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Concern as SA voters skip the campaign

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Voting in the state election starts Friday – two weeks before the official polling day and the earliest start ever.

A growing number of voters – possibly more than one-fifth of all electors – will take advantage of a record 23 early voting booths around the state in a trend analysts warn leaves some voters uninformed.

Early voting has taken a quantum leap in recent years with pre-poll and postal votes at the last state election passing the 21 per cent mark for the first time, well up on 17 per cent in 2010 and just 11 per cent in the 1990’s.

An even higher number of early votes is expected this time around with centres open from Friday, February 28 – 15 days before election day.

In 2010 the centres opened 11 days before election day.

Adelaide University political analyst Dr Clem Macintyre said the two week period for early voting is a mismatch with the campaign.

“It’s a worry because the campaign-proper isn’t finished,” he told InDaily.

“Not all the information is out there and in the case of the Liberal Party, they haven’t had their official launch event or released their policy costings.”

Flinders University’s Haydon Manning agrees.

“It deals voters out of the full campaign, especially if there is a development late in the final days,” Manning said.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon that’s just snuck up on us.”

The Electoral Commission of South Australia noted the surge in postal and pre-poll votes in its 2010 State Election report describing it as “a considerable increase in the number of postal vote applications received and returned “.

The number of postal votes had indeed jumped – by 50 per cent on the 2006 number of around 61,000 to 93,000.

It’s more difficult to know how many early poll votes there were; the vote type is bundled together with absentee votes from the official Saturday polling day (where voters lodge their vote at a booth outside their electorate).

Changes were made to postal voting rules for 2014, but the access to pre-polling day voting centres appears to be more relaxed.

“We’re reasonably satisfied that the number of postal votes will plateau,” a commission spokeswoman told InDaily.

“Early voting access will be similar to last time.

“You need to either reside more than eight kilometres from a polling booth, be travelling around that time, have an illness or disability or be a carer and the other (growing) criteria is if you are working.”

One senior Liberal Party official said the early voting was a “nonsense”.

“You’ll have 25 per cent of voters who are subject to TV ads and part of the campaign and the other 75 per cent subject to a 72 hour TV blackout and a full campaign; how is that consistent?

“Maybe it’s time for a polling period that covers about three days.”

A list of the 23 early voting centres is available here.

Postal voting is expected to be lower this year after amendments late last year to the Electoral Act that ended the practice where political parties could process postal vote applications and send ballot papers out, complete with how-to-vote cards.

Macintyre said the change was needed.

“It was a nonsense to have the parties so closely involved in the process and that now seems to have stopped with little evidence so far that they are out there helping people with their postal votes.

“The recognition by the Electoral Commission that the policies and procedures were wrong is a clear signal to the next parliament’s legislators that more electoral reform is needed.”

On the federal scene, meanwhile, police will be called in to investigate 128 cases where Australians voted more than once in the 2013 federal election, with one person suspected of voting 15 times.

The Australian Electoral Commission said yesterday there were numerous electors who voted up to seven times, with one person alleged to have voted nine times, another 12 times and one 15 times.

”We sent inquiry letters to 18,770 electors who had multiple marks recorded beside their names,” AEC acting head Tom Rogers told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday.

Replies are still being processed but more than 8200 have been ruled out as ”official error”.

Another 1979 people have admitted voting more than once.

”The greater majority of those, over 81 per cent, being elderly, with poor literacy, or with a poor comprehension of the electoral process,” Rogers said.

In some instances, voters received postal votes and were also provided with ballot papers from mobile AEC officers visiting aged care facilities, he added.

”There are 128 electors who have more than two marks recorded beside their names,” Rogers said.

He could provide no reason for the multiple votes, but said the AEC has notified the Australian Federal Police and Department of Public Prosecutions and plans to refer a large number of cases.

”We take it very seriously,” he said.

Liberal senator Dean Smith said such a high number of repeated votes could not be put down to ”electoral literacy”.

”That seems to me a very blatant abuse of the process,” he said.

– with AAP

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