People who tested positive for COVID-19 between Saturday and Tuesday are “angry” that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has said they “may not be able to vote” this election.
- People who test positive for COVID after Tuesday 6pm are eligible to vote over the phone
- Those whose cases were confirmed before that deadline are unlikely to get their postal votes in time
- The Human Rights Law Centre says the AEC’s position is “alarming” and could risk “disenfranchising tens of thousands of Australians”
Australians who tested positive after Tuesday at 6pm can apply to vote via phone, while those who tested positive between Saturday and Tuesday have been advised to apply for a postal vote.
But postal votes are unlikely to reach people like Melbourne’s Nicola Fry in time, according to the AEC website.
Ms Fry tested positive on Tuesday morning.
“I didn’t want to go through that avenue, because I wanted my vote to be counted,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
At the time, Ms Fry’s family said they were advised by an AEC representative that they could vote over the phone.
But Ms Fry later discovered that advice was incorrect and that she would only be eligible to vote over the phone if she tested positive after 6pm on Tuesday.
Unable to vote via post and ineligible for a phone vote, Nicola Fry and her three family members say they will not be able to cast their ballots.
“I’m very angry and helpless,” she said.
Multiple Australians diagnosed with COVID-19 between Saturday and Tuesday contacted the ABC saying they were in a similar situation.
Melbourne’s Michelle McLeod-Dryden tested positive for COVID on Sunday.
Her husband found he had the virus on Monday.
Ms McLeod-Dryden attempted to register for a postal vote on the AEC website but was told it would not arrive in time.
After an AEC representative informed her she could vote via phone, she discovered she was ineligible when she tried to sign up on Tuesday evening.
While she understood she would not get a fine, she said she was “really disappointed”.
“I’m not worried about the fine,” she said.
“There’s been adequate time to prepare for this.
“It’s just not good enough.”
Melbourne’s Kate Rees tested positive at midday on Tuesday, but was able to secure a phone vote after contacting her local member.
Ms Rees said she was unable to do a postal vote because she lived by herself in an apartment complex and would not have a witness to sign off on her paperwork.
“My MP’s office contacted the AEC who then contacted me,” she said.
“I’m still very stressed — I don’t know if they’ll chase me up for putting my positive RAT [result in] at midday instead of 6pm.”
While she was able to put in her vote, she was concerned for other Australians who lived alone or in rural areas.
“It’s a form of voter disenfranchisement,” she said.
AEC confirms cut-off
An Australian Electoral Commission spokesperson said people who tested positive to COVID between Saturday and 6pm Tuesday “may not be able to vote”.
“People who tested positive to COVID between Saturday and 6pm Tuesday were able to apply for a postal vote up until 6pm Wednesday,” the spokesperson said.
“People who did not apply for a postal vote before the application cut-off, haven’t voted yet, tested positive before 6pm Tuesday, and are in isolation through to after election day, may not be able to vote.
“Telephone voting is an emergency service only, for the unique circumstances of the pandemic, with deadlines set in the legislation/regulations.”
The spokesperson said “relevant health authorities” had been sending COVID-positive Australians text messages and emails “about their voting options since Saturday”.
But the $20 fine for failing to vote would not apply for Australians diagnosed with COVID-19 who were unable to vote.
“If a person cannot access the services available in their area, they will receive a letter from the AEC after the election informing there is no record of them voting,” the AEC told the ABC.
The spokesperson said the AEC was going to “every effort” to ensure postal votes were delivered in time.
Listeners contacted ABC Radio Melbourne suggesting COVID-positive people complete another RAT after the Tuesday 6pm deadline and claim they tested positive on this date to become eligible for a phone vote.
“The intention of the legislation is for each cohort of voters to have an option available to them and for people to plan their vote,” an AEC spokesperson said.
Australians can register up until 4:00pm AEST on election day for a telephone vote on the AEC website.
AEC urged to clarify position
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Hugh de Kretser said the situation was “alarming”.
“The right to vote is the most fundamental part of our democracy,” he said.
“The right of Australians to participate in the electoral process is enshrined in the Constitution and has been upheld by the High Court on many occasions.
He said the AEC’s position risked “disenfranchising tens of thousands of Australians”.
“We urge the AEC to clarify its position immediately,” he said.
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