News Politics Australian Politics Federal Election 2022 Phone voting expanded after row over ‘exclusions’ for COVID-positive

Phone voting expanded after row over ‘exclusions’ for COVID-positive

The AEC had faced a last-gasp court challenge to the phone voting ruling

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The Australian Electoral Commission has expanded telephone voting after concerns thousands of COVID-19 infected people would be barred from voting in the election.

It came as the AEC warned of lengthy delays for Australians in isolation but keen to cast their vote on Saturday.

The AEC’s move followed urgent talks with the federal government on Friday morning after it emerged that thousands of voters could be excluded by rules for people who tested positive for the virus between last Saturday and before 6pm on Tuesday.

It was intended they would be allowed to lodge only postal votes. But many missed the deadline for postal applications, which closed at 6pm on Wednesday, leaving them without any way to cast their ballot.

Phone voting was previously available only to those who tested positive after 6pm on Tuesday.

A Melbourne independent candidate had threatened to take the federal government to court on Friday to ensure people excluded by the postal deadline could instead vote by phone.

Monique Ryan, who is challenging Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, raised more than $126,000 in an urgent crowd-funding appeal late on Thursday to launch the challenge.

She took credit for the backdown on Friday.

“It’s extraordinary that we had to crowdfund last night to sue our own government for the ability to vote,” she tweeted.

“This was entirely predictable. Who caused this situation? Scott Morrison.

“Who provided certainty? An independent.”

However, Dr Ryan said “until we have a law, not an announcement”, she would continue to back the court action.

“There have been some costs to get to this point, but regardless, we anticipate that there will be significant funds left over after this incredible community response, which raised $126,843.98,” she said in a statement later in the day.

“Our intention is to offer a refund of unspent funds to all donors as soon as possible.”

early voting australia
The queue for early voting in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong earlier this week. Photo: Getty

With the last-minute change, people who tested positive after 6pm last Friday (May 13) will be able to access telephone voting – although that comes with its own warning from an overstretched AEC.

“This matter has now been resolved,” AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers told ABC radio.

He urged people who had already registered for telephone voting, which opened on Wednesday, and had not yet voted to do so on Friday.

“Don’t leave it until tomorrow,” he said.

“Telephone voting is literally a matter of somebody reading out the ballot paper to you and … with the large number of candidates it takes time.”

Mr Rogers said the last-gasp amendment was an emergency measure, and came with its own issues.

“I urge people to be prepared when they phone in, to have looked at the
ballot papers online on our website – you will see when you register, the ballot papers are there to look at,” he said.

“Be prepared rather than be going in clueless and asking our staff to read out entire ballot papers. It is an emergency measure, it will be lumpy and it will really help if people do some research.”

He said it would be particularly difficult if operators had to read out entire Senate ballots for voters.

“There will be queues, but it will ensure everyone can vote,” Mr Rogers said.

The AEC has a temporary election workforce of 105,000 people – including an estimated 6000 public servants stepping in to take phone votes.

Mr Rogers said early polling continued to surge, with 4.6 million Australians pre-polling and more than 2.7 million voting by post.

That included 743,000 early votes on Thursday – the largest single day of pre-polling in Australian history. Friday is expected to top that again.

“Last election, something like 40 per cent of Australians voted either pre-poll or by post. This election looks like we will hit the 50 per cent mark,” Mr Rogers said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the phone voting change, saying the government had agreed to Mr Rogers’ recommendation.

“He’s worked through the logistics of all of that and what that means on their call centres, and all those sorts of things,” Mr Morrison told Perth radio 6PR.

“We’ve made it very clear that we would be accepting any recommendations that came forward and this morning, finally, those recommendations have come forward.”

It is believed more than 200,000 Australians tested positive for COVID-19 between Saturday and Tuesday.

To register for phone voting, visit the AEC website here.

-with AAP