The Australian Electoral Commission has admitted some polling stations in regional and remote parts of South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland could be forced to close due to worker shortages ahead of Saturday's federal election.
The AEC said towns and communities in the federal electorates of Capricornia, Flynn, Kennedy and Leichhardt in Queensland, Barker and Grey in South Australia and Durack and O'Connor in Western Australia could be impacted by shortages.
First Nations Campaign Director at advocacy group GetUp!, Amy Gordon said the closures would be tantamount to voter suppression in some of the electorates with the highest Indigenous voters in the country.
"Failure to have remote polling booths open for Election Day means that thousands of Blackfullas and people up in these electorates won't have their say on the election," the Goreng Goreng woman told NITV News.
The AEC said voters in a number of areas are being urged to check if their voting centres will be open as there are fears a shortage of workers could lead to their closure.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said the majority of the nation’s planned 7,000 polling places will be in operation.
“While the impact will likely be limited, and limited to certain areas, voters in identified regional locations who have not accessed an early voting centre, or postal vote, may not have a polling venue in their town on election day,” he said.
“Current labour shortages in regional areas have been well documented. No frontline service has been immune to resourcing difficulties and we’re running the nation’s biggest in-person, manual event.”
Electorates with high First Nations voters
But concerns are being raised that some electorates with some of the highest proportion of First Nations voters in the country could be affected by closures — potentially impacting their democratic rights.
"These are really big electorates, not just inner-city electorates that have one or two suburbs, but we're talking thousands of kilometers and thousands of people.
"That's a really big concern and will shape the way that this election folds out," Ms Gordon said.
The Australian Electoral Commission has already confirmed it was unable to attend scheduled remote polling stations in remote communities in the Northern Territory.
Polling stations in Elcho Island in Gawa and Bantula on Monday were unable to operate after a chartered plane delayed its booking for polling officials.
The AEC said in a statement to NITV News it's attempting to get the word out to as many remote Australians as possible – with some towns having as few as 20 enrolled voters.
"We will do everything to get mobile voting teams out to remaining communities but acknowledge that time is of course running out ahead of election day," the statement read.
COVID-19, weather and other disruptions are also adding to the challenges and complexities.
Indigenous enrolment is already known to be lower than that of the general population: only 79 per cent of First Nations people are enrolled to vote compared to 96 percent of the wider community.