Early Voting at Tasmanian Elections

UPDATE 23 April – One week before the election, 26,000 postal packs have been dispatched with the date for applications now having passed. This is only slightly up on the 24,676 in 2018. 18,000 pre-poll votes have been taken, only half the number in 2018, but the last week of the campaign is when most pre-poll votes are cast.

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Rising rates of early voting have been a phenomena at elections across Australia for the last decade, with the rate of early voting boosted further since the emergence of Covid-19 a year ago.

Elections held since the emergence of Covid-19 have seen fewer than 40% of voters turn up to vote on election day, exaggerating the pre-pandemic trend to voting early.

At last October’s Queensland election, ordinary votes cast in a voter’s home district on polling day represented only 27.6% of all votes, down more than half from 57.2% in 2017. Postal votes doubled from 10.7% to 23.8% and rates of pre-poll voting rose from 26.2% to 43.8%.

Exact figures are not available for the Western Australian election but point to less than 40% of votes being cast on election day, and there were similar low rates at last year’s ACT and Northern Territory elections, and the Eden-Monaro and Groom federal by-elections.

The Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) has not adopted the strategy of its brethren Electoral Commissions in vigorously encouraging early voting. Both Pre-poll and Postal voting are readily available, but with no community transmission of Covid in Tasmania, on health advice the TEC has decided there is no reason to discourage polling day voting.

There has been a rise in pre-poll voting at recent Tasmanian elections, but its incidence remains much lower than elsewhere.

At the 2018 Tasmanian election, 74.6% of votes were within district polling day ordinary votes. The figure was down from 80.8% in 2010 and 89.2% in 1992. The graph below shows the rates for each category of non-ordinary votes at Tasmanian elections since 1992.

As elsewhere, elections in the 1990s saw an increase in postal voting, but the rate of increase has levelled off. All the increase in recent years has been with in-person pre-poll voting, rising from 2.4% in 2006 to 10.3% in 2018.

In 1992, all five categories were declaration votes where voters needed to complete a declaration envelope. Only Postal and Provisional votes still require a declaration. Absent votes (or Out-of-division votes as they are called in Tasmania), pre-polls and mobile votes are issued and taken as ordinary votes. Tasmania has moved to full electronic roll mark-off which allows absent votes to be issued as ordinary votes.

It is interesting that the rates of early voting are slightly lower than at Federal elections in Tasmania. The table below compares the numbers at the 2018 state and 2019 federal elections. There are some slight definitional differences which result in state Absent votes being classified as Pre-polls at Federal elections.

Percentage of Votes by Vote Type in Tasmania – State and Federal Elections Compared

State 2018 Federal 2019
Vote Category Votes Pct Votes Pct
Ordinary 262,597 74.6 245,165 67.4
Pre-Poll 36,426 10.3 72,514 19.9
Postal 23,425 6.7 28,113 7.7
Absent 23,311 6.6 12,191 3.3
Mobile 4,933 1.4 4,781 1.3
Provisional 1,488 0.4 1,198 0.3
Total 352,181 363,962

At the 2018 Tasmanian election there were 24,676 postal votes issued of which 23,425 were returned and made it into the count. At the 2019 Federal election there were 33,166 issued and 28,133 returned and admitted to the count.

With Pre-polls there were 63,376 within district pre-polls and another 9,138 out of district pre-polls. At state elections, many of these pre-polls would have been issued and counted as Out of Division votes.

As of close of business last Thursday, a total of 6,599 pre-poll votes had already been taken for the election, about one-fifth of the total taken in 2018. As the rate of pre-poll voting increases as polling day approach, those numbers indicate the rate of pre-poll voting will be higher for the 2021 election.

Also as of Thursday, 15,400 postal vote packs had been mailed out. Applications for postal votes must be received by Friday this week, an earlier cut-off date than for Federal elections. While there may be a rise in postal votes, trends elsewhere indicate the real increase will be with pre-poll voting.

Finally, the graph below shows party percentage votes by party. As is the trend elsewhere, postal and pre-poll voting tend to favour the Liberal Party, with the small catgeory of mobile votes cast in nursing homes even stronger for the Liberal Party. Labor does best on polling day and with the tiny category of provisional votes. The Greens do best with out of division votes, a trend evident at all Australian elections but often labelled the bushwalking vote in Tasmania.