Late votes prompts call for priority post

HUNDREDS of postal votes turned up too late to be counted at Bayswater’s last election, prompting a call for the council to shell out an extra $10,575 to pay for priority post to send out ballots. 

At the 2021 election about 48,148 ballot packages were sent out to Bayswater voters via Australia Post, and about a third of ballots were filled in and returned.

But 466 votes turned up after the October 16 deadline, due to either being “posted too late or delayed in the mail” according to a council report. That’s about 1 per cent of the total vote. 

Concerns about late ballots have popped up at a few elections in recent years, with Australia Post’s delivery slowing down as letter-sending rates drop in the internet era and that side of its business becomes less profitable. 

Bayswater deputy mayor Catherine Ehrhardt put up a motion for the April 26 meeting calling for the council to spend the extra to get ballots out quicker.

That’s on top of the $252,000 they council is already paying the WA Electoral Commission to run the postal election. 

Reply-paid ballots are already sent priority mail. Switching the outgoing mail to priority should get ballots to voters by the next business day, instead of the random three-to-seven days it currently takes. 

Cr Ehrhardt said the change would also give more time for people to get a replacement ballot if their first one doesn’t show up. Just over 90 replacements were issued at the last election. 

Cr Ehrhardt said there were enough votes late that it could impact the outcome in a close-run race.

“It could have in previous elections,” Cr Ehrhardt told the Voice. “If you look at the 2017 election, in west ward there was a disparity of 21 votes between someone who got elected and someone who didn’t.”

She acknowledged some might not like spending the extra $10,575, but “democracy isn’t cheap”.

This election will also be more complex with the likely introduction of preferential voting. It’ll also be the first time Bayswater residents have directly voted for a mayor, instead of the usual system where councillors appoint a mayor from among themselves after the election.

Across the state an average of 0.86 per cent of votes showed up too late to count in 2021.

Currently the voting packages can’t be sent out any earlier due to a fixed timeframe set out in state legislation, which sets the close of nominations at 37 days before the election. Ballots then have to be laid out, printed and posted, leaving voters with anywhere from two and a half weeks to just five business days to vote.

“I’m concerned that at the last election there was a disparity of four to five business days within the City of Basywater,” Cr Ehrhardt said.

In its report on the 2021 elections the WAEC said: “The Commission has previously raised these concerns” with the local government department, “and it is understood that the government intends to examine this issue in future legislative amendments”.

Letter delivery times may also drop further under an impending federal government review: 

In February Australia Post announced the letters side of its business lost nearly $200 million across six months. 

Australia Post chief executive Paul Graham told a senate estimates hearing that the organisation’s obligation to deliver letters five days a week was too expensive given the small number being sent.

The federal government is considering an overhaul and the five-day-a-week delivery requirement may be dropped as part of the changes. The requirement was temporarily dropped in 2020 and 2021 amid pandemic conditions. 

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