Democracy versus disease: voters shielded from virus threat

First, voters were urged to take their own pencil to the ballot box. Now, how-to-vote cards have been banned. And elections could still be postponed altogether.

Mar 20, 2020, updated Mar 20, 2020

As the pandemic response disrupts daily life, the democratic process is not immune and the State Government and Electoral Commission of Queensland want to protect voters from COVID-19.

Under new powers that passed through Parliament this week, the commission has been ordered to issue a formal directive to all candidates to help enforce social distancing at polling stations. All councils have elections on March 28, when there will also be by-elections in the state seats of Bundamba and Currumbin, and a state election is seven months away.

Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe today suggested candidates hit the hustings online, or become more creative on the streets, rather than resort to the usual how-to-vote cards, fliers, leaflets and other material.

“Use traditional election-size signs, put them on a table so voters can help themselves, print it on a t-shirt – there are plenty of ways to get the message across without having to get close to people,” Hinchliffe said.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young, who now has the power to postpone or cancel elections, maintains “the risk of contracting COVID-19 at a polling location is low”.

“People will be frequently entering and exiting the environment, spending little time in static close contact, which reduces the risk of spread of COVID 19,” Young said.

“I appreciate the measures being proposed by Electoral Commission Queensland as they should address the risk of community transmission of COVID-19, while allowing important electoral processes to continue.”

In the latest update from Queensland Health, there were 144 cases of COVID-19 across the state, an increase of 55. People have been urged to practice ‘social distancing’ and stay at least 1.5m from each other.

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