Tens of Thousands of Indigenous Australians Unregistered for Historic Constitutional Vote

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Between 30,000 to 40,000 Indigenous Australians are reportedly not registered to vote in the impending constitutional referendum regarding the establishment of a First Nations Voice in Parliament. This significant information was disclosed during a senate inquiry and credited to Tom Rogers, the Chief of the Australian Electoral Commission. Despite this concern, the government has seemingly failed to leverage an opportunity to introduce legislation that would allow on-the-day voter enrolment. Such legislation may have permitted a wide cross-section of Indigenous individuals residing in marginal and rural areas to participate in the democratic process.

However, Rogers remains optimistic, citing that the inclusion of Indigenous voters in Australia is at an unprecedented level, registering a 20% increase in enrollment since 2017. In a historic stride, the non-enrolled Indigenous populace is estimated to have dipped below 50,000 for the first time in Australian history, according to Rogers.

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As of June 2023, national voter enrolment rates were estimated to exceed 97%, while the Indigenous voter enrolment stood at 94%. However the upcoming referendum will not be inclusive of numerous incarcerated Indigenous Australians due to certain legislative structures. This is despite the attempted amendments by the Greens to enable individuals serving sentences exceeding three years to vote in federal elections and referenda.

Given that over 30% of Australia’s prison population identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this preclusion is far from negligible. Rogers shared that he had consequently reached out to prison chiefs across the nation, both to negotiate their support for legislative amendments, and to ensure those inmates who are eligible to vote are empowered to do so. Some facilities expressed openness to in-person voting, harking back to a practice followed years ago, while others opted for postal votes, citing less disruption.

Rogers also articulated concern regarding a sharp rise in online aggression recently, calling it “extraordinary”, and conceded it has fuelled safety concerns for poll staff and volunteers during the upcoming referendum day. Precedents like the incident during the NSW state election, wherein volunteers were filmed and harassed, fueled these worries. He asserted that this escalating digital animosity and disinformation needed to be examined more closely to ensure unharmed continuation of the democratic process, particularly in the run-up to the impending referendum.