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NSW Mid North Coast records three-fold increase in pre-polling numbers

Record numbers of people are voting early on the NSW Mid North Coast. (ABC NEWS: Indiana Hansen)

Hundreds of thousands of Australians are skipping the "democracy sausage" and flocking to pre-polling booths to vote in the 2022 federal election, as voters combat an early voting period that is a week shorter than usual.

The trend is stark in the electorate of Cowper on the NSW Mid North Coast, which has seen a three-fold increase in pre-polling.

Pre-polling opened on Monday and over three days more than 9,200 Cowper constituents have cast their vote, Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) figures show.

In 2019, the figure was 3,034.

In the neighbouring electorate of Lyne, 8,642 people voted in the first three days of pre-polling, and to the north of Cowper, 5,160 people pre-polled in the seat of Page; those figures are also significantly higher than figures recorded by the AEC for the 2019 federal election.

Nationally, pre-polls to date are 953,666, up from 2019s day three total of 378,149.

However, an AEC spokesperson said it was not unexpected, given there are fewer total days in which to vote in this federal election.

The AEC expects to see an increase in both postal voting and early voting at this federal election. (ABC News: Indiana Hansen)

Convenience leading change

James was one of the hundreds to turn out at an early polling booth in Coffs Harbour, in the seat of Cowper, on Tuesday and was surprised to see the long queues.

He has pre-polled in previous elections and said he was usually one of a small number to attend.

"I thought given it's the second day it wouldn't be as busy," he said.

Jenny Bell said she needs to volunteer with her husband at the Bellingen Show on May 21, so wouldn't be able to vote on election day.

Others cited holiday or work commitments, including Cowper-based small-business owner Zac Robinson.  

"Things are tough right now, and so we have to be manning the business on the day of the voting," Mr Robinson said.

Others were simply keen to avoid crowds or get involved early.

"I was excited about democracy," one young Coffs Harbour man said when asked why he chose to vote by pre-poll.

A growing trend

Political science professor Dominic O'Sullivan from Charles Sturt University said voting early had been increasing in popularity in recent years.

"This is part of a trend that we've seen in Australia over the past several elections, including state elections," he said.

"In the past there were quite strict rules determining whether one can cast an early vote and while there are rules now … in practice those rules are fairly loose and are not being strictly enforced as I understand it," he said.

Professor O'Sullivan believes the pandemic has played a key role in this year's record early voter turnout.

"Perhaps people think by going to cast an early vote they are not going to be in such big queues … although if that has been the plan for some people it hasn’t necessarily worked out because we are seeing such huge numbers."

Professor O'Sullivan also believes the character of the Prime Minister could be providing incentive.

“People are either really desperate to see him thrown out or really keen to see him get back,” he said.

Pre-polling centres will continue to open most days at various locations across the Mid North Coast leading up to May 21.  (ABC NEWS: Indiana Hansen)

Can anyone vote early?

Despite the apparent shift in voting habits, Alex Morris from the AEC said pre-polling was designed for legitimate reasons.

"The idea of early voting is for people who can't make it to the polling place on the 21st for whatever reason," he said.

"There is the standard ones, like 'I'm working that day' but you might have surgery scheduled that day, you might have holiday coming up and you are going to be out of the country on the day.

"Those are completely reasonable excuses."

The Electoral Commission states you can vote early either in person or by post if on election day you:

  • are outside the electorate where you are enrolled to vote
  • are more than 8km from a polling place
  • are travelling
  • are unable to leave your workplace to vote
  • are seriously ill, infirm or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is)
  • are a patient in hospital and can't vote at the hospital
  • have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
  • are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained
  • are a silent elector
  • have a reasonable fear for your safety or wellbeing
What are the key health issues in this election?
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Dive Deeper:
Millions of Australians are giving up the chance to grab a democracy sausage. Will this affect when a winner is called?
Millions of voters turning down their chance to snag a democracy sausage on election day by voting early.
Do I really have to vote? Can I draw on my ballot paper? Here are some things worth knowing before you cast your vote
There is still more than a week left of campaigning, but already Australians have been voting in their thousands. Here…
‘Sick of it’: why so many Australians are voting early this election
A drawn-out campaign and potential Covid risks are leading a record number of voters to cast their ballots before 21…
Rachael is voting as a silent elector in the 2022 federal election. Here's what that means
This federal election, many Australians will cast their vote as silent electors. Here's what that means.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Your complete 'how to vote' guide
Your guide to ballots, polling centres and electorates for the upcoming federal election.
We looked into the lobby group taking on rugby star turned would-be senator David Pocock. Here's what we found
Conservative lobby group Advance Australia has independent ACT Senate candidate David Pocock in its sights, with Facebook advertising data revealing…
Get all your news in one place