Wednesday, September 17, 2008


That got your attention :-) but no, it is not the US Presidential but the Local elections in the state of New South Wales which were held last Saturday.

The local councils are not very important in the scheme of things. They look after rubbish collection, footpaths and local roads, approve development unless it is important, in which case the State government takes control. The only education they provide are council libraries and some child care, the only health are baby health clinics and ensure cleanliness of food establishments.
They do not even have a place in our constitution and only exist if the State government allows. It is quite common for the State government to sack a council if there is a hint of corruption and put in administrators. Many of the councillors are just seeing their election as training for the bigger things although to be fair I guess a lot do see themselves as working for the community.

Anyway it provided me with my first day of paid work this calendar year. I work as an election official. Last year there was the State election in March and the National election in November. This year just the one and unless something unusual occurs there will be no work next year.

It is a long day as we start setting up just after 7am, the doors open at 8am and close at 6pm then we begin counting. The other elections with 2 houses to elect usually see us finishing after 10pm but the council elections are simpler so we were able to leave at 8pm. But I was still tired on Sunday.
For that reason, I have only just caught up with reading all the blogs. I do not know how those of you with full time jobs cope.

Our council is divided into 4 wards and the booth where I worked was the only one which took votes for all wards. It is on the border of wards 2 and 3 and someone made a monumental stuff up. The boundaries were changed since the last election and so there were 4 tables for ward 2 in which it was actually located and 1 table for each of the other wards. The officials moved around the tables to give us variety. When working on 1 and 4 it was a bit boring but Ward 3 (also with only one table) was flat out with a queue way out the door. Wards 1 and 4 had less than 50 votes all day, ward 2 (with 4 tables) took 2000 but ward 3 took 900. There were some very angry people.
Most of you will be surprised to learn that people did not just give up and go away. You see you cannot, unless you want to incur a $55 fine. Voting is compulsory in Australia. We could not increase the number of tables as we were only given one roll book to mark off.

We have to ask people if they have voted anywhere else in this election (it could be by post or at the pre-polls or at one of the other booths). I would like a dollar for everyone who tells me "once is enough". I feel like saying "Be thankful you live in a democracy and can vote" but instead I just smile and issue them with a vote after crossing their name off the list.

I am glad voting is compulsory as candidates do not have to 'get out the vote'. I believe most people do take it seriously knowing they have to attend. Some put in a blank vote, some do a 'donkey vote' (1,2,3,4 down the page) which give a very slight advantage to the person on the top (so there is a draw for ballot paper order). Some write rude words or even a rude essay which is only seen by those of us counting (plus scrutineers) and at that time of the night we could not care less and just put it on the informal pile. One man did screw his up and throw it in the bin but thankfully one of my co-workers noticed and retrieved it. Our books have to balance at the end of the night between votes issued and votes counted.

Our State Labor Government sort of imploded the week before the elections (new inexperienced Premier, lots of resignations and dummy spits) but does not have to face the electors until March 2010. Therefore many people took their annoyance out on the poor Labor local councillors. However in the Blue Mountains the gains were made by the Greens and in Ward 3, a group opposed to the building of a new chain supermarket in the main town rather than the main Liberal opposition.
Such fun and games but not very important in the world scheme of things. However am looking forward to the increase in my bank balance in a week or two.


Fran said...

Wow- I feel like I just learned so much!

Thank you.

toujoursdan said...

Out of curiosity, how do people regard compulsory voting in Australia. Do most see it as an undemocratic intrusion by government, or necessary to have a truly functioning democracy?

That seems to get floated as an idea here in Canada during our elections.

Brian R said...

Most people seem to accept it but grumble about better things to do on a nice day etc. I think that is just human nature. The only real argument I have had with a friend was with a guy who is an English immigrant. It always worries me that Australians are too laid back but the Kiwis seem to have a good turn out and we are not very different. Probably less people would vote for local council, I had quite a few saying they did not know who to vote for and I must admit it did not concern me very much. State and Federal are different. I am always more partisan at those but must hide that while working as an election official.

Anonymous said...

Apparently local council elections in South Australia are voluntary and the turn out is appalling. I heard someone speaking about this on the ABC and the claim was made that the very low turn out had opened the process to some dodgy outcomes.

I think the vast majority of Australians see compulsory voting as a civic duty. ie in the same category as jury duty. Annoying but necessary.

Brian R said...

Thanks Anon.
I had some idea that might be the case in Sth Aust but did not know for sure. I think more would turn up for state and national elections but would still rather the parties/candidates spent their time and money putting forward their positions rather than having to encourage people to vote.

June Butler said...

I guess I'm of two minds about the idea of compulsory voting. Some of those whom I know who do vote are so pathetically misinformed that I'd almost rather they didn't.