Convenience voting has gone too far


It’s not just about whether you’ve made up your mind between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. With a rise in voters considering minor parties and independents, there are even more variables than usual. Preferences are much more important and there’s the make-up of the Senate to consider.

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The definition of a rational person is someone who is capable of changing their opinion when the facts change. By that definition, more of us should regard ourselves as swinging voters – even if you have a tendency to vote the same way, it’s good practice to reassess the evidence before you lock it in.

If no one ever changed their vote, nor would the government. I know there are many voters out there who have already made up their minds but in most cases, there’s no reason why they can’t wait and vote with the rest of us. Say hi to a neighbour and buy a democracy sausage (or lamington) while they’re at it.

Of course, it’s important to make voting accessible. A high turnout is, well, democratic. No one should be disenfranchised because it’s too hard to get to a polling booth. The last thing we want is the mess they have in the United States, where every election has reports of electoral roll purges, long queues and voters being turned away.

In Australia we emphasise ensuring everyone is enabled and encouraged to vote. I support that and acknowledge that postal and prepoll options play a role.

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There’s an argument that because we have compulsory voting so we should make it “as easy as possible”. I don’t buy that given most Australians support compulsory voting and don’t regard it as a burden.

We should make voting easy but not at any cost.

Not long ago postal voting was the only early-voting option. Prepoll voting in its current form was introduced in 2010, and its uptake has been climbing steadily.

Now the trend is apparent, I suggest setting a target to keep early voting under a certain threshold without affecting the overall voter turnout.

In federal elections and most states, voters are required to declare that they cannot vote on election day for a legitimate reason such as travel or work. In practice, they’re taken at their word.

In Victoria, where state voters no longer have to provide a reason, 44 per cent of votes were cast early in the state election last November.

Opening prepoll booths three weeks early seems excessive. In fact, a parliamentary committee in 2016 recommended changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to ensure prepoll voting was open for no more than two weeks before election day. The AEC says the decision to open prepoll voting three weeks ahead was made by the federal government.

McAllister says the early voting trend poses challenges but is unlikely to reverse unless it’s replaced by something even more convenient – remote electronic voting on election day.

And that is a whole other can of worms.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the associate editor of The Sun-Herald. Find her on Facebook.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the associate editor of The Sun-Herald and a columnist.

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