Indigenous voter participation is the target of a series of new initiatives being trialled at remote polling locations this election, after participation rates in remote communities averaged about 50 per cent during the 2010 election. Voting began at remote locations across Australia this morning, with 38 mobile polling teams heading out on a journey that will take them across an area covering more than 3.4 million square kilometres. Following the recommendations of a major review, the Australian Electoral Commission is now opening remote polling booths for longer and trialling a different make-up of remote polling teams. Rather than the enthusiastic volunteers and retirees who have staffed mobile booths in the past, the three-person teams visiting indigenous communities now comprise one indigenous person, one experienced electoral officer and one Centrelink staff member with existing connections to the community.
Travelling by road, air and sea to reach remote outstations, pastoral properties, small towns, tourist resorts and mining resorts over the next two weeks, the teams will crisscross isolated parts of the country to ensure people living in some 400 remote communities have the opportunity to vote.
Seventeen of the 38 teams will tour the Northern Territory, where the greatest number of remote communities are – about 200, each with between 15 and 1500 electors.
Robert Pugsley, the AEC’s electoral officer for the NT, said the review had found remote polling schedules had remained largely unchanged since 1984, and were due for an overhaul.
“Any community with 200 electors or more is going to get a full day (of polling),” he said. “It’s trying to better connect with the people and allow them to vote.”