WITH counting in the Bass election having finally concluded, questions remain over unprecedented chaos at local voting centres and a multitude of voting irregularities on election day.
The Post believes at least eight voting centres in the Bass electorate – Newhaven, Dalyston, Kilcunda, Corinella, Grantville, Bass, Bayles and Catani – ran out of ballot papers. Other voting centres, including Lang Lang, Tooradin and Corinella, were severely under-staffed with voters queuing for up to two hours to vote.
Voting centre staff hand wrote ballot papers, some voters waived their voting right and others simply gave up after several failed attempts to vote.
The Victorian Electoral Commission would not confirm which centres were affected or why the VEC so badly underestimated the number of voters at Bass voting centres.
Cynthia O’Meara tried twice to vote at Corinella before giving up. “Voting is important to me. I’ve got a young family. There are issues I’m passionate about. I feel the results aren’t really a proper indication because not everyone had a say.”
Libby Skidmore described the scene at the Corinella voting centre as chaotic with only one poll clerk and the centre running out of ballot papers mid-afternoon. “Surely they know there are more than 800 people living in the area and how many they should be catering for. At the very least you would expect them to have enough voting papers.”
Grantville staff were handwriting blank ballot papers. VEC staff informed waiting voters they could travel to the Bass voting centre which had just received an additional 100 ballot papers; they could return at 5.30pm, when new ballot papers were expected from Wonthaggi; or they could waive their right to a vote but be registered as having turned up.
A supply of ballot papers arrived at Grantville at 5.20pm and voting resumed at 5.25pm. “Those who said they’d return at 5.30pm did in fact return,” Zena said.
Baden Johnson, who was handing out at Grantville, said that when the ballot papers ran out staff were sending people to Bass to vote but then Bass ran out. “And there were very long queues at Lang Lang so those people were coming to Grantville to vote only to find they couldn’t.
“Some people were genuinely upset. ‘This isn’t democracy!’ Others just didn’t want to be fined for not voting.”
There was a long queue outside the Corinella voting centre when Libby Skidmore first arrived in the morning so she decided to come back later. She returned at 3pm and found the queue stretching down to the intersection.
Ms Skidmore, who has worked as a poll clerk at Corinella in the past, said there was only one poll clerk on duty. “They always had three or four in the past. And then they announced there were no ballot papers and they had to get them from somewhere else.
“It was totally chaotic. People were generally supportive of the staff – it wasn’t their fault – but people were getting impatient.”
When voters asked if they could at least be marked off the roll, they were told this was not possible and they could be fined if they didn’t vote. Some voters left to vote at Grantville or Bass but those at Corinella later heard the other voting centres had also run out of ballot papers.
Ms Skidmore was finally able to vote at 5.10pm. She said staff told voters the booth would stay open until everyone had a chance to vote.
The VEC responds
The communication manager for the Victorian Electoral Commission, Marie Guerin, said:
“We are aware of a limited number of voting centres that ran low or out of printed district ballot papers on election day in some regional and metropolitan Melbourne districts, including Bass District,” she said.
"Replacement ballot papers were provided to each voting centre. In the interim, voters waiting to vote were:
“No voting centres were closed before 6pm, and anyone still in the queue at 6pm was provided the opportunity to vote.”
“I walked up to the Corinella Hall about 3.30 or 4pm. I was in the queue when someone came and told us there were no ballot papers left. I heard it was widespread. They said Bass had none. They said they’d ordered more and they’d left Wonthaggi an hour ago.
“We were told we would get a fine if we didn’t vote. They had a piece of paper with the voting manager’s details and told us to take a photo so when they send the notice we could refer them to this.” With two young children, she left after about 45 minutes. She is disappointed that she did not get to vote.
It wasn’t just Bass voters who had a hard time of it. Election workers also copped it. One local worker, who did not wish to be named, described the chaos from the inside, with casual staff completing blank ballot forms by hand while waiting for deliveries of ballot papers.
Election day for her was a 15-hour marathon with two 15-minute breaks, dealing with angry and confused people, topped off by offensive messages left by informal voters on ballot papers. She staggered out of the hall just before midnight.
“Never again!” she said. “And I’m postal voting from now on.”