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Closure of Federal Election Polling Places


In evidence to Senate Estimates in October 2015 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) revealed that it was considering reducing the number of polling places at federal elections by about 800 (out of around 8,000 at the 2013 federal election).

The AEC has recently released a result of its assessment of polling places and has provided a list of 730 polling places that it intends to abolish. The AEC notes that further changes may take place before the next election.

State Polling Place Closures
NSW 253
VIC 197
QLD 133
SA 51
WA 44
TAS 38
ACT 10
NT 4
Grand Total 730

The map below plots polling places to be closed (red) and those being retained (green).


Open map in new window.

Note that the location of the mapped election day polling places is based on geocoding information provided by the AEC at the 2013 federal election, and has not been independently checked by the Parliamentary Library. Some locations also host polling places for multiple divisions, not all of which will be visible on the map. Total votes are taken from the 2013 election results, and include informal votes.

Significant factors in the decision to close about ten percent of election day polling places are the rapid increase in early voting over recent years, and recommendations from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). In 2013 more than one in four voters voted early, mostly by voting at pre-poll polling places. More than 2.5 million votes were cast before election day, up from 1.1 million in 2007 and 1.5 million in 2010. 

Graph: Early votes in Australian federal elections over time by type of vote.

Graph showing Early votes in Australian federal elections over time by type of vote.

Source: Rojas Lopez, Angelo J and Muller, Damon A, Early Voting in Australian Federal Elections: Causes and Consequences (2014). The Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Sydney Paper. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2440075 

The ANAO’s Second Follow-up Audit into the Australian Electoral Commission's Preparation for and Conduct of Federal Elections recommended that the AEC decrease the number of election day polling places to save money.

Specifically, while the number of [Pre-Poll Voting Centres] was significantly increased following the 2007 election reflecting the increasing popularity of early voting, there was no commensurate action to reduce the number of static polling place premises. Rather, the AEC has provided some 7700 static polling places at each of the last four elections, when it could have effectively serviced the declining proportion of the electorate that vote on Saturdays by employing significantly fewer polling place premises, with flow-on benefits in terms of reducing the number of polling place staff that need to be recruited and trained.

At Senate Estimates the Electoral Commissioner advised the Finance and Public Administration Committee that decisions in relation to polling place closures would be made in reference to factors such as population size and density and potential distance to other polling places. The Commissioner stated:

We are conscious of not impacting on service delivery in rural areas, to the extent that we can, but there are some polling places, particularly in urban areas, where there may be a polling place a couple of streets away and we are replicating a service and our assessment is that we can amalgamate those services without impacting on our service delivery to the public. It might also be that in some remote areas, where there are a very small number of votes being taken, we might be able to service that by remote mobile polling, for example.

The Electoral Commissioner also noted a planned increase of some 30 pre-poll polling centres around Australia for the next election, which would offset the reduction in election day polling places to some degree.

Combined with substantial boundary redistributions in NSW, Western Australia, the ACT and the NT, many voters at the next federal election may need to find a new polling place on election day 2016.

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