3. The rise in voting prior to election day


The 2019 election saw more Australians than ever cast their vote prior to election day. There are several ways a vote can be cast early: through pre-poll, postal or mobile polling.
The grounds for application of a postal or pre-poll vote are set out under Schedule 2 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act).1
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website states you can vote early either in person or by post if on election day you:
are outside the electorate where you are enrolled to vote;
are more than 8km from a polling place;
are travelling;
are unable to leave your workplace to vote;
are seriously ill, infirm or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is);
are a patient in hospital and can't vote at the hospital;
have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place;
are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained;
are a silent elector;
have a reasonable fear for your safety.2
Despite this prescriptive list early voting has increased over the past decade in both federal and state elections ‘demonstrating the public’s expectation to be able to choose their time of voting’.3
In the 2019 election, more than 40 per cent of all votes counted were pre-poll (either ordinary or declaration).4 Table 3.1 provides a summary of votes by type, comparing the 2016 and 2019 elections which shows that:
Pre-poll ordinary voting for the 2019 federal election was approximately 4.29 million votes —an increase of about 58 per cent on the 2016 figure (which was 2.72 million votes). In comparison, the increase between the 2013 and 2016 elections was approximately 37 per cent.5
Table 3.1:  Summary of votes by type
Ordinary votes
Pre-poll ordinary votes
Absent votes
Provisional votes
Pre-poll declaration votes
Postal votes
House of Representatives
Ordinary votes
Pre-poll ordinary votes
Absent votes
Provisional votes
Pre-poll declaration votes
Postal votes
Source: Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p. 14.
Early voting for the Saturday 18 May 2019 election started on Monday 29 April 2019. Eligible voters had the following options:
Attend a pre-poll voting centre;
Make a request for a postal vote directly to the AEC;
Use a postal vote application from a political party, candidate or other source;
Participate in mobile polling.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) took evidence regarding the nearly three-week (19 day) window for pre-poll voting. Several submitters expressed concern that the pre-poll period was too long.
The AEC explained despite the perception that pre-poll had been extended over the years, the early voting window remained almost identical for the 2019, 2016 and 2013 elections, stating:
Pre-poll voting is legislated to commence from the fifth day after the declaration of nominations (section 200D of the Electoral Act). The official writs issued by the Governor-General determined the election timetable, which provided for pre-poll voting to be available from Monday 29 April 2019. Pre-poll voting was available for one day more, at the 2019 federal election, than at the 2013 and 2016 elections.6
Evidence presented to the JSCEM focused on several concerns regarding pre-poll voting:
voters may not have all the most relevant and up-to-date information they should before casting their vote;
the eligibility criteria are not well recognised;
confusion arises because the widespread take-up of the pre-polling option has led to a view that it is socially acceptable to bend or ignore the rules on eligibility;
pre-poll creates staffing and venue hire expense for the AEC
pre-poll presents challenges for candidates and political parties to provide cover across voting locations; and
an increase in pre-poll voting presents a challenge for the AEC to count votes and deliver a clear and timely election outcome.
Legal academic Professor George Williams AO noted ‘pre-poll voting has become so popular that it is redefining what it means to hold a federal election’.7 He went on to say:
Most of the 2019 election campaign overlapped with pre-poll voting. This is unsatisfactory, and the campaign may need to be lengthened to ensure that candidates and parties can explain their policies and make announcements before pre-polling begins. The blackout on election advertising on television and radio immediately before election day should also be re-examined. It makes little sense to impose the blackout after millions of voters have already made their choice.8
The intersection of pre-poll voting, and media blackout is discussed further in Chapter 5.
The Australian Labor Party expressed agreement with Professor Williams AO position, adding:
… the growth in pre-poll voting over the last few decades has occurred by accident rather than by deliberation or design on the part of policy makers. What was once an exceptional method of voting has become the norm for many Australians, and from all the available evidence it appears that the key driver is convenience.9
Incumbent parliamentarians made submissions to the JSCEM regarding the length of pre-poll.
Member for Goldstein, Mr Tim Wilson MP advocated ‘It is my view that opening the polls three weeks in advance is too early. They should instead be opened one week earlier and three weeks earlier for Central Business Districts and airports.10
Member for Hinkler, Mr Keith Pitt MP identified that the seven pre-polling booths in the 3,504km square electorate resulted in problems with AEC staffing and rental and difficulty in candidates and volunteers getting to booths equally.11
The Liberal Party of Australia noted ‘Millions of Australians are now voting when many key aspects of an Australian election campaign – such as the release of major policies, campaign launches, leaders’ debates and ‘free-time’ election broadcasts – have not yet taken place.’12
They went on to argue that reducing pre-poll to two weeks would:
…still allow a reasonable opportunity for early voting to support voters with legitimate reasons for not being able to attend a polling place on election day. Furthermore, the existing postal vote arrangements would still provide the additional flexibility required for voters with genuine difficulty in attending a polling place on election day, particularly Australians who live in remote communities.13
The Australian Greens also advocated for a limit of two weeks for pre-poll, noting a longer period creates ‘significant strain on volunteer resources, advantaging parties with large supporter bases over smaller parties and individual candidates’.14
Pre-poll attendance data over successive elections shows that the earliest days of the pre-poll window are highly inefficient, with the least numbers of voters attending at that early point in the election period. Attendance escalates over the pre-poll period, towards a high point of attendance at the end.15

