Eden-Monaro By-election – Tracking Pre-poll and Postal Votes

(Final Update 4 July – based on final figures)

In this post I’ve been tracking how many people have cast pre-poll votes or applied for a postal vote ahead of the Eden-Monaro by election this Saturday, 4 July.

My interest has been to measure whether there has been a change to the number of voters using these advance voting options compared to their use in Eden-Monaro at last year’s Federal election. You would expect some increase as the by-election is being conducted mid-winter in one of the coldest parts of the country at a time of continuing concerns over Covid-19 infection.

The Queensland local government elections in March, conducted in warmer weather but at a time of greater Covid-19 concern, saw a huge increase in the use of both postal and pre-poll voting.

So far there has been a marked increase in postal voting and some increase in pre-poll voting. As there is no absent voting and only limited pre-poll absent voting available for the by-election, some of the observed increase in postal and pre-poll voting may simply reflect a shift from absent voting. Last year there were 1,983 absent votes in Eden-Monaro and 6,207 pre-poll absents, together representing 7.7% of all votes.

In summary – at the end of the pre-poll voting period, 38.2% of the electorate have voted pre-poll, 43,684 in total compared to 41,355 pre-polls taken for all districts in 2019, or 37,808 in total for Eden-Monaro in 2019. This is an increase of 15.5% on 2019. There were 6,920 pre-polls taken on the final day of pre-poll voting on Friday, representing 6% of all voters.

The big increase has been with postal vote applications, up 127% on the number of applications in 2019. The deadline for the receipt of postal vote applications passed on Wednesday, so the final total of applications received is 16,840 or 14.7% of electors. That is more than double the 7,428 applications in 2019. Most notably, Labor is running a serious postal vote campaign for the by-election, 4,447 forms returned to the AEC as against only 41 returned by Labor in the whole 2019 campaign. Full detail inside this post.

For more background on the Eden-Monaro by-election and on the candidates, check out my guide to the by-election at the ABC elections website.

Pre-Poll Voting

As with last year’s Federal election, the by-election has had three weeks of pre-poll voting, 15 week days plus the final Saturday before polling day. In Eden-Monaro at last year’s Federal election, 41,355 pre-poll votes were taken at pre-poll centres in the electorate. Of these, 37,808 were for Eden-Monaro, another 3,547 for other districts. The final figure for the by-election is 43,684, an increase of 15.5% in 2019.

As noted earlier, there were another 6,207 pre-poll absent votes taken in other districts. There will be only a tiny number of pre-poll absent votes for the by-election.

Chart 1 plots the pre-poll votes taken by day in Eden-Monaro against the same data for last year’s election. The 2019 number is inflated by including pre-polls taken in Eden-Monaro for other districts.

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At the federal election, only one pre-poll centre was open for the first five days of voting, all other centres opening on day six. For the by-election there were four major pre-poll centres from day one, another four opened on day four of voting, with two more opening on day 6. This earlier opening explains the increase in pre-poll votes taken in the first week of the campaign, as shown in Chart 1.

Chart 2 shows the same daily data but as accumulated totals. Again, the blue line for 2019 is inflated by including pre-polls for other districts. The yellow line shows the final figure for within district Eden-Monaro pre-polls in 2019.

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Table 1 breaks down the votes by pre-poll centre. As we are now in the final week of pre-polling, I have adjusted the data in Table 1. The ‘Change’ column now shows the difference between the to-date total votes taken and the total by centre in 2019. Unlike the data in charts 1 and 2, the 2019 data in Table 1 includes only pre-polls for Eden-Monaro.

There are three pre-poll centres in Queanbeyan for the by-election compared to only at last year’s election. I have merged the change column for the three Queanbeyan pre-poll centres. The three small Canberra pre-polls were not used used at last year’s election.

Table 1: Eden-Monaro – Pre-Poll Votes Recorded by Centre

Pre-Poll Centre 2019
Total
2020
to date
Change
Bega 4,186 4548 +362
Canberra Central .. 363 +363
Canberra North .. 352 +352
Canberra South .. 228 +228
Cooma 4,661 4272 -389
Jindabyne 1,524 1705 +181
Merimbula 3,598 5235 +1,637
Narooma 3,266 3532 +266
Queanbeyan City 12,870 7248 +2,405
Queanbeyan (New) .. 4006 ..
Jerrabomberra (New) .. 4021 ..
Tumut 4,039 4143 +104
Yass 3,609 3939 +330
RO/BLV 55 92 +37
Total 37,808 43684 +5,876

Postal Voting

Chart 3 shows the accumulated total of postal vote applications in 2020 compared to 2019. There were an extra two days at the start of the by-election campaign for the receipt of applications compared to the federal election.

At the deadline for receipt of postal vote applications on Wednesday 1 July, a total of 16,840 applications had been received, up from 7,428 at the 2019 election. This corresponds to 14.7% of enrolled voters and is an increase on 127% compared to 2019.

7,428 applications were successfully received and postal vote packs sent out in 2019, but only 5,969 postal votes made it into the count. Either the vote wasn’t completed and returned, returned too late, the vote was rejected for some administrative reason, or the voter turned up to vote and didn’t use their postal vote.

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Both lines in the graph show a steep spike about three weeks before polling day. This spike corresponds to the preparation of postal vote packs just after the close of nominations. At this point, general postal voters are added to the list of applications received. General postal voters are voters who for health, religious or distance from polling place reasons will automatically be sent postal vote packs without the need for an application.

As well as doubling in size, the biggest difference in postal vote applications in 2020 is their source. The Federal Election data is shown in Table 2, the by-election data to date in Table 3.

Table 2: Eden-Monaro – 2019 Federal Election – Postal Vote Application by Source

Source Number Percent
AEC online application 3,276 44.1
AEC paper application 352 4.7
General postal voter 1,937 26.1
Liberal Party 1,814 24.4
Labor Party 41 0.6
Others 8 0.1
Total 7,428

More than half of the increase in postal vote applications has come about through the Labor Party mounting an active campaign for postal votes. In 2019, the AEC received only 41 postal vote applications via the Labor Party. So far the Labor Party has forwarded 4,447 applications. Will this have an impact?

It depends who you ask. A lot of Labor campaigners think that postal vote campaigns just turns out conservative voters. That may be different for a by-election, especially one conducted in an electorate that records some of Australia’s coldest mid-winter temperatures. And it may be different at a by-election where many voters are wary of voting in person at pre-poll centres or polling places.

But getting more Labor votes cast as postal votes won’t necessarily change the result. It just changes when and how they vote, not necessarily who they vote for.

Table 3: Eden-Monaro – 2020 By-election – Postal Vote Application by Source

Source Number Change Percent Change
AEC online application 6,544 +3,268 38.9 -5.2
AEC paper application 802 +450 4.8 +0.1
General postal voter 2,139 +202 12.7 -13.4
Liberal Party 2,908 +1,094 17.3 -7.1
Labor Party 4,447 +4,406 26.4 +25.8
Other 0 -8 0.0 -0.1
Total 16,840 +9,412