Councillor: absence of CBD polling booths for voting in referendum, elections “not good enough”
Local residents were forced to travel to polling centres outside the CBD to vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum on October 14 due to a lack of available polling centres.
Despite Melbourne being Australia’s most populous capital city, the CBD was the only city centre across the country where the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was unable to establish polling centres in over the weekend.
“It is not acceptable that there were no polling booths in the CBD,” the City of Melbourne’s deputy planning portfolio lead Cr Rohan Leppert said.
“This is the hub of the state, a lot of people come into the city to vote from lots of different electorates, and they need a place to vote.”
A spokesperson from the AEC explained that voting in the central city was “always difficult” and that it “can’t always get premises for an operation of this size and on short notice.”
“We wanted venues in Melbourne’s CBD, liaising with more than 30 different premises – none were available that were suitable,” the spokesperson said.
“Last election we used the Exhibition Centre in Melbourne’s CBD, but it wasn’t available to use this time as October is the peak period for events.”
Residents of the CBD were directed by the AEC to plan to vote at one of the 30 polling locations available across the federal electorate of Melbourne, as well as encouraging pre-polling and postal vote options.
Despite these alternatives, voting locations close to the city centre, such as Library at the Dock in Docklands, experienced wait-times of up to two hours for citizens to cast their vote.
“It’s incumbent on the AEC to find a venue – I know it’s hard, but they have to do it,” Cr Leppert said.
Reports of the 2022 federal election show a similar trend, with polling booths at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre facing excessively long lines of CBD residents, while also contending with voters from the neighbouring electorate of Macnamara.
“If this is a problem that’s going to keep coming back, then the AEC and the council needs to address it,” Cr Leppert said. “I do think that we can review our policies to make sure that every effort is made to provide council venues for polling booths, but ultimately, council only controls a fraction of the potential venues in the central city.”
The AEC acknowledged the “inconvenience that people experienced” throughout the referendum period, while also noting that “there were 15 alternative venues available within a four-kilometre radius of the Docklands polling place.”
“Australia has some of the best access of all electoral processes around the globe, citizen expectations in the digital age don’t always accord with a manual process like elections or referendums – it does require some planning to see where and when you’ll vote,” the AEC’s spokesperson said.
“We accept that people had to wait longer than what is desirable at a couple of polling places, we’re sorry that was the case.”
Cr Leppert hopes that a review into the referendum nationally will involve a submissions process, which “the City of Melbourne would definitely participate in” to mitigate the problem from council’s end.
“I’m keen to ensure that if this situation arises again in future that it can be addressed, because it must not happen again.” •