‘Too much corruption’
AFTER elections marred by stolen votes and forged signatures, a veteran Stirling councillor says it’s time to bin postal ballots and bring on in-person voting.
Cr Elizabeth Re, serving since 2005, says “it has been recognised that ballots have gone missing, or people have been found guilty of taking them out of letterboxes”.
After Stirling’s first postal election in 2003 former mayor Adam Spagnolo was fined for arranging people to collect ballots from ratepayers, while he forged the signature of one voter.
During Perth council’s 2011 mayoral election between incumbent Lisa Scaffidi and contender Anne Bontempo, the latter claimed to have received “hundreds” of calls from people whose ballot packages never arrived. At least six votes were confirmed to be stolen out of mailboxes, filled in and lodged according to the WA Electoral Commission.
Postal ballots posed a problem again at Perth’s 2017 election when councillor Keith Yong set up “sham leases” to have 45 ballots mailed to PO boxes controlled by him and his family, according to a state government inquiry.
Then at the 2021 election in Serpentine-Jarrahdale locals performed a citizens arrest on two people who’d stolen around 50 ballots, and the election results are still under a cloud as a court case plays out.
Cr Re says the postal ballot system’s too open to abuse and reckons WA needs to switch back to in-person voting. The state government’s currently consulting on local government overhauls and Cr Re urged people to put in a submission to help get fairer elections.
“Have the council office and the libraries open for three weeks,” she says, noting people already have to find a postbox to mail in so the current system requires an outing anyway. “People can get out of their homes to come to the library and the council office.
“It’ll ensure less corruption of the votes, it provides less opportunities to misuse the votes, but more importantly than anything else it’ll give people an opportunity to look at what’s going on in their suburb, to understand what’s going on… it’s a way of empowering people and it’s a way of educating people.”
She says: “We have such a multicultural population that have left where they’re from because they haven’t been able to vote, that’s why it’s so important” to have fair elections here.
In person voting typically has a lower turnout than mail in elections but Cr Re says it’s time to make local election voting compulsory, as that ought to prompt people to do their research and get more involved. Postal votes could still go to those truly unable to attend like in other elections.
Submissions on the state government’s reform plans are due February 25 via http://www.dlgsc.wa.gov.au/lgactreform
Most councils are currently mulling over their submissions, but Bayswater got in early to form an opinion at the December meeting.
It’s backed state government suggestions to have all major councils switch to a system where the public directly elects the mayor, rather than councillors choosing among themselves. Bayswater’s one of the last councils to still pick a mayor from among councillors, which caused some discontent after the last election when the balance of power on council saw a majority support Cr Filomena Piffaretti as new mayor over incumbent Dan Bull.
by DAVID BELL