'Don't Give Up Your Right To Vote': QLD Election To Go Ahead Despite Coronavirus
Millions across Queensland will head to the polls next weekend, with authorities taking unprecedented steps to protect voters from coronavirus risk.
QLD's local government election, as well as by-elections for two state parliament seats, will be held on March 28. The votes will determine councillors for each of the state's 77 local areas, as well as for the state seats of Bundamba and Currumbin.
Voting is compulsory, but preparations have been thrown into uncertainty in light of sweeping new recommendations from the federal government and health authorities in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned, with the restrictions to be enforced by state law.
Early voting opened Monday, and the Queensland Electoral Commission has moved to reassure voters that their health and safety is a focus through the election, with a range of measures instituted to mitigate risk.
Pat Vidgen, Queensland’s Electoral Commissioner, called the situation "extraordinary" but said the election would be going ahead as it was deemed an essential gathering -- in contrast to a "non-essential" one, such as a music festival or a theatre performance.
"Elections facilitate an essential service by providing for democratic representation for Queenslanders," he said in a statement.
"However, we recognise that this is an extraordinary situation and are adapting our service model accordingly. This includes additional hygiene precautions and people management measures to be implemented at the nearly 1500 early voting centres and polling booths across Queensland."
Vidgen said the ECQ had extended its opening hours to deal with a "huge" spike in applications from Queenslanders wanting to lodge their ballots via postal vote, rather than in-person at a booth, with nearly 100,000 applications since Friday. Early voting opened on Monday, and the ECQ said it may extend normal opening hours if demand required.
As well as recommending people bring their own pen or pencil to fill in ballots, he also detailed measures to be taken at polling booths, including:
- Additional cleaning with all surfaces to be regularly disinfected;
- Extra staff to assist with queue control and monitoring numbers;
- Tables and screens positioned to maximise distance between people;
- New measures to take votes of residents of aged care facilities.
Jonathan Sri, Greens councillor for the Gabba ward in Brisbane, encouraged voters to ensure their voices were heard.
"It's important we don't give up our right to vote, because in times of crisis we still need to hold our leaders accountable for the decisions they make," he told 10 daily.
"We are encouraging residents to postal vote or prepoll if possible to reduce the number of people who turn up on election day, and we trust that the ECQ will be taking the necessary health precautions."
He said the Greens wanted to see the postal vote application deadline extended, as well as opening pre-polling booths on Saturday to let more people vote early. Sri said "disenfranchisement is a major concern" and that he was worried young people may miss out on a chance to vote early if they wished.
An ECQ spokesperson told 10 daily the deadline for postal vote applications was legislated in law, and could not be changed.
Neil Symes, campaign co-ordinator for Pauline Hanson's One Nation, told 10 daily that the party recommended people use early voting centres, vote over the phone or via postal ballot, and also bring their own pen or pencil to booths.
10 daily has also contacted the Liberal National Party and Labor Party in QLD for comment.
The ECQ has information about early voting, polling places and postal vote applications on its website.