This author is a financial member of the Liberal Democrats and the Chair of the Policy Committee for the SA Branch.
With election day in South Australia just over a month away, the Electoral Commission of South Australia (ECSA) is facing serious hurdles to ensure all voters have a chance to make their voices heard. A worrying combination of typical parliamentary ineptitude, a stubborn Premier, and dragged out COVID restrictions will all but ensure as many as 20,000 voters could find themselves without a legitimate way to vote.
SA’s current close contact definitions require anyone who had a “close personal interaction” with a COVID positive case for 15 minutes or more, unlike most states where it is 4 hours or more, to isolate for up to 14 days. Combine that with SA’s deadline and strict eligibility requirements for postal and pre-polling and you have a recipe for potentially thousands of disenfranchised voters.
Back in 2018, before COVID-19 was even a glint in the eye of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the ECSA recommended several changes to the South Australian election system. These included provisions for telephone voting, enrolment up to and on polling day, and more flexible postal and pre-polling. In fact, many of these recommendations went before the Parliament just last year, but Parliament did what it does best and they decided to give themselves an early Christmas instead.
Premier Steven Marshall has refused to recall Parliament, instead handballing the problem to other people — as he often does. While Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas uses the issue to score political points, disregarding the fact he and his Party had ample time to consider and pass the proposed legislation.
On Dec 1 and 2, the last days of Parliament, close to 100 people and I camped out on the front of the steps of Parliament addressing this exact issue, at least in part. Not a single Member of Parliament bothered to address us, in fact they decided to sneak in through another entrance to avoid even the possibility of crossing paths. So call me cynical, but I find it hard to believe they all of a sudden care.
Playing political football over who is responsible does nothing to help the 20,000 potential voters who could be denied their fundamental right to vote. But I know something that does, it may also have a few other benefits for democracy: end the state of emergency! It is long overdue.