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What you need to know: NSW election and political matter advertising

Learn how to avoid doing the wrong thing this election season

What is electoral material?

Electoral material includes a how-to-vote card, poster or advertisement containing electoral matter (whether in hard copy or in an electronic form) that:

  • is intended or calculated or likely to:
    • affect, or is capable of affecting, the result of any election, or
    • influence, or is capable of influencing, an elector in the casting of his or her vote
  • contains:
    • the name of a candidate at any election
    • the name of the party of any such candidate
    • the name or address of the headquarters or campaign office of any such candidate or party
    • the photograph of any such candidate
    • any drawing or printed matter that purports to:
      • depict any such candidate or
      • be a likeness or representation of any such candidate.

Authorisation

Once the writs have been issued for a State election, and commencing on the 40th day before election day for a local government election, all electoral material (including website content, emails, SMS texts, robocalls, social media posts, advertisements, how-to-vote cards, handbills, pamphlets, posters or notices) must include details of the name and address of the person authorising the material, and the name of the printer and its address if it was in a printed form. For most social media posts, including posts embedded in websites, full authorisation details are required within the post. For Twitter and search advertising, however, the material may contain a short URL to link to the necessary authorisation. The URL must remain active for the regulated period.

If electoral material is to be distributed on election day, it must also clearly identify the person, political party, organisation or group on whose behalf the material is to be distributed.

It is acceptable for electoral material not originally including this information to be amended by writing, stamping or overtyping the necessary details.

It is also necessary for any electoral material displayed on electronic billboards, digital road signs and the like to contain visible, legible characters indicating the name and address of the person who has authorised the display.


Encouraging ticks or crosses on ballot papers

A person must not, during the regulated period, publish any electoral material that encourages any elector to place a tick or a cross in a square on a ballot paper.


Misleading information

It is an offence to print, publish or distribute material which misleads electors in the proper method of casting a vote (eg directing that two candidates each be given a first preference vote) or to encourage an elector to vote using a tick or a cross. Any directions for voting printed on any material must be consistent with the requirements for a formal vote as printed on the ballot paper.

These provisions do not extend to the truth or otherwise of statements seeking to influence electors in deciding for which candidate or party they should vote. The ‘casting of their vote’ refers to the act of voting itself (ie marking a ballot paper) not the political judgements that motivate the decision as to who to vote for.

It is an offence for candidates and parties to print, publish or distribute electoral advertising material which uses the name, abbreviation, derivative or acronym of the name of a registered political party in a way which may mislead an elector.

A candidate is not permitted to distribute election advertising material marked with the printed logo of a registered political party in a fashion which could lead electors to think the candidate was endorsed by that party when this is not the case.

It is an offence to use the word ‘Independent’ and the name, abbreviation, derivative or acronym of a registered political party in a way that suggests or indicates an affiliation with that registered political party. For example, independent candidates cannot describe themselves as ‘Independent Liberal’ or ‘Independent Labor’.


Electronic media ‘blackout’

Under the Broadcasting Services Act which is administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, election advertising in the electronic media is subject to a ‘blackout’ from midnight on the Wednesday before polling day to the end of polling on the Saturday.

This three-day blackout effectively provides a ‘cooling off’ period in the lead up to polling day, during which political parties, candidates and others are no longer able to purchase time on television and radio to broadcast political advertising.

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