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(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

Unfounded claims of election fraud circulating online are based on misunderstandings about the electoral process, as fringe and conspiracy groups search for a reason not to believe their dismal election result.

After a poor showing from freedom movement-aligned parties, participants in online groups dedicated to spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories questioned whether the election result could be real. Posts circulated in Facebook groups and Telegram chats urging people to use the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)’s fraud complaint process if they had any evidence. For the most part, electoral fraud claims failed to burst through the bubble of existing online conspiracy communities. 

One significant false claim concerned candidates not being listed as independents on ballot papers. Figures such as former Liberal National Party and One Nation politician Steve Dickson, and anti-vaccine, freedom-movement figures Morgan C Jonas, Monica Smit and Rebecca Lloyd, were ineligible for the title of “independent” because they ran as unendorsed group candidates. Upset by this, these figures have since spread misinformation that this is electoral fraud and, in Dickson’s case, are seeking to launch a (potentially crowdfunded) legal challenge.

Another widely spread theory mistook the official vote count process as evidence that minor parties’ votes were being undercounted. AEC procedure is to count first preferences and two-party preferred to be able to give an early indication of who wins a seat. Viral posts claiming to be authored by scrutineers misinterpreted this as ignoring minor party votes: “An instruction came through from AEC and advised the supervisor to take preferences from ON, UAP, Labor and the Greens and allocate those preferences,” one post said. 

Fresh off a disappointing return on investment for his near-$100 million election spend, Clive Palmer also peddled a specific, absurd claim that AEC staff had interfered with the vote. During Sky News’ election night broadcaster, the billionaire alleged that one of his candidates followed AEC staff home and filmed them taking votes home. Palmer did not respond to a request to comment or to provide this video. 

The AEC disputed this claim: “We track and account for every ballot paper in the election with a documented chain of custody and rigorous ballot storage and transport arrangements in place,” said a tweet from their official account

For the most part, these claims barely made waves. Posts mentioning “electoral fraud” or a rigged election received fewer than 10,000 engagements on Facebook over the past three days according to CrowdTangle — a paltry number. Figures in the movement either haven’t commented (Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts) or even have endorsed the legitimacy of the process (Topher Field). 

Ironically, the freedom movement’s attempts to teach their voters the ins and outs of the electoral process in an effort to maximise their electoral impact may have ended up teaching some of them to understand and trust the process.