How do you vote in a pandemic?


Applications for postal voting close at 7pm on Monday night. Click here to apply for a vote.

Elections are due in Queensland in less than two weeks. Every council in Queensland goes to the polls on Saturday, March 28, along with two state by-elections for the seats of Bundamba and Currumbin.

I’m not an expert on public health and I won’t try and speculate about what the COVID-19 situation might look like in Queensland in two weeks time, but there’s widespread expectation that the disease will be spread further.

With people being encouraged to work from home and large gatherings being shut down, what is the impact of bringing everyone together at their local polling place to cast a vote. This often involves people in queues and could potentially cause some problems.

Presumably there is some things that could be done, such as encouraging spacing in queues, providing hand sanitiser in the booths and spreading out the voting stations (often they take up only part of a large school hall) – I haven’t seen any reporting about whether any of these tactics will be used.

The other option is to find another way to vote. If you want to cast a postal vote you will need to make an application by 7pm on Monday, March 16.

Pre-poll voting will open on Monday and will be open until the day before election day. While you may still come into contact with other voters using this method it does allow the voting volumes to be spread out. I encourage Queenslanders, particularly those at a heightened risk, to use one of these methods to reduce any danger to their health.

But what happens if you find yourself ordered into self-isolation after postal voting closes? Do you just miss out on casting a vote?

It will be interesting to look at the number of voters who choose to cast a pre-poll or postal vote after the results come in. Pre-poll voting has been getting consistently more popular at recent elections but the popularity of postal voting is reasonably stable, so a big jump in postal votes would suggest voters are responding to the pandemic by changing their voting behaviour.

And of course electoral campaigning involves a lot of face-to-face campaigning. What happens to doorknocking and stalls? Do we just move more towards using phone calls to campaign? Does TV advertising make a resurgence?

There are more elections coming as we get further into 2020. There will be elections for two Tasmanian upper house electorates on May 2: Huon in the south-western corner of the state and Rosevears near Launceston.

Then there will be quite a few elections between August and October. The Northern Territory votes in August, followed by New South Wales councils in September and then the ACT, Queensland and Victorian councils in October. Victorian council elections are mostly conducted by post, and it seems likely they will go all-post following recent legislative changes.

And of course there’s the US presidential primaries, underway right now.

That means we will see a rush of elections starting five months from now, with the fourth-biggest election in Australia held in seven-and-a-half months (the Queensland state election, on October 31). It seems likely that the peak of this pandemic will have passed by October, but it’s entirely possible that further waves of disease could mean we still won’t have returned to normal by then.

I don’t know what impact this will have on our electoral system, but it’s bound to have an impact in some way. We are lucky in Australia to have a flexible voting system which allows people to cast a vote that is convenient for them, so I encourage those at risk to look at spreading out demand for voting facilities over longer periods through the use of postal and pre-poll voting, and please wash your hands.

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  1. I hope the ECQ extended the application deadline for a postal vote all the way to March 28th and extend the receipt deadline until April 21st or something. Everything will be much easier with fewer bodies at the booths. Pushing the return of writ back slightly is no biggy.

    The future elections we will have more lead time to hopefully organise mass postal voting.

    I would be against outright closing off of in person voting though, democracy should carry on with maximum accessibility, but if it’s only 10% rather than 50% voting on the day that’s a win.

    To my knowledge the Greens campaigns in BCC are leaning towards phoning rather than doorknocking right now and I don’t think it would take much from now to end doorknocking outright.

    Election day who knows. Perhaps the ECQ should institute emergency “2 booth workers maximum per candidate” rule? A “No HTV brandishing” rule, just leave them on a table and ask the voters to take one?

    What are they going to do about the pencils? Wipe them down after each use? Maybe easiest to offer every voter hand sanitiser on exit.

  2. The ECQ/State Government response has been pretty pathetic/non-existent. They need to ban how to vote card distribution (they can display them on a board) and they need to open prepoll next weekend and open extra prepoll booths on those days.

    The ECQ never consider political volunteers in their decision making but like it or not they are part of the process and they need to issue guidance. No political party is going to stop handing out if their opponents won’t.

  3. Postal ballots should be mailed to all voters for every election in future. Attendance voting should be scrapped.

  4. A Jackson above is not me. After seeing the sheer corruption of postal ballots in Union elections postal ballots would led to postmen being followed with fishing of ballot papers out of letter boxes. It would be a recipe for Court of Disputed Returns overthrow of whole election.
    Qld Local Government pre polling is proceeding smoothly although ECQ is obviously having some problems . Computer not coming with increased demand and computer entry requirements need to be simplified.
    Name of Street entered as School Road should work even if software designers think School is right answer.
    I fully support leaving our electoral system exactly as it is. Absolutely no extension of on line voting or phone voting. Keep whole process 99% paper based. Postal voting should be taken in house by ECQ and political party role reduced substantially.
    Andrew Jackson

  5. This election has been
    Less than perfectly run:
    ?Delay in announcing pre poll sites
    ?Worst Pre Poll sites selected ever ( Beerburrum Rd, Caboolture is horrendous)
    ?Coronivirus decisions delayed and not being communicated effectively leading to false Facebook reporting by candidates.
    ?ECQ has allowed candidates Facebook pages to Be the main means of communicating official info.

    Those on this site will know hat I have previously been fully supportive of Australian Electoral Commisions by on this occasion ECQ have not handled well. However they have handled fairly it Is administration that is the failure. I might also say that OIC at Woodford Where I have been volunteering Has done an excellent job. OIC at Caboolture was handed a poisoned chalice.
    Even after looking at EEQ website this morning I do not know if a supposed direction from ECQ about HTV and table distribution is correct or a forgery. I have not yet seen Courier Mail so if they have a full page advert sorry.

  6. I have now seen something on ECQ letterheads that issues instructions that HTV are not to be handed to voters but are to be laid out on table in order they appear on ballot paper.

    They think this is an imposition on candidates.

  7. I have now seen copy of ECQ directive on Moreton Bay Mayoral candidate Dean Teasdale’s site.

  8. Adrian by now you should know that Andrew Jackson is always correct and those with similar names are always wrong.
    The farcical output of results of the ECQ tonight has demonstrated why we have allowed electronics to intrude too much into the Electoral system.

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