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Postal votes may trouble Trump but in Australia you can just mail it in

Politics

The Australian Electoral Commission and its Queensland counterpart will make it easier to lodge, and count, postal votes, as people seek to distance themselves from the ballot box

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US President Donald Trump continues to warn against postal votes, ahead of the United States elections in November, claiming the result will be fraudulent and rigged against him. His concerns have led to changes in the postal system itself.

But, in Australia, the AEC is anticipating the pandemic-era trend towards postal voting will only continue. While the federal election is not due before August next year, at the earliest, the AEC wants to overhaul its processes to meet increased demand.

Even at the last federal election, in 2019, the number of postal votes was up 20 per cent on the previous poll. Elections this year only showed a surge in people prepared to mail it in.

The AEC is now in talks with the private sector about a new way forward and has raised the possibility of outsourcing the production, processing, vetting and electronic analysis of postal votes.

“The AEC does not currently have an effective tracking and monitoring process for paper postal vote application data captured,” the AEC has said.

“In previous (elections) the AEC has not been able to sufficiently track individual paper postal votes through the data capture process. A robust and comprehensive monitoring solution for the processing of postal vote applications is of fundamental importance to the AEC.

“Of the 547,442 postal vote applications that had data captured at the 2019 federal election, 533,859 were valid (i.e. after vetting and the AEC matched captured data to voters).”

In Queensland, where the next election will be held on October 31, the state electoral commission has extended the opportunity for people to lodge postal votes.

Applications for postal votes will open on Monday, although votes can only be sent after other milestones are reached, in mid-October. Applications will close on October 16 and, provided people still vote on or before October 31, the cut-off for the receipt of postal votes is 10 days after election day.

With the increase in postal votes, that could mean the outcome in closely contested seats may not be known until mid-November.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath told parliament on Wednesday the changes were designed to support social distancing during the pandemic.

“It is an unprecedented step to open postal vote applications prior to the issuing of the writs, but we live in unprecedented times,” D’Ath said.

D’Ath warned Queenslanders, however, that changes at Australia Post could cause delays, so “anyone who does plan on using Australia Post services should not leave the return of their application or their postal ballot till the last minute”.

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