25 September 2023

Voters with low vision in DHS view

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This week’s Federal Election has seen the Department of Human Services (DHS) busily providing support and assistance to voters with low vision who wished to vote but couldn’t attend their local polling booths.

The Department’s Smart Centre at Coffs Harbour in NSW has been operating a Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre for the Australian Electoral Commission, giving people with low vision the ability to cast their votes over the phone.

According to DHS, a total of 70 staff have been taking calls from around the country since pre-polling began.

Lauren Toogood, from the Australian Electoral Commission said there were more than 9,000 different ballot papers covering all the 151 electorates.

“It doesn’t matter where someone calls from in Australia, we’ll be able to take their vote,” Ms Toogood said.

“It’s the third election on the phones for the Coffs Harbour staff. They’ve received hours of training to provide support to this group of voters.”

DHS Supervisor of the Voting Centre, Naomi Markham said the exercise could be a difficult balancing act.

“Staff need to explain the ballot papers and take people through the process without providing advice,” Ms Markham said.

“It’s a very unique part of polling.”

She said that once an eligible person had registered to vote over the phone, they would ring the Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre, identifying themselves with a registration number and PIN.

“The operator, observed by a witness (as pictured above), then reads the entire ballot paper, including all the candidate’s names and the parties to the voter,” Ms Markham said.

“Once the staff member records the vote, they read the selections back to make sure everything is correct.

“The witness then seals the completed ballot paper in an envelope and returns it to the AEC official.”

DHS said that in the 2016 Federal Election, the Coffs Harbour Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre took almost 2,000 votes.

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