IN a move that has angered many people, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has abolished 15 booths across the Mallee Division for the Federal election on May 18.
The announcement on ABC Western Victoria Radio and subsequent posting to their Facebook page yesterday saw complaints come thick and fast.
The affected booths are Berriwillock, Boundary Bend, Brim, Laharum, Lalbert, Marnoo, Nullawil, Patchewollock, Speed, Sunny Cliffs, Toolondo, Ultima, Walpeup, Watchem and Wemen.
Several residents of the areas affected wrote or spoke of their disgust, feelings of neglect and the feeling of being a second-class citizen.
Yarriambiack Shire councillor, Kylie Zanker, was one of many who were disgusted by the actions.
“We are an ageing community and some of our members will struggle to get to a polling booth with these closures.”
“I feel for those affected; they are already isolated and this is just another illustration of this”
“It is just disgusting and is just another way of how poorly we are treated overall,” she said.
“Closing these booths in small towns without any notiﬁcation is appalling.”
“Many voters will now face round-trip journeys of a 50 kilometres or more in the more remote areas to exercise their vote,” Cr Zanker said.
The AEC has offered no apologies for the lack of notiﬁcation to voters affected by their decision.
The AEC Victorian spokesperson, Jessica Harrison, conﬁrmed the closures.
“Following each election, the AEC undertakes a review, using historical data to decide where future polling booths will be located based on a number of criteria which includes numbers and access to other booths.”
“Booths change quite frequently after elections due to numbers,” she said.
Yarriambiack Shire Mayor, Graeme Massey, said it was a shocking situation.
“It is a deprivation of a democratic right to vote in areas where there is no public transportation available.”
“Forgetting to let people know in a reasonable time frame is simply negligent by the AEC.”
“Having compulsory voting the AEC has an obligation to provide voting facilities in the town of residence.”
“It is deplorable that people are only hearing the
information from media outlets rather than from the government agency responsible,” he said.
Cr Zanker said the shortened time-frame for notifying voters will just make it harder on people who do it hard enough without any extra stress.
Ms Harrison explained voters affected by the changes have several choices in how they vote as a result of the unannounced changes.
People can apply for a postal vote, which is normally done on online or through the Divisional Ofﬁce; the Mallee’s ofﬁce is located in Mildura.
For those who do not have access to the internet or are too far from Mildura, the AEC will take applications for a postal vote over the phone on 132 326.
“For those who will struggle to get to a polling booth, they can request a postal vote to be sent to their home,” Ms Harrison said.
Postal vote applications are open until 6pm on Wednesday
May 15. Ballot papers must be completed and witnessed on or before election day Saturday May 18, and posted back to the AEC as soon as possible.
Voters only have 13 days after the federal election for ballot papers to be received by the AEC.
“The AEC has been assured by Australia Post that postal votes can be delivered within two days,” Ms Harrison said.
“If a voter is unsure of what options they may have, they are able to contact the AEC to obtain advice on their options; the contact number is 132326,” Ms Harrison said.
The AEC also advised people can elect to vote early at selected early voting centres, however there are eligibility requirements for this option.
For those affected by the closure of their local polling booth, they now fall under one criterion, that of being more than eight kilometres from a polling place.
Early polling venues are located at:
• Horsham: 72-74 Firebrace Street
• Maryborough: Cnr Neill and Campbell Street
• Mildura: 105 Lime Avenue or 824 Fifteenth Street
• Swan Hill: Cnr Stradbroke Ave & Rutherford Street.