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‘It’s become a thing’: The rise and rise of pre-poll voters

“We ask people to self-declare. I can tell you that 99.99 per cent of Australians say, absolutely [I qualify to vote early].”

Mr Rogers said there was no research about why people were pre-polling in increased numbers but, anecdotally, it was because they found it more convenient.

Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, is receiving security briefings every day during the election campaign.

Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, is receiving security briefings every day during the election campaign. Credit:Janie Barrett

“We have to satisfy the demand. And as the demand increases we provide additional services.”

Recently Coalition and Labor MPs from Parliament’s joint standing committee on electoral matters wrote to Special Minister of State Alex Hawke asking for a review of pre-poll voting after the federal election.

“People have different views about pre-poll voting,” Mr Rogers said, noting the increase in early voting has implications for how candidates run their campaigns.

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“I know that for candidates and parties, that also has a cost implication. Because they’ve got to find people to stand outside those voting booths [for weeks].”

Pre-poll voting will open on April 29 ahead of the May 18 poll.

Mr Rogers said while security concerns – including cyber security and foreign interference – were “not the number one thing we were dealing with,” in the 2013 and 2016 federal elections, the emphasis had now changed.

“Given what’s alleged to have occurred in a number of overseas jurisdictions, we’re now very alert to this.”

This year’s poll will be the first time a taskforce made up of agencies including the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO is actively monitoring the election. The taskforce was trialled during the “Super Saturday” byelections last year and the NSW state election, and is now providing the AEC with daily briefings.

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Mr Rogers said a public education campaign asking voters to check if election information and ads they see are properly authorised was also being used to tackle “disinformation”. He added the AEC was working more closely with social media companies and had already referred four matters to Facebook.

As of Thursday morning, 96.8 per cent of eligible voters were enrolled to vote, a figure Mr Rogers described as a “modern miracle”. This is the most complete the electoral roll has been since Federation. In part, this is due to an influx of younger voters who came onto the roll for the same-sex marriage postal vote in 2017.

Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House

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