Why the election may already be decided by the time you cast your vote

As early voting opens today across the state, an estimated 70 per cent of Queenslanders are set to cast their votes ahead of election day in a move that could change the face of election campaigns and delay the counting process.

Oct 19, 2020, updated Oct 19, 2020
Photo: ABC

Photo: ABC

In an unprecedented move, around 2 million Queenslanders are expected to cast their votes early in the upcoming state election due to coronavirus safety fears.

The Queensland Electoral Commission (ECQ) said it initially expected to receive about half a million applications for postal votes, but have already received at least a million. Postal voting is no longer an option after registrations closed last Friday.

This shift in election practice prompted the major parties to hold their campaign launches yesterday, and today make what could be the final pitch to some voters.

Asking for Labor to be re-elected, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said the election came at a crucial time for Queensland and would determine who led the state for the next four years.

“This is going to be a very close race,” Palaszczuk said, reiterating that her government had supported Queensland throughout the pandemic and recession.

“All that could be at risk because of Deb Frecklington and her deals with One Nation and all the other parties.”

Palaszczuk said a re-elected Labor government would take $100 million from the already announced $500 million Backing Queensland Business Investment Fund, which is funded through borrowings, to help small and medium sized businesses compete.

Another $40 million would be set aside for small business and export grants, COVID-safe planning and to continue existing government-business initiatives.

Frecklington, meanwhile, announced an LNP recycling policy, vowing to keep more batteries and electronics out of landfill and build roads from recycled plastic. She said an LNP government would provide the economic conditions to help Queensland’s business sector and manufacturing industry put on more workers.

“Only the LNP have an economic plan to create secure jobs, to create new industry, to back the manufacturing industry, to make sure that we are getting people into work,” Frecklington said, pointing to Queensland having Australia’s highest unemployment rate.

But Labor has ramped up the attack on the LNP over its budget plans, with a bus set to tour the state emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t Risk The LNP Cuts’. The LNP has yet to unveil its policy costings, but has set a target of a budget surplus in its first term.

Frecklington defended the campaign decision to wait until all LNP policies had been announced to detail the costings.

“All of our promises are clear and fully costed,” Frecklington said, describing the bus as “another Labor lie”.

“All of the costings will be released in due course. Labor haven’t released their costings either. Just by saying they’re borrowing, that’s not saying how they’re going to pay for things.”

Where can I find my early polling station?

From today until Friday, October 30, voters can walk into one of 200 polling booths across the state to have their say in the future leader of the state.

ECQ chief executive Pat Vidgen said the commission had extended early polling hours to cope with the historic numbers of people expected to flood polling booths.

Extended voting hours include four late nights on Tuesday and Thursdays and a second Saturday on October 24.

You can find your nearest early voting centre or polling booth here.

A tsunami of postal votes

Vidgen said he was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of postal votes.

“After two days, we received 92,000 applications for postal votes,” Vidgen said.

By mid-last week they had hit the 745,000 mark and it was still growing.

“To put that into context, in 2017 we received in total 360,000 applications,” he said.

“And in March this year at the local government election, [we] received 570,000 applications.”

Adding in the 1 million early postal votes already received, that leaves about 1.3 million electors to fill in the ballot sheet on election day — just 30 per cent of voters.

What COVID restrictions will apply at polling booths?

Vidgen said people were very concerned about COVID-19 and wanted to spend as little time at a polling booth as possible.

For those planning to vote on election day, the ECQ has asked people to socially distance, use provided hand sanitiser and bring their own pen or pencil to mark off their ballot.

Vidgen said the ECQ was planning for all scenarios and said in the unlikely event of a lockdown due to a major coronavirus outbreak, polling may be adjourned in that area.

“If there was an outbreak throughout the state then we would need to … investigate if we could go to a full postal vote system, or need more time,” he said.

Why lodge a postal vote?

Beaudesert cattle property owners Ian and Sue Harrison have opted to postal vote because they were in the high-risk coronavirus age group.

“Due to COVID-19 and isolated on a property, it is easier and safer for us,” Mr Harrison said.

“It will also reduce us having to go into the crowds on polling day and fighting your way through all the stalls and all the folk who hand out the how-to-vote cards.”

For Acacia Ridge mum Joy Hagan, whose son lives with autism, she prefers to steer clear of the election day crowds and cast her vote on a more calm day.

“Going to stand in line at schools or churches is not good for me, so I just go and do the pre-polling and it’s a lot easier,” she said.

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“You hardly get people pushing papers in front of your face and it’s usually a lot calmer than on election day.”

Hagan said she does not tune in to the election campaign as she already has her mind made up on who she will vote for.

“I’ve always gone for one [party] since I was 18,” she said.

“I just walk straight in, mark it off and walk straight out.”

How will early voting impact election campaigns?

Paul Williams, a Griffith University political scientist, said he thought postal voting and early polling would change the way parties campaign but not how people vote.

“We will see a huge surge in these first few days of pre-polling, with these voters likely to be the most tuned in,” Dr Williams said.

“They’re probably rusted-on voters who know what they want, for example, LNP voters determined to change the Government.

“That means parties must “front-end” their campaign with big-ticket items to catch early voters.

“We saw this a couple of weeks ago … when Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington offered up the $33 billion Bruce Highway policy — a policy that under normal [non-COVID] conditions might have been a vote-switcher.

“The old days of building slowly to a crescendo in the last week are over — every day now counts.”

Williams said there will likely be two peaks in the election campaign. “The second peak will come in the last few days when each leader implores the apathetic and undecideds to support them,” he said.

“That means sweeteners across a range of sectional interests.”

Will the influx of early votes delay counting?

The record number of postal votes meant the ECQ was expecting the counting process to be delayed.

Vidgen urged postal voters to fill out their ballot as soon as they received them and send it back straight away.

“In 2017, we had 11 per cent of the vote around 300,000 votes through the post,” he said.

“Yet the final declaration after election day took 13 days, in fact on day 12 only half the seat were declared.

“And that was with only 300,000 votes [not a million]”.

– ABC / Lexy Hamilton-Smith

– With Sean Parnell

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