in the storage or counting process," she said.

"I am very confident that no matter what pencil/pen etc. is used for marking, the ballots will remain secure and the voter's wishes respected should they properly complete the ballot as directed."

If any irregularities are observed, they can be reported to the AEC. 

Anyone breaking election laws could face penalties, including fines or jail time.