Australian Electoral Commission chiefs have warned voters they could be turned away from polling stations if they wear Yes or No T-shirts when they vote on Saturday.
The alert comes after two Indigenous elders from Ipswich, near Brisbane, said they were told they could not wear their Yes shirts into the polling station.
“Without any explanation, (the AEC official) just said, ‘You’re not allowed to wear that while you’re here,’” Valentine Brown said.
He said he was turned away from the polling station and then followed closely by officials when he returned later in another high.
Rhonda Collard-Spratt said she was treated like a criminal when she tried to vote while wearing a similar shirt.
“Because I was wearing that shirt, he said to me, ‘While you’re in space and with that shirt on, you better behave,'” she said.
“We are very respected elders. We were there to fulfill our legal obligation to vote and we were treated with a complete lack of respect.
Indigenous elders Valentine Brown and Rhonda Collard-Spratt from Ipswich, near Brisbane, say they were told they couldn’t wear their Yes shirts into the polling station
Australia’s election rules prohibit campaigning within six meters of the entrance to or inside a polling station, and election officials say wearing a campaign T-shirt to vote could break the rules.
But AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers admitted Queensland authorities may have overreacted, but said it was also important to avoid confrontations between voters.
“Our role is to provide a neutral place where people can vote, and the electoral law says you cannot campaign in a polling station,” he said.
“So if you show up and you’re wearing a T-shirt or a hat or something like that, and you’re campaigning in the polling place, you won’t be allowed in. It’s as simple as that.
“But if you’re a voter, and you just go to vote wearing a T-shirt, and you walk in and out, you should be fine.”
He added: “The problem is people see it through the prism of what they want to do if they are very proud of their No or Yes T-shirt that they want to wear it in.”
“Remember that this is a respectful place where everyone is expected to be able to express their point of view. It’s that simple.’
Australian Electoral Commission chiefs have warned voters they could be turned away from polling stations if they wear Yes or No T-shirts when voting on Saturday.
Official guidelines state that the rules for a referendum are the same as those for elections.
“Campaigning is not permitted inside the polling place or within 6 meters of the entrance,” an AEC spokesperson said.
“If a voter wears a pin, shirt or hat with a campaign slogan into the polling place, votes and leaves, that cannot be considered campaigning.
“However, inside a polling place, a problem could arise if a voter is seen talking about the equipment or gesturing in its direction.
“The AEC’s advice is simply to avoid any potential problems by not carrying campaign materials into a polling place, or at least bringing something that allows a voter to cover themselves.”
But they added: “The AEC understands that passions often run high around referendum events, and people want to proudly display their voting intentions – one way or the other – when they come out to vote.
“Please don’t break the law. Simply carry or display campaign materials outside the polling place.
Valentine Brown said he was turned away from the polling station, then followed closely by officials when he returned later in another high.
They said they expected people to be more likely to wear Yes or No branded clothing during the referendum compared to a normal election.
The AEC said election staff – mostly 100,000 temporary workers recruited just for voting – would try to resolve the situation on a matter
“Our staff will take a sensible approach in conversations with voters on these issues – either to cover up or to ensure that people behave appropriately inside the polling place,” the AEC added.
“We have a temporary workforce of around 100,000 people who are everyday members of the community and doing their best to facilitate a positive voting experience for Australians. Please be kind.
“While the laws regarding campaigning in or near a polling place are the same as for a federal election, the obvious difference is the greater likelihood that people will want to wear campaign clothing when voting at Referendum.”