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April 15, 2019 14:52:12

The federal election is happening on Saturday, May 18. But what if you can’t make it to a polling booth that day?

Dozens of keen voters have asked the ABC’s You Ask, We Answer project to investigate and explain how they can vote early.

So if you’re going on a holiday, are ill, or simply won’t be able to travel to a polling place on voting day, here’s what you need to know.

(Don’t forget: you must be enrolled by 8:00pm on Thursday, April 18, to vote.)

How can I vote early?

There are four ways you can vote early in this federal election:

  • At an early voting centre
  • Via a postal vote
  • On the phone
  • At a mobile polling facility

However, you may not be eligible for all options.

Telephone voting, for example, is offered to Australians who are blind or have low vision, while mobile voting facilities are provided for people living in remote areas of the country or who are currently in hospital, jail or a nursing home.

How do I vote at an early voting centre?

Early voting centres will open around the country on Monday, April 29.

At these centres, you’ll cast your vote in the same way you would at a polling place on election day. You’ll be given a ballot paper to fill out and an official will mark your name off the electoral roll.

To be eligible, the Electoral Act says you must have plans to be interstate, outside of your electoral division or more than 8 kilometres from a polling place on May 18.

You may also be ill or unable to leave your workplace, have religious duties or a reasonable fear for your safety.

However, you won’t be asked to prove your eligibility before you vote — you’ll simply need to state that you are eligible.

In 2016, more than 600 early voting centres were available before the federal election. (FYI: the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will release a list of locations soon).

How can I submit a postal vote?

To cast your vote in the mail, you’ll need to apply for a postal vote through the AEC. The cut-off date for this is Wednesday, May 15.

Once you’ve been accepted, you’ll be sent a ballot paper to fill out, along with a return envelope.

You must fill out your vote and have it witnessed by another person either before or on May 18. Then you’ve got 13 days to get it back to the AEC.

If you plan to be a regular postal voter, you can register your details with the AEC and automatically receive your ballot papers in the mail before every election.

What percentage of Australians vote early?

In 2016, a massive 31 per cent of Australians voted early. That amounts to about 4.5 million votes, according to Parliamentary Library calculations.

The majority of those votes were cast at early voting centres, while 1.2 million were submitted via post.

Dr Peter Chen, a senior lecturer in media politics, public policy and Australian politics at the University of Sydney, said more Australians were choosing to vote early for convenience.

“Early voting has been increasing over the last couple of decades, off a very low base,” he said.

“Back 20 to 30 years ago you had to go and get the paper ballot and post it in and get people to sign the back. Now you can go into a pre-poll station and the electoral commission has been working hard to facilitate voting across a variety of forms, including voting outside your area.

“It’s convenient. [Australians] work on weekends, they’ve got busy lives, they don’t necessarily want to stand in a queue on election day to vote.”

At the 2013 federal election, 26 per cent of votes were cast early.

What should I consider before I cast a pre-poll vote?

Dr Chen said the vast majority of people have usually decided how they’re going to vote long before the election is called.

“So the election process itself doesn’t necessarily affect their vote,” he said.

But early voting can be challenging for swing voters, who rely on the campaign to help make up their mind.

Most political parties recognise this and now design their campaigns to ensure you hear their pitch early, Dr Chen said.

“In the old days, election campaigns used to be very scripted. They had a narrative that developed over the four weeks and culminated in a final pitch to voters just before the election. Obviously that’s less useful when a third of your voters are not sitting around waiting for that,” he said.

“They have to realise that once the pre-poll begins, a proportion of their constituency vote and they need to have the messages of the day.”

“So we see a lot of policies come out early now, rather than dribbled out throughout the campaign.”

What if I’m currently overseas?

If you’re temporarily living and working overseas, you are not required to vote.

But if you wish to have your say, you can register with the AEC as an overseas voter.

You can then apply for a postal vote or vote in person at select Australian embassies, consulates and high commissions.

Full coverage of Australia Votes

Topics:

federal-elections,

government-and-politics,

elections,

politics-and-government,

australia

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