OPINION

How pre-polling changes election campaigns

Pre-polling in Australian elections has been a great success, increasing the proportion of people who vote and making the process much less cumbersome. This is especially the case for voters who usually work on a Saturday.

Evidence reveals a sharp increase in early voting compared to 2016. Pre-polling has changed the nature of election campaigns. If, as expected, close to five million people vote early in this election, party campaigns must be adjusted accordingly.

We saw Labor's new announcements on childcare rebates, pensioner dental care and early childhood workers wage increases the day before pre-polling began. Scott Morrison also announced a stricter immigration policy on the Sunday prior.

Pre-polling stretches the resources of candidates, particularly those from minor parties and independents. This is because to maximise their vote they need to staff booths from the beginning of pre-polling to election day, an exercise beyond the resources of many. Pre-polling therefore tends to favour the established parties, as they have far greater resources and can mobilise significantly greater numbers.

Pre-polling also stretches the resources of the Australian Electoral Commission, which has to employ more staff for a much longer period. This though, is a small price to pay for the enhancement of democracy, which is a key achievement of pre-polling.

I note the AEC has staff at each booth ask all early voters whether they are eligible to pre-poll. This is an unnecessary and counterproductive exercise. It confuses some voters, often clogs up the voting process, and should be done away with.

The process can be further improved by having a greater number of booths, particularly in major regional cities.

There is consternation among some politicians that three weeks of pre-polling is too long.

Treasurer Josh Frydenburg this week said early voting limits members, senators and ministers from campaigning both across their electorates and across the country. Labor's Anthony Albanese echoed those comments, as did Kerryn Phelps, who suggested one week was sufficient.

This argument has little legitimacy, because no candidate has to be present at a polling booth for the entire three weeks.

Australia now has the highest proportion of eligible voters on the electoral roll since federation, at 97 per cent. This is due to the good work of the AEC, and the ability of voters to vote early has helped to achieve this.

Ian Tulloch, Honorary Associate (Politics), La Trobe University, Bendigo.