Committee comment

Pre-poll is an important mechanism that ensures people who have a legitimate reason to vote early can do so. It has become clear over the past decade that there is an expectation in the community to vote when convenient, and not necessarily because of having a reason as laid out Schedule 2 of the Electoral Act.
Pre-poll creates expense for the AEC and presents challenges for candidates and political parties to staff booths.
The JSCEM notes that the AEC has acted within the remit of the Electoral Act and the pre-poll period for the 2019 election was only a day longer than the 2016 election. However, more significantly, the AEC sizeably increased the number of pre-poll locations. While this intentionally mitigated against the risk of queues on election day, and was an effective strategy for that purpose, it adversely affected those who contested the election because of the challenge of finding volunteers to canvas for support at each location.
The JSCEM recommended in its report on the 2016 election that pre-poll be reduced to two weeks. Subsequent reaction to the 2019 election, at which the AEC stepped up its pre-poll footprint, has led to renewed calls for a two week limit. The consensus is that a two week period best balances the opportunity to participate in an election as a voter, with the logistic demands placed on those who participate as contestants. A two week period is still a lengthy time window in which electors can choose to vote.
The JSCEM finally notes that a shorter pre-poll period will provide an improved opportunity for the AEC to select the best locations that offer superior access in terms of parking, disabled entry, toilets and waiting areas that are sheltered from the weather and/or afford seating for people who have difficulty standing. The extra time to plan and secure pre-poll locations should also help mitigate against uneven geographic selection of sites, where booths are either in excessive proximity or excessively distant.16
Where bookings can be secured early, the AEC should afford as much notice as possible to candidates, so that they can organise their volunteers. Inadequate notice about pre-poll locations has been a continual source of angst for some parties, candidates and their volunteer supporters. Information about separate locations could be advised to candidates in each Division as bookings are progressively secured, rather than together when the final bookings are confirmed.
The JSCEM considers that the volunteer activities associated with pre-polling are integral to a well-organised electoral event, so the AEC should encourage its logistics organisers to recognise these as complementary parts of the election process rather than extraneous activity, or in a number of small cases, a burden.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that, as per its recommendation in the 2016 election report, the pre-poll period be statutorily limited to be a maximum of two weeks prior to election and that the Australian Electoral Commission provides parties and candidates with the earliest possible advice about pre-poll locations as they are booked.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission ensure that voters attending at a pre-poll centre meet the legislated criteria for exercising a pre-poll vote.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Australian Electoral Commission, as part of its existing election advertising campaigns, remind voters of the need to meet legislated criteria for exercising a pre-poll vote.

