Going to great lengths to deliver the franchise
It’s an early start – so early that only a faint light on the horizon breaks the darkness. But the team from Darwin has already been up for some time, preparing for their day of remote polling in Warruwi – a remote Northern Territory Aboriginal community on South Goulburn Island.
Warruwi, with around 220 enrolled voters, is just one of many Indigenous communities spread over 1.3 million square kilometres in the Division of Lingiari that received mobile polling services during the 2013 federal election.
Almost all of the voters in Lingiari live in remote areas, and one in every three lives in a remote Indigenous community. Service delivery in these areas can be particularly challenging. For many of these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters English is their second, or even third, language and electoral processes are unfamiliar and challenging. Nevertheless, they are keen to have their say.
To make it easier, the AEC implemented significant improvements to electoral services for remote voters during the 2013 election. Schedules were extended to allow communities with more than 200 enrolled voters to receive at least one full day of polling. Larger communities received up to five days of polling. The extended services were publicised widely on regional television and radio and promoted locally through Australian Government agencies and community organisations.
Partnership was key. The AEC worked in collaboration with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to maintain efficiency while extending the reach of services and to ensure they were both professional and culturally appropriate. Each AEC mobile polling team included two experienced DHS staff who work regularly in the communities and are known and well regarded. They were accompanied by an experienced AEC polling official. Most teams had at least one Indigenous member. The teams travelled to communities by air and in DHS vehicles, supported by DHS logistical staff in Darwin and Alice Springs and following DHS remote travel safety protocols.
At their destinations, teams used the AEC’s new electronic certified lists to search quickly for voter names and improve the movement of voters through each polling location. A series of 12 Indigenous in-language DVDs and one easy-English version were also screened at various locations on TVs or tablets. The videos showed voters how to cast a formal vote and 89 per cent of viewers said they found them helpful.
Mobile polling teams were also supported by AEC voter information officers (VIOs) – a new position established for the 2013 federal election. VIOs were local Indigenous community members trained by the AEC to help voters to understand how to cast a formal vote. Throughout the election VIOs worked in 44 remote communities across the Northern Territory.
Overall, remote polling teams for the 2013 federal election took 27 per cent more votes than in 2010. The AEC’s partnership with DHS proved to be a critical factor in improving services to remote communities, as was support received from the Australian Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Northern Territory Shires and the many organisations and individuals who work regularly in these remote areas.