Same-sex marriage survey forms are arriving at houses across Australia — many belonging to former tenants, long after they have moved out.
Despite the huge enrolment drive in the lead up to the survey, in which over 800,000 people updated or changed their electoral details, there is a large number of letters floating around for people with an out-of-date address on the envelope.
BuzzFeed News has spoken with multiple people across Australia who have received extra ballots in their letterboxes — some addressed to their old housemates, and some addressed to people they have never heard of.
Journalist Flip Prior said she often receives other people's mail at her Sydney apartment.
"I moved in a few months ago and heaps of people are really slow about changing their addresses," she told BuzzFeed News. "I’ve always been a big Return To Sender (RTS) person, I don’t just chuck things in the bin."
On Wednesday, two forms for the same-sex marriage survey arrived in her letterbox — addressed to two people with the same last name.
"I figured it was a couple. I thought, 'Ah...what do I do here?' I thought if I did RTS they’d get lost in the system," she said.
Not wanting to commit fraud or a mail tampering offence, Prior ignored advice from others to just fill out the extra forms — and instead went hunting for the couple on Facebook.
"They were pretty easy to find!" she said. But the couple are currently overseas and Prior couldn't easily get the surveys to them.
"I said, look, it’s OK to give someone permission to tick the box, if you give me your preferences I will faithfully fill it out for you for in good conscience."
The couple agreed, and asked Prior to vote "yes" for them.
A spokesperson for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) told BuzzFeed News this is a perfectly fine example of the "trusted authorised person" system, in which you can get someone else to fill out your ballot for you.
"It's completely a matter between the truster and the trustee," the spokesperson said. "There's no documentary requirement — it's entirely incumbent on the person to say, 'Yes, I trust you to do it' and that's it."
The other, more common, option for people who receive somebody else's marriage survey form is the classic Return To Sender. This approach is what the ABS is advising for people who receive someone else's ballot.
"Don’t open it, don’t touch it, return to sender," the spokesperson said.
The ABS and Australia Post have previously warned that theft or tampering with mail is a criminal offence with serious penalties.
BuzzFeed News spoke to several people on the condition of anonymity who had received extra forms in the mail about what they planned to do with them.
A Canberra woman received a form addressed to a former housemate: "We told him were voting yes on his behalf and he was like, 'I would have voted yes anyway but probably wouldn't have been bothered to post my form back!'" she told BuzzFeed News.
One man in Sydney received a survey form for an old housemate who is now overseas. He got in touch, and the former housemate sent a family member over to pick it up.
Another woman had received forms belonging to the past owners of her P.O. box, while a man in South Australia plans to RTS an extra survey form that turned up at his house. One man in a Melbourne rental had received four surveys belonging to other people so far, and was diligently returning them to the ABS.
Two other people in Canberra found a couple of forms and, after a debate around the ethics of doing so, decided to mark them "yes" and send them in.
But several people said they were unsure what to do with the extra forms, and had just left them sitting on the kitchen table for now.
A spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission told BuzzFeed News that it is a responsibility of every eligible voter to ensure their details on the roll are up to date.
"In light of estimates that perhaps 40,000-50,000 Australian move every week, the roll is dynamic and constantly changing," he said.
If a voter has moved but their old address is still on the roll, they can contact the ABS to have a postal survey sent to their current address.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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