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Election supports for older voters

Last Updated at January 27th 2022
2022 is shaping up to be a big year for elections in Australia. Not only will there be a Federal Election, but also a couple of State and Territory elections and Local Government elections.

Key points:

  • Elections are made accessible to cater for all Australian voters, including older people
  • There are a number of alternative voting options if you are unable to get to the voting booths on election day
  • People living with dementia can still participate in elections if they have the legal capacity to make decisions and understand the importance of voting
A person casting their vote in a ballot box in an Australian election
Some older Australians may need to utilise alternative ways to vote if they can't get to the voting booths on election days. [Source: Shutterstock]

The current States coming up to an election include South Australia, fixed on 19 March 2022; Victoria, fixed for 26 November 2022; and New South Wales, fixed for 25 March 2023.

Voting can already be confusing for the general public - making sure you are ticking the right boxes, the right amount of boxes, and have filled in the different sheets correctly. But for older Australians it can be quite challenging so it's good to know there are support services to help you.

Mick Sherry, the Electoral Commissioner of South Australia, says that voting is a fundamental responsibility for all eligible Australians and is compulsory for all people over 18 years of age with the obligation of enrolled electors to vote at State/Territory or Federal elections.

"A vote at any age is important, which is why we offer a range of voting services to support you to vote, whatever your situation," says Mr Sherry.

"It’s important for older [Australians] to feel empowered to vote. We are working on making the voting experience as accessible and flexible as possible so that you can maintain your independence to vote."

Getting to a voting booth on polling day can be difficult for older people for a number of reasons including:

  • Illness
  • Mobility issues
  • Disability
  • Language
  • Caring for someone with a disability or who is unwell
  • In quarantine
  • Religion
  • Travel

All these reasons can impact getting to a polling booth and making sure your vote is counted.

Here are a number of ways to ensure you are able to cast your vote in any upcoming elections:

Registering as a postal voter

This postal voting method is a lot more common these days, as it can take out some of the difficulty of travelling to a polling booth.

You can apply to be a general postal voter through the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website, and select which State or Territory you are from. It can sign you up as a postal voter for either the Federal or State/Territory elections coming up (as long as the date has been fixed).

You will be given a link to download a PDF form to be a general postal voter, which you will need to fill in, scan, and upload the completed document to the AEC.

If you don't have a computer, you can pick up a form from your local AEC office or post office. You can send this form back by faxing the form to your local AEC office, mailing it to your local AEC office, or be provided in person to your local AEC office. To find an AEC office near you, visit the website.

Once registered as a postal voter, your ballot papers will be sent to you in the mail once an election has been officially called (or when practical).

If you have registered as a postal voter in the past or are registering, you won't need to re-apply for future elections.

Eligible reasons for being a postal voter include:

  • Lives at an address that is 20 kilometres away from a polling booth
  • A patient in a hospital or nursing home and cannot travel to a polling booth
  • Unable to get to a polling booth due to being sick, or ill due to ageing, at home
  • You are caring for someone who is seriously ill or an infirm person
  • Are serving a prison sentence less than 3 years
  • You are registered as a silent elector
  • Cannot attend a polling booth due to your religious beliefs
  • Do not have the physical capacity to sign your name
  • You are registered as an overseas elector
  • You are a member of the defence force or a defence civilian, or an Australian Federal Police officer or staff member, who is serving overseas

Mobile voting

For some people, going to vote may be difficult because you are ill and are living, or staying, in either a hospital or nursing home so you can receive the care you need.

If you're in that position, you may be able to vote early in the lead up to the state election through mobile polling booths.

These booths will visit hospitals or aged care homes to allow the residents to lodge their vote. Keep in mind that only some hospitals or aged care homes are included in this initiative.

The AEC generally posts a list of the mobile polling locations after an election is announced.

Telephone voting

For those who are blind or have low vision, you are able to use the AEC's telephone voting system to cast your vote.

The information about this option is available once an election is announced on the AEC website.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can utilise the National Relay Service to assist you with contacting the AEC.

Early admission voting

If you are not able to get to a polling booth on the day of the election, you may be able to vote at an early voting booth.

The AEC announces the locations, dates and times of these early voting centres after the election date is announced.

Staff support will be available to help you if you need it when filling out your ballot papers.

Voting on election day

If you are still keen to vote at a polling booth on election day and grab a democracy sausage, there are accessibility systems in place to help you.

Talk to the election staff on the day and they can prioritise a place in the queue for you so you don't have to wait in a long line or if you would prefer, some polling places may allow you to have your ballot papers brought to your car to be filled out.

Most polling booths will provide accessible aids, such as pencil grips, magnifying sheets and chairs for people who can't stand for long periods of time.

You can also nominate a trusted person, like a friend, family member or other trusted person, to fill out the ballot form on your behalf.

Shortly after an election is announced, the AEC will post a list of places that will be voting booths with added ratings for accessibility for people with disability or with mobility restrictions. Each voting location will be rated as wheelchair accessible, assisted wheelchair access or not wheelchair accessible, as well as information on disability parking options.

Any election information will be made available in a variety of formats for accessibility purposes, for instance, EasyRead, pictorial guides, audio, Auslan, large print, and translated into other languages. This information will be available on Federal or State/Territory electoral websites closer to elections.

Not at home to vote?

If you are travelling around Australia and are outside of your State/Territory that you would be enrolled in for voting, then you will need to visit an interstate voting centre to vote.

The list of interstate voting centre locations will also be made available in the weeks after an election is called.

Similarly, if you are overseas for a federal election, you can either vote postally or at an overseas voting centre.

Keeping COVID-safe while voting

Due to the current spread of COVID-19, voting booths will have COVID-safe measures in place for everyone that attends.

Mr Sherry says, "While COVID-19 has impacted our lives in so many ways and might raise anxiety and uncertainty, a raft of COVID-safe measures will be put in place at all early voting centres and polling places to keep you as safe as possible."

These measures include:

  • Social distancing
  • Hand sanitising stations
  • Queue management
  • Frequent and thorough cleaning of high-touch surfaces by dedicated hygiene officers
  • Single-use pencils, if you forget to bring your own
  • Mandatory masks
  • COVID check-ins (which may differ depending on the State/Territory you live in)
  • Election staff will be double vaccinated

Voting as a person living with dementia

When it comes to dementia and voting, it depends on a persons' capacity to make legal decisions whether they'll be able to vote.

If you are in the early stages of your dementia and you still understand the importance of enrolling and voting, you may still be able to vote.

You will need to discuss with your doctor to check if you still have an understanding of the voting process in Australia.

If your doctor has deemed that you can not understand the importance of enrolling to vote and voting, you need to fill out an 'Objection claim that an elector should not be enrolled' form that will remove your' name from the electoral roll. The medical certificate section of this form needs to be filled out and signed by a medical practitioner.

What assistance do you need when an election comes up? Tell us in the comments below.

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The role of advocacy in aged care
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