Australian Woman with Down Syndrome Denied Right to Vote

Shea MacDonaugh express
Shea MacDonaugh's application to be put back on the electoral roll has been denied. Photo:

An Australian woman with down syndrome has been denied the right to vote in the current marriage equality postal survey.

Shea MacDonaugh, 31, voluntarily removed herself from the electoral role six years ago because she felt she didn’t understand the preferential voting system well enough. Having since completed university study and spent years advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, she applied to be put back on the roll last month.

The Australian Electoral Commission, however, sent MacDonaugh a letter rejecting her application stating “The AEC has been unable to confirm that you understand the nature and significance of enrolment and voting.”

“It hurt my feelings. I felt shitty,” she told


“It feels that they are taking something away from me, people like us [with disabilities] have a right to speak our own thoughts.”

MacDonaugh’s not alone, almost 29,000 Australians with disabilities are unable to cast a vote, having been removed from the roll between 2008 and 2012 on the basis of the “unsound mind provision”. 

The provision is from the 1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act and in 2014 the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended that these provisions be repealed.

MacDonaugh wrote to the Commission demanding to be placed back on the roll, “With regard to your letter stating that you believe I do not understand the nature and significance of enrolment and voting, I can assure you I most certainly do!

“I demand my right to vote and demand that I am placed back on the electoral roll as I requested.”

The Commission told, that an application to be removed from the roll, or put back on the roll, requires the written support of a medical practitioner.

MacDonaugh’s mum says the website didn’t require her daughter to supply a letter and the Commission did not request this from her.

Her case is currently being reviewed by the Commission, however, there is an anxious wait to receive the results of this before voting ends on 7 November.