Postal vote

Eligible voters as prescribed under Schedule 2 of the Electoral Act can apply for a postal vote. Postal Vote Applications (PVAs) can be made online or by completing a postal vote application from AEC offices.
The AEC then issues ballot papers in the mail, which are then returned by post to the AEC.
Some voters have the option of becoming a general postal voter. This means they have pre-registered their details, so they are automatically sent their ballot papers in the post once an election is announced.
The JSCEM received evidence regarding concern in the community when political parties or candidates send postal vote applications along with campaign material to voters. This is sometimes described as a declaration vote or Party postal vote.
In their submission the AEC noted they:
…received complaints of privacy breaches related to political parties or candidates sending out PVAs that are then returned to the party or candidate prior to forwarding to the AEC.
The Electoral Act gives ‘any person or organisation’ the power to issue PVAs and to receive completed applications before passing them on to the AEC. As a result, the AEC is not able to control the collection and use of the PVA data (or the manner of its collection).17
The Australian Greens expressed concern over the handling of postal vote applications by political campaigners, submitting:
There are no grounds from an administrative or participatory democracy perspective for postal vote applications supplied by parties or candidates to be returned to them prior to being forwarded to the AEC. This practice of doublehandling presents the very real risk of postal vote applications not being processed as intended by electors. This practice is also being used by political parties to harvest voter information without their knowledge or consent.18
The Australian Greens elaborated that the ‘party’ postal vote applications could potentially diminish a voters privacy and heightens the risk that the PVA may not be received by the AEC:
‘Party’ postal vote applications contain a return address to a local or state-based campaign postal address, where electors’ information can be recorded before the information is passed on to the AEC. This diminishes electors’ privacy and runs the risk that, when matched with other information that may be held about the elector, a party or candidate may not forward all PVAs to the AEC’.19
Mr Oliver Yates, private capacity, expressed frustration that independent candidates were not able to send out PVA’s as they do not have the same access to the electoral rolls as political parties, writing:
As the AEC refuses to provide access to an electronic data base of electors until 5 days before voting starts as an independent candidate you cannot issue postal votes and you can’t send addressed mail to electors. This is directly discriminatory. Parties and sitting Members have these lists.20
The reliability of the postal system also has an impact on whether, once a PVA is made, the ballots are sent to the voter on time – and if there is enough time for the completed ballots to be sent back to the AEC.
The AEC said that ‘applications received directly by the AEC enable the most timely processing and provide maximum opportunity for electors to receive and return their postal votes’.21
They suggested an improvement to the PVA process, stating:
The supply of paper PVAs by political parties and candidates is an established and accepted method of providing party material to electors. A possible approach to improving the timeliness and accuracy of processing these PVAs is for the AEC to provide political parties and candidates with a “personalized link” to the AEC online PVA system. This link could be included in their mailed campaign letters and might assist in reducing any risk of disenfranchisement.
The increasing number of electors completing online PVAs continues the trend of voters choosing to interact electronically with the AEC and further supports this modernization.22
The JSCEM recognises that it is appropriate for election contestants to build relationships with supporters during the postal vote process, by providing How to Vote materials in conjunction with Postal Vote Application forms. Although the JSCEM recognises that the AEC suggestions are constructive, in seeking to improve the process, it also considers that it would be a backward step if any changes diminished the opportunity for complementary outreach by parties and candidates.

Impact of the variability of the postal service

The AEC noted in its submission that it has no control over the postal service, particularly when voters are based overseas. The delay in voters both receiving their postal vote ballot papers from the AEC and the time taken for completed ballots to be returned was a topic several submitters reflected on:
….one of the issues with the increase in pre-poll voting is that it's more difficult for us—or not more difficult, but it takes longer—to count declaration votes. In the week before the election, we made some statements to the effect that, given the increase in pre-poll voting, it would likely take us a longer period to determine a result’.23
The JSCEM received evidence of how the number of postal votes can cause a delay in calling the election. The AEC referred to ‘variable’ service standards of Australia Post, elaborating this was not just an issue for federal elections but also state elections.24
Timeliness is a key challenge of managing postal votes. PVAs may be made up to the Wednesday evening before the Saturday election - and may be returned up to 13 days after the election day. This means it can be challenging to ensure everyone who has made a PVA receives their ballots in time to vote, as postal votes must happen before or on election day - but not after.
The Electoral Commissioner, Mr Tom Rogers told the JSCEM:
It's worth noting that people are able to apply for a vote up until the Wednesday evening before polling day. That gives us two days to process that for the vote to get out, for people to complete the vote on polling day and then send it back. Whilst it's a great way of providing access to people who might otherwise be travelling on polling day, I think that Wednesday evening cut-off makes it very difficult for us to get votes back in the hands of electors in time.25
The AEC submitted examples of commendable discretionary efforts by AEC staff efforts - around the country - to ensure postal vote ballot papers are received in time, saying:
They go to extraordinary lengths on that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to deliver those postal votes—to the extent that we sometimes engage couriers and also to the extent that sometimes our staff, in their own car, will drive a postal vote out to an elector, particularly if they are elderly and they know they are desperate to get a postal vote, to make sure they have that opportunity. So they do go to extraordinary lengths in that very short 72-hour window to try and deliver the franchise.26
The Electoral Act mandates the 13-day window for the return of postal votes. However, despite this window the JSCEM heard that there are always votes that are returned after the cut-off and are not included in the count:
…all the postal vote certificates, the votes, have got to be received back by us 13 days after the event. If I'm correct, 1,291,564 postal vote certificates were returned to us before the 13-day deadline, so they all arrived back in the AEC. About a million of those were received prior to election day, and 256,000-odd were received after election day but within the period. But I'd have to say that we had something like 3,140 votes that were received back after the 13th day and weren't admitted to the count. About 50 per cent of those votes that were received back after the 13th day were received from overseas.27
The AEC put forward the suggestion that changing the cut-off date for PVAs from the Wednesday prior to election, to the Friday the week prior to the election,28 with the aim of mitigating the challenge of ensuring ballot papers are distributed prior to election day and thus potentially creating a greater window for papers to be returned.

