COVID-19 DIARY – QUEENSLANDERS DECIDE WHETHER TO VOTE?

Coronavirus: Queensland faces slow count in local elections

For the past few years Karen has worked near our house on local and state election days.

Local council elections were set to take place on Saturday, March 28.

Not exactly an issue one month earlier when people cannot directly return from China, South Korea and Iran.

Not exactly an issue two weeks earlier when the Prime Minister was still hoping to go see his Sharkies and toilet paper could not be found on the shelf at your local IGA.

Yet very much an issue on the 28th as people weighed up the safety of anything that reeked of a large group of people coming together in one area over a long day.

Karen had worked at this polling station over a few years and traffic is low there comparatively at a few thousand but that now seemed an awful lot to me.

I believed it was up to Karen to make the decision for herself and so Karen worked and I made sure that I went and voted at that station too.

I am still not sure how I feel about that.

In Australia voting is compulsory with voter turnout often around 90-92%.

In developed nations Australia is fairly unique in this sense.

In the United Kingdom for example it is not compulsory and voter turnout has dropped over recent decades.

In America where it decides not local politicians but prosecutors and sheriffs, voting is often made by 55-65% of the populace.

In Tasmania local elections are not compulsory, are done purely by postal voting and under certain circumstances can be e-mailed. In that state where the people regularly and consistently vote by at least 90% for state and federal elections, the voter turnout for elections that have the convenience of postal voting drops to 65% consistently.

This strongly suggests Australians vote because they believe they have to.

In the lead-up to elections Australians can pre-poll vote by attending set-up polling stations in the days ahead of an election.

They can also opt for a postal vote but cannot request one past a certain deadline.

Pre-poll voting started on the 16th of March with an increased demand leading to extended opening hours.

Applications for postal voting closed at 7pm the same day but additional options were given for people to lodge applications by email and extra print services were secured to increase demand for ballot papers.

Increased staff were employed and opening hours increased at call centres and polling stations to meet unprecedented demand.

Even so on the 25th of March the Electoral Commission Queensland advised “Telephone voting is a limited service specifically for our most vulnerable and isolated citizens.

The ECQ has increased capacity ten-fold to help extend the service to people who have been advised to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19.  

However, the telephone voting service is experiencing unprecedented demand, including people who are not eligible for a telephone vote, jeopardising the availability of the service for those who most need it.

Most electors are able to vote in person and precautions are being taken to ensure voting is quick and safe.

Also if postal voters had not received their ballots they could still vote early or on election day.

On the 26th of March Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young advised “we know, due to our fantastic pre-polling arrangements, and with the way Queenslanders have responded, and with the postal vote process, with all of that the number of Queenslanders left to vote by Saturday will be relatively small”.

You can see why some of the 3.2 million eligible voters in Queensland were still angry.

As election day dawned there was a lot of chatter on social media by people who insisted they would not vote and they would not pay a fine. Local elections carry the largest fines for not voting in Australia

Some found polling stations to be less time consuming with less contact with people than going to a supermarket. Others did not.

I went down around midday, I lined up outside the building where two voting staff were present to ensure social distancing but there was no one there.

I went inside and got ticked off by my wife.

I picked up a pencil and voted over a station. Then I dropped them in a cardboard box and placed my pencil in a bucket of sanitised water and left.

Full disclosure I have worked for the ECQ twice in the past four years at their call centres and enjoyed my time there.

I believe in voting, I even believe in compulsory voting and I believe that a lot of people were looking for an excuse not to vote.

But I also felt fear that day, fear for my wife and fear that we were making a mistake.

I believe more should have been done.

They could’ve opened up the dates to complete telephone or postal voting.

There are logistics and laws involved that may have needed changing and I suppose the medial advice has played out and the danger has passed but for many Queenslanders the fact that these elections went ahead will remain a travesty.

It will be interesting to see how fines are issued and enforced in the months ahead.

Voter turnout on election day was 750,000 or 75%.

Telephone voting was made by 34,000 people.

570,000 postal votes were distributed.

1.2 million Queensland did pre-poll voting.

On the 28th of March, there were 625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Queensland.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken.

I picked up Karen later that night and we drove to a local Italian place we love called Marinara to pick up dinner. The business often bustling took my order close to 9pm and handed us a free dessert for our patronage during the economic downturn.

They make fantastic pizza and pasta but a local business is something more personal than how good they are at what they do.

In this simple exchange both of us were gesturing we wanted to be there for each other.

Not a bad sentiment in these times.

-Lloyd Marken

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The view while waiting for Karen. Copyright Lloyd Marken.