Early Voting at Western Australian Elections

As has been the case at other elections held in the last year, the 2021 Western Australian election will see major changes in when people vote.

As at the Northern Territory, ACT and Queensland elections in 2020, the WA Electoral Commission has responded to Covid-19 by actively encouraging voters to take advantage of postal and pre-poll voting options ahead of the state’s official polling day on Saturday 13 March.

As with every other Australian jurisdiction, the last decade has seen Western Australians move away from voting on election day. At the 2017 election, only 64.1% of votes were cast on polling day compared to 85.5% two decades ago.

Chart 1 below shows the percentage of formal votes cast in each vote category at WA elections since 1989.

Notes – The data in Chart 1 may not add to 100% due to a small number of Provisional Votes not included. Special hospital and remote polling are included in the total for Ordinary Votes in Chart 1 where they are included with Provisional Votes as ‘Other’ in Chart 2 and Table 1. Chart 1 is based on percentage of Formal votes, the basis on which the WAEC publishes historical vote type data. Chart 2 and Table 1 for 2017 have been calculated based on Total Votes.

Chart 1 shows the same trend that has been evident in all Australian jurisdictions. In the last year I’ve published the same data for Queensland, and published a much longer post on the rise of so-called ‘convenience’ voting at Federal elections. The abandonment of election day voting has been less marked in Western Australia compared to other states.

The rise in pre-poll voting has changed the way results are reported on election night, as the smaller number of votes cast at polling places are reported early, with significant delays before the much larger number of postal and pre-poll votes are reported later in the evening.

Western Australia has always counted available pre-poll and postal votes on election night. The problem in 2021 is that the gap between when polling day counting is completed and pre-poll and postal votes are reported may be much longer.

The trend towards early voting in Western Australia has developed more slowly than in other states, both at state and federal elections. At state level this was because WA was slower to make pre-poll voting readily available. The 2017 election was the first where voters could cast a pre-poll vote without having to sign a declaration specifying one of the allowed reasons to pre-poll vote.

In all states, pre-poll voting is more common in non-metropolitan seats and absent voting more common in metropolitan seats. Despite its vast size, Western Australia’s population is heavily concentrated in the state capital. Three-quarters of Western Australian voters live in Perth, and this demographic feature of the state helps explain its comparatively low rate of pre-poll voting and high rate of absent vote.

The highest rates of pre-poll voting at the 2017 election was in seats with a single central hub, Albany 28.7%, Bunbury 22.5%, Collie-Preston 22.6%., Dawesville 30.0%, Geraldton 33.5%, Kalgoorlie 27.1%, Kimberley 28.1%, Mandurah 39.8%, Pilbara 26.3%, Rockingham 26.9%, Roe 23.3% and Vasse 26.4%.

Chart 2 below shows two-party preferred results by vote type at the 2017 WA election. Labor did less well with Postal voting, a category of votes that has a higher proportion of older conservative voters and rural dwelling conservative voters. Absent voting favours Labor, reflecting that Labor’s vote is strongest in Perth where most absent votes are cast.

Finally, Table 1 breaks the first preference vote down by vote category. The strong Labor 2-party vote with Absent vote ends up being explained by the high Green vote amongst absent voters, a phenomena seen in other states as well.

Table 1 – First Preference Pct by Vote Type – 2017 WA Election

Party Polling
Place
Absent Postal Pre-Poll Other Total
Labor 42.7 40.7 38.5 43.1 44.9 42.2
Liberal 31.3 28.5 36.6 29.6 35.4 31.2
National 5.2 3.8 5.1 7.3 5.7 5.4
Greens 9.0 13.6 6.3 6.9 4.5 8.9
One Nation 4.4 5.0 6.3 6.4 3.0 4.9
Aus Christians 2.2 2.4 2.0 1.6 2.4 2.1
SFF 1.3 1.7 1.1 1.3 0.9 1.3
Others 3.9 4.4 4.2 3.6 3.3 3.9
Informal 4.7 5.3 4.3 3.6 5.5 4.5
% Category 63.5 11.2 8.4 16.1 0.8 100.0

Calculations by author from WAEC statistical returns. ‘Other’ votes includes provisional votes, special hospitals and remote polling. The % Catgeory vote is based on total votes rather than formal votes used in Chart 1.