Vote early - but have a good reason, says AEC

Voters in 2010 at the polling centre at Australia House in London Source: AEC

Australians have begun casting their ballots for the July 2 federal election, with early voting starting today (Tues June 14).It's expected that a record number of voters will go to the polls early in this election, topping the 2013 election record of 27 per cent.Oliver Jones reports.  

It's compulsory for all Australian citizens to vote in the federal election, but not everyone has to cast a ballot on July 2.

The Australian Electoral Commission and political scientists are expecting a record number of people to vote early in this election.

Voters can either pre-poll vote via post or go to an early voting centre.

Electoral Commission spokesman Phil Diak says while he expects early voting to exceed the 2013 record, voters should remember they must have a valid reason to vote ahead of July 2.

"Early voting has been growing in recent Australian federal elections. At the 2010 election, it was 18 per cent of all votes that were counted and at the 2013 election, the early voting share was 27 per cent. There were 3.7 million early votes that were cast at the 2013 federal election. At this election, the AEC will be asking people who go and have a pre-poll vote the question whether they are entitled to have an early vote. Early voting is not just for personal preference or convinence, it's for people who are unable to go to a polling place in their home electorate on election day."

Voters must be outside their electorate where they are enrolled to vote, at work, seriously ill, in prison or have religious beliefs that prevent them going to a polling station, if they wish to vote early.

July 2 falls within school holidays for every state but South Australia.

Dr Peter Chen, a senior lecturer in politics at the University Sydney, says he expects this to increase pre-voting.

"I think it's very likely that we might see as much as about 30 per cent of the electorate early voting and that's for two reasons, the first is that there has been year-on-year a rise in early voting over the last few decades and the second is that the election is going to be held during the school holidays and so as people will be going away they'll also take the opportunity to vote early."

Dr Chen says early voting has changed how politicans campaign.

He says candidates use pre-poll voting as a way to lock in votes, and they even encourage it.

"Parties have to expect that people will vote early and thus defect at any time and so they can't structure their campaign and their narrative in the way they once did. So it's changed the way they campaign. It's changed the political logic of the way in which elections are fought and it also means that elections might be actually won or lost well before the actually voting day because it only requires a small amount of votes to change, to create a significant outcome in a tied election like this."

Australians overseas on July 2 can also vote at centres across the world from next week (June 20).

Voting information will also be available in 27 languages.

Kristen says she was told before leaving Australia a postal vote may not reach her in time to be counted so she'll be voting at the Australian embassy in London.

"I just wanted to make sure that my vote actually did register so I'm going to go into the embassy in London to vote, into Australia House. I think it's really important because to be able to be part of democracy you need to be able to participate and at times when you're travelling for work or for family, or there's a whole range of circumstances that can make it difficult to vote on the day, so being able to vote early I think is really critical."

Postal voting closes at 6pm AEST on Wednesday June 29th.


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