REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Electronic voting in October? Surely you jest

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Queensland Country Life senior journalist Sally Gall.

Polling booths such as this one in Townsville were much quieter than usual during Saturday's Queensland local government elections. Photo: Jessica Johnston.

Polling booths such as this one in Townsville were much quieter than usual during Saturday's Queensland local government elections. Photo: Jessica Johnston.

If you'd like a glimpse into some of the challenges the voting population of the US may face in November under current circumstances, the last month in Queensland could provide a few insights.

I'm not suggesting any of the candidates in the quadrennial local government elections held on Saturday night were of Trump-esque proportions.

Rather it was the conundrum of begging people to refrain from close human contact on the one hand while enticing them out of their homes to vote on the other that had overtones of the US president's mixed messaging of recent days.

It divided people firmly into two camps, those who would risk a fine rather than vote, and those who felt the barrage of measures - hunting out your own HB pencil to take into the voting booth, sanitising sprays, and that magic 1.5m - gave them enough confidence to exercise their democratic right.

Mercifully, people handing out how to vote cards were also banned - one can only hope that's a permanent change.

You couldn't say the state government didn't bend over backwards to give people alternatives - the public beat the door down to register to postal vote, pre-polling was offered for extended hours each day, and there was even telephone polling (although not many seemed to know it existed until polling day when, surprise, surprise, it was jammed all day).

In the end, it looks like 78 per cent cast a vote, 5 per cent down on the elections of four years ago when no life-changing events were hanging over peoples' heads - not a bad result.

Out in the Channel Country they elected Zorro, Toonk and Tractor as mayors, and Dogga and Red as councillors.

Why was the Queensland government so keen to hold the poll, in the face of a rising tide of opposition?

Would it have had anything to do with the two state by-elections being held on the same day?

Or maybe it was that 19 of the 77 local government areas - not a majority in number but covering most of the state in area - were registered for automatic postal voting and would not have faced the obstacles of other voters?

The corruption allegations that saw comprehensive reforms undertaken in the last three years - 113 criminal charges laid against 21 councillors or council employees in Queensland, and two of the four councils in the state's south-east dissolved and placed into administration - probably had a bit to do with the push to get the elections done.

The public and the government alike are craving stability and people with an unchallenged mandate as they go forward into the unknown.

That's what the Local Government Association of Queensland felt anyway, upon receiving the news that 36 incumbent mayors had been returned, including 14 unopposed.

On current trends, only a quarter of incumbent mayors would be out the door, the lowest rate in the last two decades.

"There has never been more important time to ensure the community has strong leaders in place," LGAQ boss Greg Hallam said.

The opposition tried telling Queensland's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk that she needs to instigate full postal voting for the state poll due in October but she said she had more pressing issues right now.

She did call for a review into the Electoral Commission Queensland's handling of the process though, after results couldn't be displayed electronically on Saturday night.

My guessing is that despite our current isolated state, we won't be heading towards electronic voting anytime soon.

Sally Gall

Senior journalist, Queensland Country Life

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