The government's brief window for the same-sex marriage postal survey has led to mass confusion among groups of voters about how they will be able to participate.
Voters who recently updated their details with another government agency received letters from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) earlier this month advising them that their enrolment would be automatically updated.
But in the past week, with just days to spare, those voters have received follow-up letters from the AEC saying the postal survey timing doesn't allow for the automatic updates, and that people will have to do it manually.
Copies of three different letters to three different electorates seen by BuzzFeed News are dated August 16 — just eight days before the close of rolls at midnight tonight.
"Due to the announcement of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey I will not be able to update you on the electoral roll by the close of rolls deadline," the letter reads.
"You will need to be updated by Thursday 24 August to complete the survey."
Dallas Blackmore, a Queensland public servant, told BuzzFeed News she had received an initial letter on August 3 advising her that the address would be changed unless she said otherwise in 28 days.
She didn't see the follow-up letter saying this wasn't the case until yesterday as she had been in hospital for the past two weeks — almost the entire time since the postal survey was announced.
A friend who had been bringing in the mail for her told Blackmore the second letter had arrived on August 22.
Usually, the time frame given by the AEC to confirm somebody's enrolment is three weeks. There were just two weeks and two days between the postal survey being announced and the rolls closing.
Blackmore, whose sister is in a same-sex relationship and has a child, plans to vote "yes" and said she is passionate about the issue of same-sex marriage.
"I love my nephew," she said. "Me and him are like two peas in a pod."
The second letter left her stressed she wouldn't be able to take part in the survey. She called the AEC after returning home from hospital, and after some back and forth, has now managed to update her details — but is concerned others caught in the same situation won't be able to.
"I had to say, no, hey, I've been in hospital — this [first] letter assured me it would be fine," she said. "I just worry, what if this happens to younger people, or older people?"
A spokesperson for the AEC confirmed to BuzzFeed News that people had been sent the first letter shortly before the government announced the postal survey.
"This notice advised recipients that the AEC intended to directly enrol or update them based on third party details on 10 September," the spokesperson said in a statement.
But once the deadline for the closing of rolls was announced, the AEC realised it wasn't possible to process all the direct enrolments in time, and had to send follow-up letters asking people to do it manually.
"As 10 September is after the close of rolls deadline for the marriage survey the AEC provided updated advice to these recipients via a letter, email and sms (where details were available) advising them that they had to submit an enrolment transaction for the purposes of the survey rather than relying on the direct enrolment process," the spokesperson said.
Australians living or travelling overseas during the survey have been issued with contradictory advice on how to participate.
On August 9, finance minister Mathias Cormann said: "Where Australians overseas, who are on the Electoral Roll, have registered as an overseas voter and provided their overseas address, then the request for response will be sent directly to them."
Several voters — including those in countries where there is no residential postal system — were worried the forms would never reach them.
But that advice has now been completely retracted. Per the latest from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), no paper forms will be mailed overseas.
Instead, overseas voters have two options: authorise a trusted person to receive and fill out the survey for them, or request a code from the ABS and fill out the survey via phone or online.
The government gave Australian Statistician David Kalisch, who heads the ABS, only one day of notice before announcing the postal survey publicly. The rest of the staff at the ABS found out they would be running the survey on the same day it was presented to the nation by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Cormann.
The close of rolls today comes less than two-and-a-half weeks after that announcement.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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