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Queensland council elections – how low can election day go?

March 28, 2020 - 17:40 -- Admin

We are still waiting for results from today’s Queensland council elections, but this election is on track to look very different to past elections, with only a small proportion of Queenslanders voting on the day.

The Electoral Commission of Queensland has estimated that about 1.2 million Queenslanders have cast pre-poll votes over the two weeks of voting. 570,000 Queenslanders also registered for a postal vote, and 40,000 people registered for telephone voting (although this does not mean all these people will cast a vote).

When you look at the vote counts from the 2016 election, you can see that these figures suggest a total transformation in how Queenslanders vote, and suggests that the proportion of the electorate turning out today would be dramatically reduced, mostly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This table shows the number of voters by method of voting at the 2016 election. I have just looked at mayoral votes, since there were less voters in uncontested electorates for their mayoral election. There were 18 small councils which only used postal voting in 2016, and 8 other councils where the mayor was elected unopposed. I have excluded them from the count.

There was turnout of 83.2% in the councils analysed in 2016.

Vote category
Voters
% of votes
% of enrolled

Ordinary
1,533,001
63.1
52.5

Pre-poll
487,514
20.1
16.7

Postal & unenrolled
221,678
9.1
7.6

Absent
151,133
6.2
5.2

Telephone
466
0.0
0.0

Other
35,632
1.5
1.2

Did not vote
491,355

16.8

Total
2,920,779

Ordinary votes made up 63% of the total vote, and over half of all enrolled.

If you group into votes cast early and votes cast on election day, election day made up 70% of the vote, and 58% of total enrolment. Early votes made up 30% of the vote and 25% of total enrolment.

Now let’s compare these figures to what we know about 2020. We know that about 3.2 million voters are enrolled.

There has been 1.2 million pre-poll votes and 570,000 postal vote applications. That translates to 37.5% and 17.8% respectively (although that’s an upper ceiling for postal votes). Plus telephone voting has jumped from less than 500 votes to as many as 40,000, or 1.25% of the total electorate.

This adds up to possibly as many as 56% of the total electorate having already voted before today.

I think you also have to assume a drop in overall turnout, with some voters simply failing to turn out due to concern about the risk to their health. So if turnout was to drop to, say, 75% of the electorate (down from 83% in 2016), you could imagine as little as one in five eligible voters may have cast their vote today. This would be barely a third as many as voted on election day in 2016.

There has been an ongoing trend of increasing numbers of voters choosing to cast their votes early (although mostly through pre-poll voting – postal voting has been largely stable). But I don’t think we would ever expect to see these kinds of trends outside of a global pandemic.