A drawn-out campaign and potential Covid risks are leading a record number of voters to cast their ballots before 21 May
A record number of Australians are voting early in the 2022 federal election, with many saying they’re “sick” of the drawn-out election campaign and want to avoid expected queues on 21 May.
Some 314,095 Australians cast their ballots on the first day of early voting this year, almost three times the 120,000 people that voted on day one of pre-poll in 2019.
As of Friday more than 1.2 million of the 17 million Australians registered to vote had already pre-polled after just four days of early voting.
The safe Nationals-held seat of Hinkler topped the list, with 18,060 early voters, followed by the marginal seats of Gilmore (16,902), Paterson (16,271) and Richmond (15,111), according to data released by the Australian Electoral Commission.
At an early polling centre at Sydney University, one man said he was casting his ballot because he “just wants to get it over with”. “People are sick of it,” he said of the six-week election campaign.
Another group of three were voting early for accessibility reasons. Older and living with disability, one woman said: “We can’t stand in lines all day.”
Three others said they were voting early to avoid the crowds. “I don’t want to be part of record numbers standing in queues,” one person said, while another said they’re avoiding a potential Covid super-spreading event.
“There’s going to be a lot of people during the day. I’m not willing to stand in line for an hour and a half, or two, or three or four and possibly get Covid,” they said.
In the marginal western Sydney seat of Reid, early voters said they were either avoiding the queue, or would be working on 21 May, but a couple said they had better things to do on election day.
“Well, we go up to Queensland every winter, in the caravan, so the election came at an inconvenient time for us,” one of them said.
Some said they had arrived at pre-polling to avoid the potential Covid risks that could come with the large crowds expected on election day.
“Three reasons: to avoid any Covid risks, because pre-polling is quicker and because it is simpler,” said Gavin, who did not want to share his last name.
There has been a steady increase in early voting over the past few federal elections. In 2019, early votes including pre-poll and postal votes constituted 40% of all ballots cast. That compared with 31% in 2016 and 26.4% in 2013.
In 2021, the parliament passed legislation limiting the pre-polling period to 12 days before the election to balance the “opportunity to participate in an election as a voter with the logistic demands placed on those who participate as contestants”.
Nevertheless, the AEC said if trends continued, up to half of all votes may be cast prior to election day this year at the nations’s 550 early voting centres.
The electoral commissioner, Tom Rogers, said Covid precautions, including socially distanced queueing, capacity limits and sanitising, would undoubtedly slow the election process but the AEC worked hard to minimise queues for voters “as much as possible”.
“The fact is that when you run an in-person process to the scale of a federal election where people effectively choose when and where they attend, and then you add Covid safety on top, you simply cannot prevent all queues,” he said.
“Australian elections are in-person, community events held once every three years and built around election day, so if you can vote on election day then that’s what you should do.”
For some, the reasons for pre-polling were more logistical.
At the Sydney Masonic Centre, formerly the Town Hall polling centre, one woman said she “wanted to make sure I got my vote in for the Greens” before heading to the airport for a flight to Bali that evening.
Work, a lack of time and pre-planned medical procedures were also listed by early voters. One couple were on holiday from Brisbane and said they “may as well”.
Another man said he’d cast an early ballot every election, however this year he was particularly keen to bid the campaign adieu.
“I live in the Blue Mountains, and I pre-vote every year because on polling day there it takes much longer, sometimes all day,” he said. “And I want to get it over and done with. I’m sick of seeing it, I now just ignore everything. I don’t like it.”