The Central Goldfields shire claims its residents were “frustrated” at not having an early voting centre in the shire prior to the State Election, and plans to lobby state and federal electoral agencies for a future facility in Maryborough.
But just how popular is early voting becoming, and can every town have an early voting centre?
The Victorian Electoral Commission this year removed a personal declaration requirement when voting early, and anticipated a growth in the practice.
Bendigo voters get in early
Just under half of those who cast votes in Bendigo East did so early – 42.5 per cent.
That’s an increase of 20 per cent since 2010 and six per cent rise since 2014.
In Bendigo West, 15,927 people voted early last month, compared with 9715 in 2014.
Over the past eight years, early voting in Bendigo West has increased steadily, but not as remarkably as Bendigo East.
Unfortunately the VEC does not provide a breakdown of early voting via postcode, which makes the hypothesis tricky.
It could be argued that people in Castlemaine and Maldon – other areas that don’t have an early voting centre – didn’t have the opportunity to vote early due to the geography of the voting centres – Bendigo East’s voting centre was in Strathdale and Bendigo West’s in Golden Square.
However, Mount Alexander Shire mayor Bronwen Machin said she had not heard any grumblings from the community about a lack of voting centre in Castlemaine.
“Its not something that is on our radar as a problem,” she said.
Her thoughts were echoed by fellow Castlemaine Ward councillor Max Lesser.
Geography doesn’t provide any clarity as Bendigo East in fact is more spread out than Bendigo West –covering 2711 square kilometres compared to 1524.
VEC’s voting centre criteria
A VEC spokesperson said early voting centres are selected based on a number of factors, including – but not limited to:
- the requirements of our operations
- building size
- availability to lease for six months.
“Most early voting centres for the 2018 State Election also served as the District Election Office. As such, considerations including a longer lease period, access for trucks, and ample storage areas were necessary factors in sourcing locations,” she said.
Across Victoria in the 2018 State Election each of the 88 districts had at least one early voting centre.
Additional early voting centres were established in districts covering a large geographical area or that expected high early-voting numbers – there were 103 early voting centres in total.
“The VEC is aware of the increasing trend towards early voting, and for future elections will conduct analysis about the need for extra voting centres during the early voting period,” she said.
What’s in it for them?
Most people who spoke with the Bendigo Advertiser on Day 1 of pre-poll voting said it was more convenient to cast their vote early.
Labor MP Jacinta Allan at the time described the amount of people attending the Bendigo East booth on Day 1 as “unprecedented”.
The state government earlier this year passed legislation which permitted the early extraction and processing of early votes.
“Early votes were able to be extracted and sorted from 4.00 pm on election day, to ensure they were ready to count from 6.00 pm. All own-District early votes were counted on election night. Overall, 71 per cent of the total enrolment was counted on election night – almost 3 million ballot papers,” the VEC spokesperson said.
Ripon lags behind
Ripon had one of the lower percentages of early votes across the state at around 20 per cent.
But the electorate’s percentage of early voters has grown at the same pace as Bendigo West – 11 per cent.
With an early voting centre in Stawell, Central Goldfields Shire Chief Administrator Noel Harvey argued it was difficult for Maryborough residents in his shire to have the opportunity.
“We’ve received a significant amount of feedback from residents about how difficult it was to access an Early Voting Centre,” he said.
“It’s no surprise that the Central Goldfields Shire had one of the lowest early voting statistics in the State, and I believe both commissions have a duty to make it as easy as possible for residents to exercise their democratic right.”
The VEC spokesperson said voters could cast their vote at any early voting centre across the state.
Bendigo East – 19,155 people voted early (42.5% of votes)
Bendigo West – 15,927 people voted early (38%)
Ripon – 9,059 people voted early (20.7%)
Bendigo East – 15,653 people voted early (37%)
Bendigo West – 9715 people voted early (24%)
Ripon – 6051 people voted early (14%)
Bendigo East – 8671 people voted early (22.5%)
Bendigo West – 5006 people voted early (12.8%)
Ripon – 3279 people voted early (9.2%)
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