Election Fraud Conspiracy Theorists Falsely Claim the Australian Election Was ‘Stolen’

“What we’re seeing is the result of a decade of deliberate far-right intent to undermine two things: faith in the media, and faith in political processes.”
Protesters opposing pandemic Legislation being tabled in the Victorian Parliament in Melbourne last year. Photo by Chris Putnam / Future Publishing via Getty Images.

Before Australia’s newly-elected prime minister Anthony Albanese was even sworn into office, members of the nation’s populist anti-lockdown “freedom” movement had begun to make false claims of election fraud.

Among the earliest were claims made on May 18, from failed candidates Steve Dickson and Rebecca Lloyd, both of whom have a penchant for flirting with a sprawling variety of libertarian conspiracy theories. On social media, both candidates shared footage of phone calls between voters—thought to be supporters of “freedom-friendly minor parties”—and staffers at the Australian Electoral Commission, who mistakenly shared incorrect senate voting advice. 


Outraged and emboldened, it was all the base needed to flood various platforms with similarly baseless claims—and even take it upon themselves to harass AEC staff at polling booths around the country.

In one video posted on TikTok, one freedom supporter suggested that election staffers sorting votes at a polling station on the Gold Coast were mishandling ballot papers. Electoral staff, she said, had begun sorting votes before 6p.m. (Australian law actually allows for this). She then went on to harass an AEC staffer, suggesting something nefarious might be happening behind closed doors. 

A swarm of other footage shows similar instances of AEC staff harassment. (VICE has not been able to independently verify all footage depicting harassment of AEC staff).

During the days that followed, concerned members of the “freedom” movement could be seen flooding Telegram channels in dismay, claiming that the May 21 elections in Australia were “rigged!” because the amount of people personally known to supporters, who voted for fringe candidates, should’ve seen parties like Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation each perform better than they did.

According to analysis conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), the 36 hours that followed the election result was dominated by “general but unspecific allegations” of fraud that swept far and wide, but struggled to point to any coherent narrative—or evidence. 


“This appears to be a relatively widespread sentiment, although not a consensus, across conspiracy theory groups on Telegram,” said Elise Thomas, an open source intelligence analyst at ISD.

“A poll posted by anti-lockdown group Reignite Democracy (the leaders of which both ran failed campaigns as independents for the Victorian Senate), for example, asked its followers whether the election was rigged. Eighty-two percent of the 4,166 respondents felt that it was, with no further information as to how, or by whom. A very similar percentage, 83 percent, also agreed that the election was ‘Definitely rigged’ in a poll by anti-lockdown influencer Dave Oneeglio.”

Now, election fraud conspiracy theorists are actively hunting for evidence to support claims of election fraud, despite beleaguered efforts made by political aggravators, like billionaire real estate magnate Clive Palmer, to launch legal action, after his party failed to secure a single seat. 

Thomas points to as much in her analysis, as sovereign citizen groups like “The Australia Project” call on Telegram users to reveal the identities of AEC staffers thought to be involved in rigging the election’s outcome.

The risk of opening its workforce up to a barrage of serious harassment isn’t lost on the AEC. A spokesperson for the commission told VICE that while scrutiny of electoral processes is important, it “needs to be based on fact, not fiction”. 


“Resolute belief in apparent ‘rigging’ without being appropriately informed by, or supported by, evidence or procedural knowledge is of course concerning,” he said. “The privacy of our staff is incredibly important and individuals seeking to identify hard working Australians should think twice—for moral reasons as much as the potential ramifications personally.”

But the claims of election fraud in Australia have left researchers completely unsurprised. 

In the post-Trump era, the import of US-style populism is an ongoing cycle, and attempts to sow doubts over election fraud in the collective psyche of mainstream Australia was only going to be the natural next step. 

For Tom Tanuki, an anti-fascist political commentator, the narratives playing out in Australia are almost a carbon copy of what played out in the US through the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy that followed the 2021 US Presidential Election. 

“There’s only two outcomes for them: ‘We the People’, or ‘Stop the Steal’. They know all about ‘Dominion voting machines’, which relates to a US election fraud conspiracy—but we don’t even use those here,” Tanuki told VICE.

“Certain far-right candidates, like Steve Dickson in Queensland, had already spent two weeks before the election setting the stage for an ‘election fraud’ campaign. It helps to hedge your bets in case you get no votes and need a post-election talking head gig, which worked wonders for certain grifters in the US.”


“The only thing I’m surprised by is how little they seem to care about making this stuff up.  Clive Palmer could barely even be bothered articulating his ‘election fraud’ claims coherently on Sky News. They seem to have bored themselves to death.”

Dr Kaz Ross, a researcher of far-right extremism and conspiracy theories, and a humanities lecturer at the University of Tasmania, told VICE that it should go without saying that the “stop the steal” narrative can’t be shoehorned into local circumstances because the Australian federal election isn’t a two-horse race, like the presidential election is in the US. 

“So, they stole the election from who? There was no ‘one’ contender.”

In the early months of a year that has already seen proponents of various anti-lockdown conspiracy theories flock to Canberra to protest for a number of causes, Dr Ross reckons the base is feeling emboldened in ways they haven’t yet before, and might feel like their reasons for harassing election staff—and voters more broadly—are totally legitimate. 

“A raggle-taggle bunch of them have been able to wander around Canberra, yelling at people, tooting car horns, disrupting normal people going about their business for months now,” she said.  

“And that has sort of sent out a bit of a signal to the wider freedom movement that they have some kind of entitlement to behave however they like. They believe that they can genuinely protest anywhere, because what they do is ‘legitimate’.”

Ross says the biggest takeaway from these scattered election fraud claims so far—and the one that is likely to prevail—is that a huge section of the electorate doesn’t understand how voting works. 

“And what we’re seeing is the result of a decade of deliberate far-right intent to undermine two things: faith in the media, and faith in political processes.”

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