With the election tomorrow, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has changed the voting rules for those with COVID. The AEC had been facing criticism, including a potential court case from independent candidate Monique Ryan.
Anyone in isolation for COVID since 6pm last Friday can now use the telephone voting system.
AEC commissioner Tom Rogers signed a brief to the government this morning recommending the COVID voting rules be changed, which the prime minister has since accepted.
Speaking on ABC, Rogers said it was an emergency measure and the AEC had advocated for it to be implemented.
“I am the CEO of one of the world’s last great analog events, when the community has developed digital expectations,” the commissioner said.
“The more votes in envelopes there are,” Rogers continued, “the more likely it will be that results will be unclear on the night.”
The commissioner emphasised every vote that can be counted will be counted.
Rogers further urged people to wait until Friday afternoon for the systems to catch up to the demand and to read the ballot papers before calling in to cut down on waiting times. The commissioner cautioned the process could be rough given its last-minute implementation.
“This workforce — for telephone voting — they are full-time public servants who are either being repurposed or doing this job in addition to their other jobs. And I think at peak, we’ve got well over 6,000 public servants working for us. A shout out to all of those organisations, particularly Services Australia, that’s assisting us with this,” Rogers said.
COVID may not only impact voters, but the count as well. The AEC has previously flagged its own staff shortages due to COVID may impact the speediness of the count, as well as dealing with the volume of postal votes, which numbers 2.7 million.
Rogers said Defence has authorised messaging to its own personnel to staff polling stations.
“It’s all hands to the pump,” Rogers said.
The role of social media during this election has been a double edged sword, with Rogers alluding to misinformation spread online.
“Tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines and the AEC rubbing out ballots. There’s been a huge push about it. Signage from all the political parties, arguing about whether messages have been authorised and a whole range of those issues.
“It has been a vitriolic process that we haven’t seen,” Rogers said.
Rogers flagged the AEC would make details of legal actions over election issues it has had to make after the election.
The commissioner also thanked its workforce for the work it was doing during the election, and urged the public to be kind.
The guidelines the AEC set out previously asked those with COVID to apply for a postal vote, with telephone voting to be made available after the deadline.
Critics of the plan said the issue was for those Australians who tested positive between Sunday and the postal vote deadline. They would be unable to vote in person due to isolation rules, but their postal vote would not arrive until after the election and may not be counted, as reported in Crikey.
Independent candidate Monique Ryan, running in treasurer Josh Frydenburg’s seat of Kooyong, had said she was taking legal action against the AEC following concerns from COVID positive people in her seat. Ryan tweeted her support of the news.
We are so relieved that the Prime Minister has been forced to change this law.
— Dr Monique Ryan (@Mon4Kooyong) May 19, 2022
The AEC has already expressed concerns over voter shortages in regional areas in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
This is the first federal election where COVID has been present. The most recent report by the federal Department of Health declares 54,468 new cases nationally.