“I am particularly troubled that the AEC has chosen to adopt a policy of encouraging and facilitating pre-poll. This is seen in the growing period of time for which pre-poll operates, and the growing number of pre-poll booths.”
A spokesman for the AEC said it followed the Electoral Act when deciding how long pre-poll stations remained open.
“The AEC does not encourage pre-poll voting,” the spokesman said. “The AEC provides voting services as required by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and has no discretion as to when pre-poll commences.”
The act says votes cannot be cast until at least five days after candidate nominations are declared – something that is in turn determined off writs set by the Governor General crafted after the Prime Minister asks for an election to be held.
Officially, voters can lodge their ballot early if they are travelling, sick, unable to leave work, in prison, outside their electorate, have religious restrictions or fear their safety on election day. But the rules are fairly relaxed and people are asked to self-declare whether they’re eligible.
Mr Fletcher joined colleagues Tim Wilson and Keith Pitt in calling for pre-polling to be cut to one week.
Mr Wilson and Mr Pitt last week criticised the amount of taxpayer funds being spent on lengthy polling station hours and excessive booths.
Mr Wilson, in his submission to the federal election inquiry, suggested early voting be restricted to one week save for booths at airports and in major city and regional centres.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said before the May election that three weeks “does feel a bit long” for pre-polling. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he didn’t “really see it as an issue”.
Labor MP Milton Dick, who sits on the electoral matters committee that carries out a post-mortem after each federal election, said his party was open to shortening the early voting period.
“If you’re allowing one week, that might limit you if you’re a ship worker or a fly-in, fly-out worker, so we might go somewhere in the middle and say three weeks is too long but maybe a 10-day or two week period, with larger voting centres established in the electorate, is right.”
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.