Early voting trend puts heat on political campaigns

The Victorian Electoral Commission is preparing for more than half of all voters to cast their ballots before election day, turning away from local sausage sizzles in favour of pre-polling without a queue.

Just over 50 per cent of people voted early, including by post, for the first time at the November 2018 state election and the commission on Monday said they expected that trend to continue.

The VEC counting votes in 2010.Credit:Penny Stephens

Of almost 4.4 million voters enrolled in Victoria, the commission expects 1.7 million people to vote at a pre-poll centre and another 600,000 to use postal votes.

Votes will also be cast by post, absentee ballots, and interstate and overseas voting centres, leaving fewer than half of all voters lining up on November 26.

Former Labor strategist Kos Samaras, a pollster from the RedBridge Group, said parties and candidates needed to ramp up their campaigns within weeks to target early voters.

“If they’re not [campaigning early], then they’re going to struggle,” Samaras said. “They will be wise to stretch that out a little bit longer, start a bit earlier, much to the annoyance of the public.”

Samaras said it took a while to shape someone’s opinion, and it now took even longer and was more costly due to the decline of free-to-air television, radio and newspapers. He said there should now be two peaks in political campaigns, one targeting the early voters and a second focused on election day.

The electoral commission will go on a hiring spree to find 20,000 casual staff to run the election, with 155 early voting centres, 50 per cent more than in 2018.

Those centres will open from November 14, with extended opening hours to make voting as accessible as possible.

“Workforce availability at the federal election was an issue, and I expect Victoria to be no different,” electoral commissioner Warwick Gately said at a media briefing on Monday.

Samaras said people who voted at pre-polling were generally wealthier, had more time on their hands, and were slightly older. Voters on election day tended to be more ethnically diverse and poorer, particularly in Greater Melbourne, he said.

Generally, that meant postal votes favoured the Liberal Party. But Samaras said this election could buck that trend in some seats, if people in the city’s working-class outer suburbs turn away from Labor after the pandemic.

Monash University senior politics lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian said there appeared to be more volatility in the electorate than normal and trends could not always be counted on for the Victorian election.

He said parties and candidates needed to get their messaging and policies out early, but that the prominence of state governments during COVID-19 meant many voters would already have strong views.

“The idea that people will be waiting until the last minute to cast their vote, it just doesn’t occur to the same extent as in the past,” Ghazarian said.

Victorians can register to vote by phone if they are required to isolate due to COVID-19, are blind, have a physical disability, or are in a declared emergency such as flood or fire. Registrations open November 14, or November 19 for those infected with COVID-19.

Voters travelling interstate, overseas or to remote locations with no fixed address can receive a ballot pack by email, which can be printed and returned by post.

Visit the VEC website for more information.

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