COTA Australia is a non-partisan advocate for older Australians, so our submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) about the 2022 Australian Federal Election did not take sides in the big debates. Instead, our submission focuses on the accessibility of democracy for older Australians.
Reductions in the use of mobile voting teams at the 2022 election, along with the reduced service standards of Australia Post have meant that access to voting has been reduced for some older people. This has especially impacted:
- Those with low vision, tremors, and other disabilities struggle to fill in the forms concerned.
- Voters are advised that postal votes can be issued and returned within the last three days of the election. That is not realistically achievable, both because of slow post times, but also because getting the return ballot paper into a post box is an incredibly difficult task for a person with low mobility (the reason they need a postal vote in the first place).
- The experience was also quite stressful for some. Older people with cogitative decline often have multiple supports, including professional carers, family, and friends. The level of coordination is often moderate, meaning that multiple people may have attempted to assist the older person to vote, or not. This confusion is stressful for the older person and has also previously been identified as a cause of both plural voting and non-voting at elections.
In preparation of the next election, voting arrangements for Australians with reduced mobility or cognitive decline should be reviewed so that:
- The administrative burden of postal voting (for the voter) is reduced, published and legislated timelines are reviewed, and reasonable expectations are clearly communicated.
- More appropriate forms of accessible voting are created and promoted, possibly including mobile teams conducting home visits, and telephone voting.
- A specific communication campaign for carers, families and friends of the infirmed, making voting responsibilities and processes clear, and reducing stress and ensuring enfranchisement.