Soaring numbers of pre-poll and postal votes for the 2019 election have put an interesting twist in the campaign plans for would-be politicians as more and more Canberrans get their vote over and done with long before the election sausage sizzles fire up.
Australian Electoral Commission spokesman Phil Diak says pre-polling numbers are “huge” and continuing to grow. Since pre-polling booths opened on Monday, Mr Diak says that the AEC has seen “a significant uptick nationally over the last three days”, running at 125,000 votes per day.
Nationally, that means that around 375,000 votes have already been cast, compared with around 225,000 at a similar time in the last Federal election. In 2016 three million Australian voters pre-polled and a further 1.2 million postal votes were cast, meaning that around 4.4 million had voted before polling day, or roughly one-third of eligible voters.
“Since the last election, there’s been a natural growth in the rolls of around 750,000, so we’d automatically anticipate some growth in pre-poll numbers, but we’re also expecting a significant pre-polling boost on the figures we’ve seen already,” Mr Diak said. “We also know that heaviest pre-polling takes place in the final week of the campaign.
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“At the last election we opened 440 pre-poll voting centres and this time we’ll have 500. We opened 220 this week nationally and next week we’ll roughly double that number to meet the demand we’re expecting.”
The AEC’s Evan Ekin-Smyth says that four pre-polling booths are now open in the ACT at Canberra Museum and Gallery; the Belconnen Community Centre; in Anketell St., Greenway and in the Cosmopolitan building in Bowes Place, Woden. Next week a further centre will open in the Quokka pavilion at EPIC and in the final week, voters will be able to pre-poll at Old Parliament House.
“In the first three days, 8700 votes were cast,” Ekin-Smythe says. “At the same stage in 2016, 4041 had been cast, so the rate has more than doubled.” In 2016, 71,973 pre-polls were cast from an enrolment of 282,045. The ACT enrolment for 2019 is 295,933.
“Around a decade ago the pre-poll rate was about 10 per cent including postal votes. At the last election, the rate was 31 per cent and it is clearly going up again.”
To pre-poll, all you need to do is turn up to any of the locations. Mr Ekin-Smythe says that while you’re required under the legislation to have a sound reason, it’s a self-declaration and the AEC doesn’t follow up on whether people are actually travelling, working or expecting the imminent arrival of a baby.
“Some people do pull up and say ‘I didn’t know I needed a reason, I’ll come back on election day’, but most people are just making sure they comply with their requirements,” Mr Ekin-Smythe said. The same conditions apply to postal votes: the best way to cast one is to go online to aec.gov.au.
The growing trend towards early polling is having significant effects on political campaigns, which are often designed to sway undecided voters at the last minute. In the past, political parties have released a staggered portfolio of policies, leaving the full reveal until election day is nigh.
In 2016, Labor left it until six days before the election date to release their full costings. When well over a third of voters have already made their minds up, chances of a last-minute swing are considerably diminished although people who have already voted also can’t change their minds about a policy disaster.