The Inspectorate issued 20 real estate agents with an official warning after an alleged improper submission of ballot papers during the 2020 Melbourne City Council election.
It followed our investigation which looked at 216 ballot papers completed by representatives from 21 real estate agencies. Real estate agencies are authorised to manage properties for their owners; however, property owners cannot authorise agents to vote for them under Victorian electoral laws.
The ballot papers were detected by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) and excluded from the ballot count, meaning they did not affect the outcome of the election in which more than 91,000 votes were cast.
Under the Local Government Act, it is an offence to:
- vote in the name of another person
- vote more than once
- interfere with material being sent to a voter by the VEC at an election.
CMI Michael Stefanovic AM said:
"Our investigation did not uncover any systemic or intentional ballot fraud. The issues mainly arose due to these real estate agents not understanding our electoral laws and communication issues with owners.
"Prior to the 2020 elections, the Inspectorate worked with Melbourne City Council to contact real estate agencies and inform them that they could not vote on behalf of an owner.
"We will continue to work with the VEC to improve real estate agents’ understanding of Victoria’s electoral laws."
Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately Am also reminded voters of their rights and responsibility to actively participate in the democratic process. “It’s compulsory for all voters enrolled in Melbourne City Council elections to vote. Voters should follow the instructions contained in the ballot pack to complete and return their vote. No voter should have their opportunity to vote taken away from them.”
A total of 20 agents from 18 agencies admitted completing the ballot papers on behalf of landlords whose properties they manage.
The agencies reported that the property owners generally lived overseas, usually permanently and most commonly in China; had limited English; were not interested in the election and communicated with their agents in Chinese through WeChat. Some owners had authorised their agent verbally or in writing to vote on their behalf.
However, the agents were unaware that voters absent from Victoria during the 15 days prior to the close of voting are excused from voting.
We could not determine who completed the ballot papers sent to two agencies and a further real estate agent could not be located.
While a prima facie breach of the electoral provisions of the Act was substantiated for 20 individuals, we opted not to pursue prosecution but issued formal warnings.