Jostle goes out of voting

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“WHAT a waste of even recycled paper,” I hear many people say, referring to the glossy brochures being thrust into hands and letterboxes over the next few months.

Well, yes, but at least our Assembly election – by sensibly borrowing a Tasmanian initiative – has spared us running the gauntlet of enthusiastic party workers handing out even more paper at polling booths. Quite simply, canvassing for votes within 100 metres of a booth is prohibited.

This restriction extends even to candidates’ signs, as I well remember from visiting a polling booth in Sandy Bay, Hobart. The then-Leader of the Opposition lived within the 100-metre boundary and was obliged to remove a large “Vote for Me” poster from his front garden.

Party strategists work to circumvent the 100-metre rule, but with little success. Most polling booths are located in ACT schools and it is possible to drive into a parking area past anyone manning the artificial boundary. Even the recent addition of fences around schools will not improve the party enthusiasts’ chances because, again, most fences will be within the 100 metre zone thus preventing pamphleteers massing at the gates.

All well and good, but why not move to the next step and borrow another initiative, this time, I understand, from SA: let large how-to-vote signs hang inside each polling booth.

The voting suggestions could be displayed around the polling-booth hall and constituents simply make their choice and vote as now.

The Robson rotation practised in ACT Assembly elections, whereby candidates are rotated in different order on party ballot papers, can be addressed by a circular how-to-vote so no individual obtains an advantage – like any fair collective publicity put out by a party’s headquarters for their team of hopefuls.

However, the real value of the proposal – even with electronic voting – would be in Federal elections, where the need for volunteers jostling outside polling booths to hand out how-to-vote papers could be removed. Certainly voting signs inside would be more democratic to those who cannot man booths outside and considerable paper and effort would be saved.

Unfortunately, it is claimed Federal (and State) politicians don’t trust voters to know what they are doing without assistance. If true, this raises serious doubts about the right of some people to be made to attend a polling booth or vote at all – but abolishing compulsory voting probably is a bridge too far at this point.

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