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TRC To Seek Postal Ballot

Filed under Breaking News, Council, Latest News

Cr Megan O’Hara Sullivan

March 14, 2019

Toowoomba Regional Council will ask the State Government to approve postal voting for the next Council poll, due in March 2020.

A majority of councillors have voted in favour of a recommendation from Council staff which suggested the election would be cheaper for ratepayers and more efficient without polling booths.

Toowoomba previously had postal voting but returned to polling booths for the 2016 election.

Mayor Paul Antonio backed the change, which he suggested would make it easier for would-be candidates who would not have to man 65 polling booths across the region.

Toowoomba Regional Council does not have Divisions, which means candidates have to raise their profile from Yarraman to Millmerran.

However, Cr Megan O’Hara Sullivan argued against the proposal, saying voter turnout was lower with postal votes.

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A report into the 2016 Queensland Local Government elections, prepared by an independent panel which included former South Burnett mayor Wayne Kratzmann, identified several problems with postal voting:

The postal vote system encountered several problems including issues with the voter information letter distributed by the ECQ to postal-only voting councils, delays in delivery and return of ballots by post, high numbers of invalid votes and unreturned ballot papers.

Of the 21 local governments offering postal-only voting, approximately 23 per cent of registered voters did not participate or cast invalid votes. This does not compare favourably with the overall participation rate of the election of 83 per cent.

The mass distribution of postal vote applications and ballot packages by the Electoral Commission Queensland was poorly managed. There were many examples of ballot papers not being received and being delayed in the postal system. There were instances of ballot papers being delivered by Australia Post after election day, that is, during the week commencing 21 March 2016. Some ballots were lost or damaged in the wet weather, resulting in some voters not being able to complete their ballot via postal vote in the allowable timeframe.

Postal voting has its limitations, and a limited future, if traditional postal services are to be the only method of distribution to send out and return ballot papers.

Ballot materials distributed by ECQ prior to the election were considered to be poorly designed, confusing and misleading. For example, the ECQ sent a standard voter information letter to all voters prior to the election. The letter asked voters to present the letter at the polling booth on election day. This letter misled many postal only voters into believing that they were required to attend a polling booth, resulting in large numbers of invalid votes in full postal-voting electorates due to unreturned ballot papers.

As the election was held during monsoonal wet season, there were reports of widespread water-damaged postal vote forms and ballots throughout North Queensland and Far North Queensland.

Other issues included ballot papers that were not witnessed, were incorrect or had incomplete declarations, and confusion over the envelopes to be used for the declaration and the ballot paper.

Cook Shire, for instance, had approximately 650 discarded ballot papers and another 500 ballot papers that were not returned. This is significant, as the total enrolment for the Shire is 2415 people.

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