COVID to change the way we vote

Not likely: There's a good chance you won't be seeing this at the 2021 NSW Local Government elections as COVID restrictions are set to dictate how votes will be cast.

Not likely: There's a good chance you won't be seeing this at the 2021 NSW Local Government elections as COVID restrictions are set to dictate how votes will be cast.

The 2021 NSW Local Government elections are less than two months away and with the current COVID situation this visit to the polls will be different to anything we've experienced before.

The election is scheduled for September 4, 2021 and the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) has been communicating with NSW Health to identify and implement COVID-safe measures.

The current COVID-19 action plan was published on July 14, but given the rapidly changing situation in Greater Sydney, the NSWEC says it will continue to liaise closely with NSW Health and other NSW Government agencies about managing the impact of COVID-19 on the elections.

Some of the protection measures in place for the election include:

  • The use of the Service NSW QR Code at voting and counting centres;
  • The wearing of masks at all times at voting and counting centres;
  • Voters using their own pens or the provision of single-use pens;
  • Maintaining physical distancing and spacing between voting screens and issuing tables;
  • Employing additional election staff to manage physical distancing and implement hygiene measures;
  • Regularly cleaning surfaces; and
  • Displaying public health messaging.

The NSWEC notes that it may also make entry into venues it occupies subject to compliance with COVID-19 safety measures, even if no specific health order has been issued for an election by the Minister for Health.

Any person who is enrolled to vote may do so by pre-poll.

For postal voting, in addition to existing postal vote eligibility criteria, the following criteria also apply, if you:

  • Are a permanent or temporary resident in a hospital, nursing home, retirement village or similar facility
  • Are self-isolating because of COVID-19 related reasons
  • Reasonably believe that attending a polling place on election day will pose a risk to the health or safety of yourself or people around you, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Postal votes may now be returned by 6pm on Friday 17 September. It is important to note that electors should still return their postal vote as soon as possible.

In the event of escalating risks around COVID-19 additional instructions may need to be given by the NSWEC.

Blue Mountains City Council Mayor Mark Greenhill said it will be a very different campaign from previous years.

"This will be an election like no other," he said. "Community safety is paramount. Sadly, councils have no say over the timing and conduct of elections. This is all in the hands of state government."

Cr Greenhill called on the state government "to put community safety first. Nothing matters more."

"We are used to candidates doing street stalls, railway stations and door knocking. Those things won't happen this time."

Electors may be increasingly reached online and by mail with far less of the traditional face to face methods. And it is possible less electoral material will be handed out by candidate supporters at polling booths. Many may choose pre-poll to avoid rushing into polling booths in one day, he said.

"Electors in the Blue Mountains are highly intelligent and inform themselves. It falls to the government to make sure its rules preserve the democratic process while maximising safety."

  • - with B.C Lewis