Committee comment

The JSCEM notes the changing reliability of the Australian postal service and the challenges of reliance on overseas distribution services. While any late ballot paper is regrettable, the figure of 3,140 was relatively small both in the context of overall votes cast and in the context of postal vote numbers.
The bigger issue however is concern that letter delivery times may no longer be as reliable as they were, in large part due to the COVID pandemic. The reduction in the number of airflights is impacting adversely on the fastest mail channels.
Whilst it is heartening to hear of the lengths AEC staff will go to in order to ensure postal ballots are received in time – sometimes amounting to exemplary and outstanding examples of public service – it is concerning that any vote is missed.
Changing the PVA cut-off from the Wednesday prior to the election, to the Friday the week prior to the election is one suggestion to improve the process. The JSCEM notes that there is no clear evidence to suggest why it should be the Friday prior (rather than any other day).
The fundamental problem with an earlier cut-off date is that it may disenfranchise people who have no other feasible means to participate, for instance due to remote travel or long hours of work. Given that the underlying risk relates to the pace of postal deliveries, that is where the JSCEM considers that a solution should be focussed. Only if it is not possible to improve the mail service, should it be necessary to limit the opportunity for voters to choose this means for casting a vote. Australia Post has a monopoly over letter services and provides a vital community service in relation to postal voting.
The JSCEM considers that there are few more important or urgent letter products than Postal Vote materials, including applications and returned ballot papers.

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the Government and Australia Post reports back with advice on premium mail products that can support Postal Vote materials in future, including services for the Australian Electoral Commission and for election contestants.

Early voting and the ability to deliver a clear outcome on election night

Australians have come to expect the delivery of an election result on election night. However, the JSCEM took evidence that the rise of pre-poll voting is affecting the AEC’s ability to deliver a clear result quickly.
Although candidates may claim or concede seats on election night, the AEC must comply with multiple tests under the Act before making a formal declaration. There is also a requirement under the Act that declaration votes – including postal votes – have 13 days after the election to be received by the AEC.29 The key principle is that a seat cannot be declared until the margin of the leading candidate exceeds the number of outstanding ballot papers that are yet to be counted (see section 284(2)(c) of the Electoral Act). This means that safe seats are obviously easier to officially declare, whereas marginal seats, that determine who forms government, would usually take longer to finalise.
The AEC elaborated, writing:
The increasing proportion of pre-poll votes has a direct impact on the timing and percentage of the indicative results known on election night. The significantly larger vote counts that result from pre-poll voting centres take longer to process and count on election night.30
… the AEC is acutely aware of the expectation that an indicative election result will be available soon after the close of polls on election day. However, the AEC must conduct the counting of votes strictly in accordance with the Electoral Act.31
The AEC identified options for improvement that would require legislative change including:
Introducing an automated or electronic counting system for the House of Representatives;
Commence counting the pre-poll ordinary votes prior to 6pm on election night (as occurs in New Zealand)32; and/or
Allow postal votes and declaration votes to be opened and ballot papers extracted ready for the count prior to 6pm on election night (as occurs in the United Kingdom).33
Election analyst Antony Green has observed that the ‘release of pre-poll counts completed shortly after the 6 pm close of polls will provide a better picture of the overall election result compared to the current system that usually begins with a slow trickle of unrepresentative small rural polling places.’34

