Otago Daily Times

Early vot­ing anal­y­sis needed

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WITH ad­vance vot­ing ex­pected to reach record lev­els this gen­eral elec­tion, we won­der if enough is un­der­stood about the im­pact of this trend.

More than 1,282,470 votes had been cast by yes­ter­day com­pared with the to­tal 1,240,740 ad­vance votes last elec­tion.

It seems likely the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’s ear­lier pre­dic­tion that 60% of vot­ers will vote early will turn out to be an un­der­es­ti­mate.

The early days of vot­ing were not gl­itch­free. This was per­haps un­der­stand­able, now we know the com­mis­sion’s pre­ferred de­layed elec­tion date was Novem­ber 21, be­cause it con­sid­ered an ear­lier date would not al­low enough time to re­in­state ad­vance and elec­tion day vot­ing ser­vices.

In the pre­vi­ous elec­tion, 47% of vot­ers cast votes be­fore polling day, al­most dou­ble the per­cent­age in the 2014 elec­tion.

How­ever, the em­pha­sis on ad­vance vot­ing (which has in­cluded of­fer­ing more polling places) and its in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity in the last cou­ple of elec­tions has not had a huge im­pact on the over­all turnout.

Last elec­tion, 79.8% of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers cast a bal­lot, a cou­ple of per­cent­age points higher than the 2014 elec­tion. But while the 2017 re­sult was touted as the high­est turnout since 2005, it is worth not­ing that the per­cent­age that year was 80.9 with only 9% of the to­tal votes cast from ad­vanced vot­ing.

This year, con­cerns about Covid19 may have played a part in the en­thu­si­asm for early vot­ing. Cam­paign fa­tigue may be set­ting in for some fol­low­ing the change of the elec­tion date from Septem­ber to

Oc­to­ber and vot­ing early might al­low them to tune out.

Whether this year’s early vot­ing will mean a much larger turnout than usual or just an in­cred­i­bly quiet elec­tion day is yet to be seen.

Sim­i­larly, it is too early to tell if there will be a big leap in young peo­ple vot­ing, although it is good news that their reg­is­tra­tions are up. This year it will also be pos­si­ble to reg­is­ter and vote on elec­tion day, un­like pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

What in­flu­ence po­lit­i­cal poll news might have on early vot­ing is not clear and there will be dif­fer­ing views on this too. Are they valu­able in­for­ma­tion for early vot­ers, or do po­lit­i­cal polls pub­lished in the ad­vance vot­ing pe­riod de­tract from the ‘‘pu­rity’’ of vot­ing, per­haps en­cour­ag­ing those drawn to a mi­nor party to vote else­where if their first choice is seen to be un­likely to meet the thresh­old? On elec­tion day, the pub­lish­ing of a poll would be il­le­gal.

Ad­vance vot­ing in large numbers must pro­vide a few headaches for cam­paign or­gan­is­ers. Drip­feed­ing poli­cies close to the elec­tion might be counter­pro­duc­tive, but on the other hand putting out pol­icy too early risks turn­ing off those vot­ers who like to wait un­til elec­tion day. Early vot­ers also can­not con­sider any ma­jor events oc­cur­ring in the dy­ing days of the cam­paign.

In its 2017 re­port, the com­mis­sion noted the elec­tion day cam­paign rules where hoard­ings and other elec­tion­eer­ing ma­te­rial is banned were in­con­sis­tent with what ap­plies to ad­vance vot­ing. It ac­knowl­edged there were dif­fer­ing opin­ions on this with some ar­gu­ing the re­stric­tions re­duced op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­mote par­tic­i­pa­tion while oth­ers strongly sup­ported the long­stand­ing cam­paign­free elec­tion day.

Main­stream me­dia know they can­not pub­lish any­thing on elec­tion day which might be con­sid­ered to in­flu­ence vot­ers, but we won­der how widely un­der­stood the rules around so­cial me­dia and other in­ter­net sites are.

The com­mis­sion said of all the is­sues at the 2017 elec­tion, scru­ti­neers in polling places wear­ing rosettes at­tracted the most com­plaints from vot­ers. How­ever, its rec­om­men­da­tion the Elec­toral Act pro­hibit the wear­ing of party lapel badges or rosettes in all vot­ing places was not en­acted for this elec­tion.

We are hope­ful that there will be in­depth anal­y­sis of all these is­sues fol­low­ing the elec­tion and plenty of time al­lowed for care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of any changes deemed nec­es­sary be­fore 2023.

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