By Erin Mathews. Election Watch Journalist
The (early) polls are open! Voting started Tuesday 14th June for anyone eligible to vote before election day on July 2 – which, as it turns out, is a fair chunk of the electorate.
More than a quarter of all the votes cast at the 2013 federal election were done early – that’s 3,741,984 people voting before election day.
Early voting was first allowed for the 1984 election. Since then, the number of people casting a ballot before polling day has been rising steadily and it’s expected to keep growing.
The trend is the same for state elections and even extends to local government elections. We are increasingly either too busy or way too lazy to make it to a polling booth on election day.
Does the Electoral Act allow for laziness?
You’re supposed to have a good reason to vote early – not wanting to queue at a polling booth on a Saturday does not count. The Commonwealth Electoral Act says if you’re seriously ill, travelling outside of your electorate or unable to leave your workplace to vote then you’re eligible to apply to cast your vote early. You can see more detail about who’s eligible for an early vote here.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has acknowledged that convenience is a major driver of why people don’t want to go to the polls when everyone else does. A 2013 research report found “as the pace of modern society increases, electors are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of their leisure time and are more apt to take advantage of opportunities that maximise that time. It could be that electors consider the inconvenience of ordinary voting at a polling place on the Saturday as an infringement on their time and are prepared to avail themselves of other voting opportunities that may be more convenient. Given the factors that appear to be driving this increase there is every expectation that this trend should continue.”
I’ve got a legitimate reason! What do I do now?
The demand to vote early means a huge pre-election day operation for the AEC. “We provide pre poll voting centres in every electoral division in Australia,” says AEC National Spokesperson, Phil Diak. You can attend a pre poll voting centre to cast your vote directly into a ballot box. There are also postal and mobile vote options, which are commonly used in remote Australia. Check out your options on the AEC website.
Diak says there is no way to tell just how high the demand for these services will be. “While there has been a historical trend to early voting, the AEC is unable to predict what level of early voting we’ll have at this federal election - but of course, the electoral role has also increased, by over 963,000 people since the 2013 federal election.”
Early votes are often counted last
Many early votes are not actually counted on election night. “All ordinary ballots are counted on election night, that is the ballots that have gone straight into the ballot box,” Diak says. “All other votes, such as postal votes, absent votes, provisionals and pre poll declarations (early votes cast outside the home electorate), all of these votes are not counted on election night. They are checked first against the electoral roll in the days and weeks following polling day and where the elector is found to be on the certified list, on the electoral roll, then those votes are admitted to the count.”
Think of the sausage sizzles!
If you need a little extra motivation to get out and vote ON polling day, check out Snagvotes for an election-day sausage sizzle near you.
Banner image courtesy Keith Bacongco/Flickr