The upward trajectory of early voting remains a concern to political parties.
VOTE early and vote often.
Like much of the nation, those in the federal electorate of Newcastle jumped at the opportunity to vote early and therefore execute their mandatory democratic duty before Saturday May 21. But why?
Is it the result of a 'get-it-over and done-with' attitude? Is it because of a well-known Novocastrian neurosis - a morbid fear of standing behind more than two people in a queue? Or do all those early voters meet the specific criteria determined by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for eligibility to vote before election Saturday?
Not all that long ago, rules around whether one could cast an early vote were pretty strict. Now they seem as loose as an end-of-season footy trip and impossible to enforce. What damage is done if people vote within the 12-day pre-poll period before election Saturday? Sure, circumstances around a candidate could change and you might get a dose of voter's remorse. You'll possibly end up with that affliction regardless of when you vote.
Excerpts from a conversation overheard at the Newcastle Pre-Poll Voting Centre (PPVC).
AEC worker sitting down behind desk garbling muffled words from behind her mask: "Do you something to vote in the something before something 2022"?
AEC worker: "Something previously voted in this something"?
AEC worker: "Good-o".
The voter is then issued with green and white papers and a pencil and provided with opportunity to engrave papers with sincere feedback to incumbents.
Serial whinger and recently disqualified-for-life lawn bowler Percy Reckons was overheard in the Merewether Ocean Baths' showers saying that he went to vote early at the Newcastle PPVC but was put-off by a line-up that extended beyond the King Street entrance. Despite Percy's complaint, more than a quarter of enrolled voters in the Newcastle electorate weren't turned off by line-ups and decided to cast their vote before election day.
Early voting around Australia has been a useful strategy for minimising crowding on polling days for all levels of government, ever since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early voting has proven almost as popular as free beer and there were more than 500 PPVCs scattered around the nation for the 2022 federal election.
AEC results for the electorate of Newcastle show the Newcastle PPVC in King Street received 17,554 early votes, accounting for 14.32 per cent of eligible voters. At the Wallsend PPVC, 10,165 early votes were cast, representing 8.29 per cent of eligible voters. Add the Charlestown PPVC into the mix - where 4421 votes representing 3.61 per cent of enrolled voters were cast - and there's 32,140 or 26.22 per cent of votes in the Newcastle electorate dropped into PPVC ballot boxes before election Saturday.
That is more than a doubling of the 12.18 per cent of early votes cast in the 2019 federal election in the same seat. Just over a decade ago at the 2010 federal election, less than five per cent of votes were cast in Newcastle PPVCs before election day. COVID-19 can't shoulder all the blame for the onward march of early voting. Convenience has to take some of the wrap.
The nearby electorate of Paterson had the second highest turn-out of early voters (16,271) in the nation on the first day of pre-polling.
The upward trajectory of early voting remains a concern to political parties. Following the 2019 federal election, a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended that the pre-poll period be limited to a maximum of two weeks. In 2021 legislation was passed requiring that early voting start no more than 12 days before the election.
An increasing number of voters are choosing to vote early for personal convenience. It'd be even more convenient to see online voting being offered as an option to voters in all Australian elections. But I won't hold my breath for such innovation.
'Security issues' will be trotted out as a key reason for voting not joining other online services requiring high levels of operational security such as banking, bill-paying and various forms of licensing. But the opportunity to stuff a flyer in a voter's hand, hoping for a faithful replication of voting instructions, is more likely the reason there appears no political appetite to offer Australians online voting in all elections.
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