Millions of Australians seem to want this election over already, with a record number casting pre-poll votes this year. Yet in a cruel twist, this ballot-busting early turnout could actually delay the final result being known.
There have been 3 million pre-poll votes cast as of Wednesday morning – up from about 1.8 million at this stage of the last election – and Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said the nation was on track to “easily” set a new record.
“As a total, I think about 3.2 million people voted early at the last election – and given that the last three days are always the busiest, we’re expecting that to be significantly increased,” he said.
“Just yesterday it was 400,000 in one day.”
At the same time, about 1.4 million people have also applied for a postal vote this election, which Mr Rogers said was also an increase on the last election.
Early voters are supposed to have a good reason to front a pre-poll booth, but it is loosely policed.
Mr Rogers said pre-poll turnout varied markedly between electorates, “which is very interesting around the country and we’ll have to unpick that after the event”.
Result could be delayed
The massive number of early votes will stretch the resources of the Australian Electoral Commission, with Mr Rogers warning it created more complexity around counting on Saturday.
“It’s a huge logistic activity; we’ll be doing our very best, but there may well be some delays on the night,” he said.
Most pre-poll votes will be counted when voting closes at 6pm on Saturday, but some, including declaration votes, are not counted until the days after the election.
The ABC’s chief elections analyst, Antony Green, has become a key figure to watch on election nights, with many waiting on his definitive call on the result.
Yet Mr Green echoed the commissioner’s warning the early votes could hold things up – and if the count is very close the result might not be known on Saturday.
“The poor old electoral commission has these gigantic pre-poll centres to try to count on the night, and they have to use extra staff who haven’t been working on polling places on the day,” he said.
“On Saturday night if it is a close contest, yes, it will delay the results.
“There may be a couple of the gigantic pre-polls they won’t be able to count on the night.
“They may delay them, and there is some discussion going on about it at moment.”
Still, Mr Green was optimistic he could make a final call on the result on Saturday if the votes matched the opinion poll trends.
“Really, we should know the result on the night, unless it is very close,” he said.
Pre-polling to be examined
Pre-poll figures have been rising for years and the issue is expected to come under scrutiny after this election.
“It has been going up every election for more than a decade,” Mr Green said.
“All the research that has been done on pre-poll voting says if people pre-poll once they are more likely to vote [that way] again.”
Mr Rogers said the early voting system would be looked at soon.
“My understanding is that Parliament is actually going to examine this issue after the election, to see what the impact of the increase in early voting is,” he said.