Alex Crowe

Punters’ preferred voting method set to expire | The Canberra Times

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With more than 70 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballot ahead of election day, Canberra’s elected representatives will now be tasked with removing a method of voting which proved popular with punters. The Electoral Act amendment which allowed all voters inside early voting centres is due to be scrapped when the ACT Public Health Emergency expires on November 19. Whether voters will happily return to election day queues is yet to be seen. Of the ACT’s 302,000 eligible voters, around 80,000 were expected to have voted on Saturday. While concern over the possibility of coronavirus transmission on polling day likely led some to the voting booth early, the convenience of not having to wait in a long line may also have factored in. Elections ACT spokesman Evan Ekin-Smyth said while the opportunity for early voting had been readily taken up, its success would be assessed after the election to determine whether it should continue in the future. “When people start the habit of casting an early vote they don’t tend to revert back to election day voting,” he said. “We’ve got an additional 100,000 Canberrans voting early in this election – will they go back? I don’t know.” Mr Ekin-Smyth said while it was possible the change could be permanent, there were still concerns that many people voting before the end of an election campaign was not ideal. “You have certain people in the voting population who say ‘I’m not going to vote until the final day’ so they know everybody’s policies,” he said. “Parties have clearly had to think carefully about how they communicate with that voter base given the changed voting arrangements and how they spread that communication over a three-week period.” Mr Ekin-Smyth said tripling the number of early voting centres to 15 also meant significantly increased costs. “That’s not just triple the premises cost for consideration, it’s also triple material costs and triple the staffing costs,” Mr Ekin-Smyth said. Australian National University politics lecturer Jill Sheppard said there was some concern early voting disadvantaged minor parties and independent candidates, who don’t always have enough volunteers to man polling booths for extended periods. “Whether actually having someone there to hand out how-to-vote cards would actually move votes away from minor parties and independent candidates, that’s yet to be seen,” Dr Sheppard said. Elections ACT also suspended mobile polling services usually used in aged care, the Alexander Maconochie Centre and hospitals, as these settings were deemed too high-risk. READ ALSO: In lieu of staff attending the facilities and institutions, a team at the electoral office was set up to organise the distribution of postal vote packs for eligible residents, with more than 22,000 Canberrans voting by mail. A spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission didn’t rule out increasing early voting options for the upcoming federal election. “Planning for the next general election is well under way, and as usual this involves the AEC anticipating a range of possible conditions and situations,” the spokesperson said. When pressed on the most important issue, the spokesperson said democracy sausages would not be considered as part of the commission’s decision. “The AEC does not have a view about, or provide advice on, the holding of barbeques near polling venues.”

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