Committee comment

The JSCEM notes the desire of the public for a clear election outcome on election night. However, the requirement for the AEC to wait for 13-days to receive all postal votes, combined with the rise of pre-poll voting affects the AEC’s ability to deliver a timely and clear outcome.
The JSCEM understands that the prescriptive nature of the Electoral Act limits the options available to the AEC to be able to deliver an outcome on election night. It appreciates that changes in voter habits in favour of pre-poll voting will slow the count and can create unwarranted perceptions that the count is somehow defective. Further public take-up of pre-poll or postal voting could mean a slower count, unless changes are made to the Act to enable early counting or preparatory work so that pre-poll votes can be counted on election night.
Legislative change will be required to enable the AEC to introduce new systems – such as commencing counting pre-poll votes prior to the 6pm close of polls on election day. Such changes will need to be carefully considered to ensure they are workable and do not create inadvertent problems.

Key principles of the present system

The JSCEM notes that the manual counting practices used on election night, in conjunction with on-site scrutineering at polling places by representatives of candidates, together ensure that the count is conducted with a high degree of transparency and integrity. These practices should give the public high confidence that the counting of Australian elections is conducted with accuracy and honesty by officials.
Scrutineers appointed by candidates can ask officials to re-check individual papers and escalate ballots that they consider were incorrectly counted or set aside. Scrutineers can vouch for the veracity of a manual count. By contrast an electronic system is inherently closed to observation and cannot promote public confidence to the same degree. Electronic systems are also not immune from programming errors. The market for electronic vote counting software is relatively new and small. Recently the electronic counting system in the ACT was criticised by independent academic analysts, who claim that the coding for the counting software used in the 2020 ACT election included errors.35
The Electoral Act prevents anyone from observing completed ballot papers ahead of 6pm on election night. This is aimed at preventing people who are still voting from being influenced by perceptions about how their fellow electors have voted. For instance if an elector were misled into thinking the election outcome was a forgone conclusion before they had voted, then they may not bother to cast their own vote. Although time zone differences between the states and territories mean that there are obvious imperfections to how this principle operates in practice (principally some Western Australians who late may hear news reports about early results from small Eastern booths), the JSCEM considers that it would be important that early counts do not get publicly disclosed before 6pm local time in each Division.

Safeguards required for early counting of votes

The JSCEM considers that any statutory change to permit early counting of votes must be open to scrutineering and therefore cannot conflict with peak period voting, when party and candidate volunteers are at their busiest handing out How to Vote material.
The JSCEM recognises that voter numbers in the last hour or two of polling on election day are relatively subdued, which does create an opportunity to commence some activities that support the count. For instance, pre-poll ballot boxes could be unpacked and sorted after 4pm (separating for instance Senate and House papers) and counting could commence after 5pm.
Such efforts could only occur where a polling place has enough space and staff to permit segregation of the venue into two areas, to allow the continued concurrent issuance of ballot papers to the final stream of voters. Pre-counting spaces ought to be enclosed rooms to avoid the risk that people casting votes can overhear counting.
It would not be practical to also permit counting of ordinary votes cast on election day, as those ballot boxes will still be in use prior to 6pm.
The impact of counting after 4pm or 5pm would have some impact for scrutineers, but would be less disruptive than if counting began earlier. It would permit some scrutineers to make more productive use of their time at the end of the day (when there are few voters arriving seeking How to Votes) and enable some of these volunteers to conclude their evening at an earlier hour.
If the Act is amended to permit early counting, it will be important to avoid leaking of early counts, as any unofficial information could be disseminated to the public in a misleading form, whether deliberately or inadvertently. Accordingly the JSCEM proposes that persons in attendance at an early count should be prohibited from using electronic devices until after 6pm or such later time when any part of the pre-count result is first remitted by the AEC Officer-in-Charge at a polling place to the AEC.
An exception should be allowed for the Officer in Charge at each polling place, only for their official duties (communicating with central AEC staff about management of resources, to report incidents, or return data through official secure channels). In central AEC offices where any data would be received before 6pm, it is also important that any personal communication devices have been handed in and landline use is tightly controlled for defined purposes.

