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With advance voting expected to reach record levels this general election, we wonder if enough is understood about the impact of this trend.
More than 1,282,470 votes had been cast by yesterday compared with the total 1,240,740 advance votes last election.
It seems likely the Electoral Commission’s earlier prediction that 60% of voters will vote early will turn out to be an under-estimate.
The early days of voting were not glitch-free. This was perhaps understandable, now we know the commission’s preferred delayed election date was November 21, because it considered an earlier date would not allow enough time to reinstate advance and election day voting services.
In the previous election, 47% of voters cast votes before polling day, almost double the percentage in the 2014 election.
However, the emphasis on advance voting (which has included offering more polling places) and its increasing popularity in the last couple of elections has not had a huge impact on the overall turnout.
Last election, 79.8% of eligible voters cast a ballot, a couple of percentage points higher than the 2014 election. But while the 2017 result was touted as the highest turnout since 2005, it is worth noting that the percentage that year was 80.9 with only 9% of the total votes cast from advanced voting.
This year, concerns about Covid-19 may have played a part in the enthusiasm for early voting. Campaign fatigue may be setting in for some following the change of the election date from September to October and voting early might allow them to tune out.
Whether this year’s early voting will mean a much larger turnout than usual or just an incredibly quiet election day is yet to be seen.
Similarly, it is too early to tell if there will be a big leap in young people voting, although it is good news that their registrations are up. This year it will also be possible to register and vote on election day, unlike previous elections.
What influence political poll news might have on early voting is not clear and there will be differing views on this too. Are they valuable information for early voters, or do political polls published in the advance voting period detract from the "purity" of voting, perhaps encouraging those drawn to a minor party to vote elsewhere if their first choice is seen to be unlikely to meet the threshold? On election day, the publishing of a poll would be illegal.
Advance voting in large numbers must provide a few headaches for campaign organisers. Drip-feeding policies close to the election might be counter-productive, but on the other hand putting out policy too early risks turning off those voters who like to wait until election day. Early voters also cannot consider any major events occurring in the dying days of the campaign.
In its 2017 report, the commission noted the election day campaign rules where hoardings and other electioneering material is banned were inconsistent with what applies to advance voting. It acknowledged there were differing opinions on this with some arguing the restrictions reduced opportunities to promote participation while others strongly supported the longstanding campaign-free election day.
Mainstream media know they cannot publish anything on election day which might be considered to influence voters, but we wonder how widely understood the rules around social media and other internet sites are.
The commission said of all the issues at the 2017 election, scrutineers in polling places wearing rosettes attracted the most complaints from voters. However, its recommendation the Electoral Act prohibit the wearing of party lapel badges or rosettes in all voting places was not enacted for this election.
We are hopeful that there will be in-depth analysis of all these issues following the election and plenty of time allowed for careful consideration of any changes deemed necessary before 2023.