By Roxanne Fitzgerald
The only thing stopping Northern Territory voters from casting their postal vote after the election cut off, potentially swaying tight seats, is a signature and their own morals.
Unlike most other states, all residents of the Northern Territory are able to cast their postal vote from home – with no criteria to meet to receive a postal ballot.
Voters were required to complete the vote by 6pm on election day, date the document and sign it.
But voters have another 13 days to send their vote back to the NT Electoral Commission, after counts have already been made public.
NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan said there has been no evidence of voter fraud skewing Territory elections, and if any instances present themselves, the commission would address it immediately.
But he conceded control is lost as soon as the ballot is sent out.
“We are relying on that person to follow the rules,” Mr Loganathan said.
“People sign a declaration at the back of the postal vote, they sign it and that is a declaration that what they are saying is correct.”
A week out from the election, NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ken Fleming said he was assessing “numerous” allegations of anti-democratic conduct relating to the election and breaches of the Electoral Act. He said in a statement that “unlawfully inducing or persuading a person to apply for a postal ballot paper” was an offence under the Act.
Five seats still too close to call
On Wednesday morning, the seats of Araluen, Barkly, Blain, and Namatjira were still too close to call.
In Blain, Labor’s Mark Turner was ahead by just 21 votes over CLP candidate Matthew Kerle, as of Tuesday at 4pm when the last update was published. Only 21 votes are separating candidates in Araluen, as well. And in Namtjira, as of Tuesday, only 15 votes separated the CLP and ALP.
It’s expected postal votes will play a huge role in determining the winners.
Other Australian states have developed tight criteria to regulate postal voting.
In Queensland and Victoria, to be eligible for a postal vote a person must either reside at an address more than 20km from a polling booth, be registered as a silent elector, be unable to attend a polling booth due to religious beliefs, or be unable to sign due to a physical incapacity.
In Western Australia, postal votes must be posted on or before polling day.
NT Electoral Act amended in 2016 to permit anyone to obtain a postal vote
Mr Loganathan said the Electoral Act was amended prior to the 2016 election so that all voters have the option to complete a postal vote.
He says the 13 days allows people more time to cast their vote from interstate, overseas, or living in remote communities where mail may only be picked up once a week.
In a 2018 report conducted at the University of Melbourne, which investigated the rise of ‘convenience voting’ – postal votes, absentee votes, early votes and internet votes – researchers found “a striking increase in the number of voters making use of one or another convenience voting option”.
As early as 1900 in Victoria, concerns were raised over ballots being compromised and the legitimacy of election outcomes weakened by forms of convenience voting.
As a result, regulations around postal voting in Victoria were tightened with the Voting by Post Act of 1900.
The Act stipulated electors could apply for a postal ballot for one of two reasons, which are still largely in place today, those being that voters either needed to live more than 8km from the nearest polling station or be unable to attend “because of ill health or infirmity”.
Critics overseas have also raised concerns with postal votes.
In 2014, a top judge in the UK said, “postal voting is open to fraud on an industrial scale and is unviable in its current form”.
Richard Mawrey QC, told the BBC “people should not be able to apply for postal votes as a matter of course”.
Postal votes cut off in 2016 Territory election over integrity concerns
However, Mr Loganathan maintained there have not been issues in the NT, and when there has been a possibility of vote rigging, the Australian Electorate Commission (AEC) has stepped in.
“In 2016, the seat of Nhulunbuy had a very tight margin of eight votes,” Mr Loganathan said.
“There was lots of discussion about honorary postal votes so we went out and said it was too late to send a postal vote. We made it very clear they couldn’t be sent in after the (Nhulunbuy) election.”
The NTEC has already counted an undisclosed number of postal votes for the 2020 election, but will conduct a second count at the end of the week. The deadline for all postal votes is Friday, September 4.
The NTEC said yesterday a further 1700 “declaration votes” – votes cast by people who are not on the electoral roll – are in the process of being confirmed by the AEC.