Safeguards required for preliminary scrutiny (checks of declaration envelopes)

Preliminary scrutiny is the process for ascertaining if voters who could not be found on the electoral roll are entitled to vote, before their ballot paper is placed in a ballot box. These ballot papers are collectively known as ‘declaration votes’, because individuals have to declare in writing that they are entitled to vote and provide details of their address so they can subsequently be checked against the roll. Declaration votes include absentee ballots (from voters who attended a polling place outside their own division); provisional votes (voters who could not be immediately found on the roll); postal votes; and silent votes.
It could be possible to permit ‘preliminary scrutiny’ of declaration vote envelopes, provided that AEC staff endeavour to extract ballot papers face- down so that they cannot be seen before being placed in secure ballot boxes. The danger, if ballot papers can be seen during extraction ahead of election day, is that an observer could count samples of preferences to get an early indication of an election outcome. The JSCEM considers that postal votes and other forms of pre-poll declaration votes should only be counted on election day.
Preliminary scrutiny of declaration envelopes is a very time consuming process and therefore the JSCEM considers this better suits being done at central scrutiny points in the days preceding the election. To do this at polling places on election day could slow rather than speed up the count. The JSCEM proposes that preliminary scrutiny of declaration envelopes should occur at times and places that are advised to relevant candidates for each Division, so that they have the opportunity to send scrutineers. It is not common for scrutineers to observe the preliminary scrutiny process, but it is important to public confidence that the opportunity is provided.

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that, following consultation with stakeholders, including registered political parties, the Electoral Act be reformed to:
Permit at the very least the unfolding and sorting of pre-poll ordinary votes from 4 pm, to be ready to counted from 6 pm.
Commence counting the pre-poll ordinary votes prior to 6 pm on election night, but no earlier than 4 pm. In this window there should be a prohibition on use of communication devices by scrutineers and Australian Electoral Commission staff, other than Australian Electoral Commission Officers-In-Charge at each polling place. To deter early unauthorised communication of results before 6 pm, appropriate penalties should also be included in the Act.
Allow postal votes and other declaration envelopes to be checked and ballot papers from qualified electors to be extracted face down and placed in secure ballot boxes. This process should be permitted over a very limited number of days before election day, to permit commencement of the count of these ballots from election night.

A shift from pre-poll to an election window

As pre-poll numbers are expected to only increase in the future, the JSCEM took evidence regarding the introduction of moving to an election window.
Professor Williams AO suggested an alternative option to the current pre-poll period and election day may be ‘embracing the idea of multiple election days by enabling every person to choose when they vote over say four days or at most a week’.36
The Voter Choice Project put that voters want convenience and should not need to give a reason to vote early, submitting:
We now have a voting period rather than an election day. While there has been some angst about this from political commentators, voters like it. Many of our respondents argued the list of ‘acceptable reasons’ for voting early should be abandoned, as any reason is valid.37
Election windows are used in other jurisdictions. This is where pre-poll is available, but voters do not have to meet a list of strict criteria.

Australian Capital Territory 2020

During the ACT Legislative Assembly election all voters were encouraged to attend a pre-poll centre over a three-week period ‘to allow smaller numbers in a polling place at any one time for COVID safety’.38
Early voting centres were open every day from 28 September and 17 October 2020. This included weekends and public holidays. Operating hours were 9am – 5pm Saturday to Thursday with extended hours to 8pm on Fridays (to coincide with late night shopping in the ACT). Voters had the choice of 15 different early voting centres and were not required to vote within the electorate they were enrolled in.
On the final day of the election period additional polling places, offering voters a choice of 82 locations, were open from 8am to 6pm.39
ACT early voting centres utilised an electronic voting system and voters were encouraged to use the system, although they could request the choice of a paper ballot. It has subsequently been suggested by independent academic analysts, that the counting software contained programming flaws that had potential to impact the accuracy of the count.40 Additional polling places opened on the final election day.

Victoria Local Government 2020

In October 2020, 76 of Victoria’s local governments had elections. Due to COVID-19 all were conducted by post. Ballot papers were sent 15 to 17 days before the close of voting. Ballots needed to be completed and posted back before the close of polls on 23 October 2020.

New Zealand 2020

Voters in New Zealand can vote early – for any reason – in several ways. During the 2020 election, advance voting started on 3 October and ended at 7pm on election day, Saturday 17 October. Voters also had the choice to postal vote or ‘takeaway’ vote – where they pick up their ballot papers and take them away for themselves or on behalf on another person. Voters in isolation had the option to telephone vote via a dictation service.41

Committee comment

Since the launch of this inquiry the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the way government systems and services operate. JSCEM is currently undertaking an Inquiry into the future conduct of elections operating during times of emergency situations to understand how elections could work the future.
In their current format, elections require queues and large numbers of people grouping together which creates challenges for the AEC in selecting locations and designing queuing processes to manage public health social distancing requirements.
The JSCEM understands there are a variety of approaches in other jurisdictions regarding election windows, and other methods of voting beyond pre-poll, postal and ordinary methods.
The JSCEM can explore the issues around different methods of participation as part of its Inquiry into the future of conduct of elections operating during times of emergency situations.

