A seemingly endless stream of social media posts scrolls across a video wall in a nondescript office building in the heart of Canberra’s CBD.
“How corrupt they are,” writes one keyboard warrior.
“Anyway, I don’t think the result is valid,” posts another.
These missives questioning the integrity of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) appear in the direct eyes of a small number of agency staff, working in the run-up to one of the most important moments in the democratic history of the country.
Kath Gleeson, AEC national elections manager, is keeping a close eye on these screens.
It is inside the AEC control center – the heart of its operations ahead of tomorrow’s referendum on an indigenous voice in Parliament.
“Social media is full of information and commentary about the referendum, as you would expect,” says Ms Gleeson.
“We have unfortunately found that myths and misinformation about the referendum process are pervasive on social media.
“We’ve been very proactive in fighting this.”
How the polls arrive
Five clocks tick silently on the wall showing the country’s different time zones – highlighting the geographical oddity of the six months of the year when South Australia is half an hour ahead of Queensland due to daylight saving time. ‘summer.
Silence reigns among control center staff during the ABC visit, but the number of election officials monitoring the massive democratic operation from the room will increase on Saturday – particularly after polls close at 6 p.m. local hour.
This is where results will flow in from cities and regional centers, before being published on the commission’s website and transmitted to the media who will report on the vote.
“In theory, the count should be faster overnight (compared to a parliamentary election),” says Ms Gleeson.
“So in a polling place, rather than counting all the numbers that would be on a ballot in an election, we will count two piles and one pile of informal votes.
“This should make it possible to obtain faster results in all our polling stations, i.e. the 7,000 polling stations spread across the country.”
But the high number of votes cast before Election Day could slow down the process of getting a result.
Advance and postal ballots are expected to account for almost half of the votes cast in the referendum, with more than 17 million Australians registered to have their say.
“It won’t be the AEC announcing the result, that’s for the psephologists, and there’s no doubt that media outlets like yours will carry that kind of information,” Ms Gleeson told the ABC.
“But for the AEC, we cannot call the event until it is mathematically certain, and that means that the number of outstanding votes, which are often postal votes, cannot change the result.
“There are 13 days for postal votes to come back to the AEC, and this means that if the result is close and there are a large number of outstanding postal votes, we may have to wait for the 13 days to have a final, mathematically certain result.”
Alongside the incessant commentary online, graphs show pre-election figures across the country and polling center numbers ahead of referendum day.
In the center of the room is a map of the vast continent across which the AEC allocates its resources, with the aim of ensuring every Australian has a say. Small purple icons are dotted from coast to coast – some dwarfed by larger, ominous yellow flags.
“The purple triangles represent approximately 500 pre-election voting centers currently open in Australia,” says Ms Gleeson.
“The yellow triangles represent the fire risk across the country. As we know, over the last few weeks we have faced an increased fire risk and we have had to make some changes to our service schedules remote voting.
“Fortunately, at the moment the fire risk is not as severe as what we saw last week, and we hope this continues through the weekend so that it will be a safe voting experience for Australians.”
With the AEC requisitioning buildings such as school halls to use as voting centers, emergency measures are in place to relocate voting centers at short notice in case these locations need to be transformed into polling centers. evacuation.
“We must always prepare for the worst and be flexible if a situation like this arises,” Ms Gleeson says.
“We have done some exercises and we expect this to come to fruition.
“Should this happen, we would certainly inform the local community of the changes in place for their particular polling location – this will be on the AEC website, but we would also issue press releases and on local radio if this happens. produced.”