26 September 2023

Virus voting to delay election results

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As the federal election rapidly approaches, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has warned that election results may be delayed by the number of postal votes it needs to count.

Outlining how people who test positive for COVID-19 in the coming days can vote, Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said that while elections were in-person community events, the AEC continued to accommodate necessary changes for the pandemic.

“We’re accounting for the pandemic in many aspects of election delivery, including options for COVID-19 positive voters in isolation,” Mr Rogers said.

“If you test positive today, or in the next few days, you’ll be in isolation until after polls close on Saturday, and need to apply for a postal vote,” he said.

“Applications this late in the election period should only be submitted by voters who have no other voting option.”

Mr Rogers said postal vote applications were open until 6pm tomorrow (Wednesday 18 May).

The Commissioner said this option would primarily be for people who tested positive to COVID-19, hadn’t voted yet and won’t be out of isolation until after Election Day.

He said that so far, the AEC had received approximately 2.5 million postal vote applications, up from 1.5 million at the previous federal election in 2019.

“There is a sting in the tail with so many postal vote applications this election, and that is the count,” Mr Rogers said.

“We simply cannot count postal votes on election night – we’re already at the limits of our staffing capacity, and work health and safety responsibilities, with the count of election day and pre-poll votes”.

He said that with 105,000 staff, the AEC was temporarily one of the nation’s largest employers, “which is an undoubted resourcing challenge during COVID-19.”

Mr Rogers said postal vote counts would commence on Sunday afternoon (22 May) following election day, brought forward from the 2019 timetable when the count commenced on the Tuesday after election day.

“If it’s a close result in individual seats, or overall in the House of Representatives, this level of postal votes makes an election night indication of who forms government less likely,” he said.

“In many ways the speed of the count is the biggest effect COVID will have on how this election is run.”

Providing further information for people who test positive to COVID-19 from mid-week, Mr Rogers said they would be able to access a telephone vote.

He said further information about the telephone voting service would be available to voters who needed it once postal vote applications closed.

Voters can apply for a postal vote on the AEC website until Wednesday this week at this PS News link.

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