  • 1
    Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, Schedule 2 Grounds of application for postal or pre poll vote, p. 550.
  • 2
    Australian Electoral Commission, ‘Voting Options’, viewed 2 October 2020, <https://www.aec.gov.au/voting/ways_to_vote/>
  • 3
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p. 15.
  • 4
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p. 15.
  • 5
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p. 16.
  • 6
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p. 16.
  • 7
    Professor George Williams AO, Private capacity, Submission 3, p. 1.
  • 8
    Professor George Williams AO, Private capacity, Submission 3, p. 2.
  • 9
    Australian Labor Party, Submission 119, p. 3.
  • 10
    Mr Tim Wilson MP, Submission 18, p. 1.
  • 11
    Mr Keith Pitt MP, Submission 21, p. 1.
  • 12
    Liberal Party of Australia, Submission 129, p. 4.
  • 13
    Liberal Party of Australia, Submission 129, p. 4.
  • 14
    The Australian Greens, Submission 112, p. 9.
  • 15
    See table titled ‘Pre-poll Ordinary Votes by Day’ at: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2019/May/Trends_in_early_voting_in_federal_elections
  • 16
    Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Submission 44, p. 2.
  • 17
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p.17.
  • 18
    The Australian Greens, Submission 112, pp.9-10.
  • 19
    The Australian Greens, Submission 112, pp.9-10.
  • 20
    Mr Oliver Yates, Private capacity, Submission 36, p. 5.
  • 21
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p.18.
  • 22
    Australian Electoral Commission, Submission 120, p.18.
  • 23
    Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 7.
  • 24
    Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 8.
  • 25
    Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 8.
  • 26
    Mr Jeff Pope, Deputy Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 9.
  • 27
    Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 8.
  • 28
    Mr Tom Rogers, Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, Transcript, 6 December 2019, p. 9.
  • 29
    Australian Electoral Commission, Supplementary submission 120.2, p. 2.
  • 30
    Australian Electoral Commission, Supplementary submission 120.2, p. 2.
  • 31
    Australian Electoral Commission, Supplementary submission 120.2, p. 2.
  • 32
    Australian Electoral Commission, Supplementary submission 120.2, p. 2.
  • 33
    Australian Electoral Commission, Supplementary submission 120.2, p. 2.
  • 34
    Antony Green's Election Blog, ‘Should we Count Pre-poll votes before 6pm on Election Day?’, viewed on 30 November 2020, <https://antonygreen.com.au/should-we-count-pre-poll-votes-before-6pm-on-election-day/>
  • 35
    The critique revealed by Dr Vanessa Teague, Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University's College of Engineering and Computer Science, is that certain votes were incorrectly transferred after a candidate was excluded. It was acknowledged that this fortuitously did not appear to impact who was elected on this occasion. <https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7027348/act-electronic-voting-system-flawed-experts-say/>
  • 36
    Professor George Williams AO, Private capacity, Submission 3, p. 2.
  • 37
    The Voter Choice Project, Submission 73, p. 8.
  • 38
    ACT Electoral Commission, ‘FAQ COVID-19 and the 2020 election’, viewed 29 October 2020, <https://www.elections.act.gov.au/elections_and_voting/2020_legislative_assembly_election/covid-19-and-the-2020-act-election/faq-covid-19-and-the-2020-election>
  • 39
    ACT Electoral Commission, ‘Early Voting’, viewed 29 October 2020, <https://www.elections.act.gov.au/elections_and_voting/2020_legislative_assembly_election/2020-polling-places>
  • 40
    The Canberra Times, ‘ACT election 2020: Electronic voting system flawed in 2020 poll, experts say’ viewed on 30 November 2020, <https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7027348/act-electronic-voting-system-flawed-experts-say/>
  • 41
    Te Kaitiaki Take Kōwhiri, New Zealand Electoral Commission, ‘COVID-19’, viewed 29 October 2020, <https://vote.nz/voting/2020-general-election/covid-19/>

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