Friday 10 September 2021
For immediate release
Voter turnout hit new record highs in the 2020 local council elections, a new report tabled in the Victorian Parliament shows.
The 2020 Local Government Elections Report – the Victorian Electoral Commission’s (VEC’s) ‘scorecard’ on its performance and services during the election – showed that in the midst of a global pandemic voter turnout jumped from a statewide average of 72.15% in 2016 to 81.47% in 2020. Informal voting - that is, ballot papers not completed according to the instructions – also fell from 6.29% in 2016 to 4.76% in 2020.
While participation overall was high, there was a decline in the number of council-enrolled voters – voters enrolled as a ratepayer on the council roll – down from 626,894 in 2016 to 435,548 in 2020.
This was largely attributable to amendments to the Local Government Act in 2020, which required non-resident ratepayers not enrolled with council at the last election to apply directly to council to enrol.
This trend is set to continue with transitional arrangements under the Act ending before the next general election when all non-resident ratepayers will be required to apply directly to council to enrol for the 2024 general election.
‘Recommendation 8 in the election report calls for government to amend legislation, which would require councils to contact all eligible council-enrolled voters and notify them of their enrolment eligibility,’ Mr Gately said.
Mr Gately also pointed to the unique challenges of conducting an election during a global pandemic – setting 2020 apart from other state-wide electoral events.
‘Despite the prevailing restrictions, disruptions, changes and community anxieties, the VEC delivered an election program that was compliant, accurate and – above all – safe, allowing every Victorian to elect their local council representative,’ Mr Gately added.
Recommendations for consideration by Parliament
Recommendation 1: It is recommended that the Government introduces legislation that ensures enrolment entitlements and compulsory voting obligations for the next Casey City Council and Whittlesea City Council general elections in October 2024 are aligned with all other local councils going to election at the same time.
Recommendation 2: It is recommended that the Government notes the total possible number of scrutineers able to be appointed for an election under the ordinary operation of the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2020 (the LG Regulations) may be unsustainable if social distancing protocols extend beyond current regulatory relief arrangements.
Recommendation 3: It is recommended that the local government sector notes the VEC’s growing difficulty with sourcing suitable local counting venues.
Recommendation 4: It is recommended that the Government notes the increasing role of political parties in local government elections and the community’s desire for transparency in respect to candidate-party affiliations.
Recommendation 5: It is recommended that the Government notes voters have reported that the candidate questionnaire is not fit-for-purpose.
Recommendation 6: It is recommended that the Government notes that reach and readership of local newspaper continues to decline, and that news and information consumption is largely digital.
Recommendation 7: It is recommended that the Government amends the deadline for candidates to lodge their candidate statements, photographs and candidate questionnaires to align with the close of nominations.
Recommendation 8: It is recommended that the Government amends legislation to require councils to directly contact eligible council-enrolled voters and notify them in relation to their enrolment eligibility, application deadlines and obligation to vote (once enrolled).
Recommendation 9: It is recommended that the Government amends the prescribed list of excuses for failing to vote in the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2020 to include voters who were unable to vote at an election because they were experiencing homelessness.