Port Stephens Council to seek minister's support for an end to polling booths and the adoption of postal voting

TRADITION: Voters at the Wirreanda polling booth at the 2017 election. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
TRADITION: Voters at the Wirreanda polling booth at the 2017 election. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

The next time Port Stephens residents vote in a council election it could be via a postal ballot rather than lining up at a polling booth as it aims to reduce the $400,000-plus it cost to conduct the last poll.

Supporters of the move, which include the mayor Ryan Palmer, argue it will streamline voting for residents who are resisting the traditional Saturday polls in increasing numbers.

Whether the system is adopted or not will depend on the state government and a written request from Port Stephens Council.

“I was gobsmacked when I saw that it cost $400,000 to conduct the election,” Cr Paul Le Mottee said.

Part of this cost was attributed to the 173 staff the electoral commission billed to Port Stephens, which includes booth workers. This cost did not include the $20,000 council used to advertise the election.

“[American president] Donald Trump doesn’t have that many staff members running around after him,” Cr Le Mottee said.

The notice of motion from Cr Palmer divided councillors on its merit.

Cr Giacomo Arnott said it was money well spent with a flow-on to the economy with election staff staying in hotels and spending money on lunch among other things.

“Our investment in the election is supporting locals and local business,” he said.

“There’s not a lot of ways to create jobs in local government but this is one of them.

“We should be consulting people on this when it’s a fundamental change to the voting system.”

Cr John Nell sought to defer the matter for a full report from council staff. But this was defeated.

However Cr Jaimie Abbott was successful when she moved an amendment to weigh up if the iVote system might be a better system when the results of a electoral review are published in May.

TRADITION: Voters at the Wirreanda polling booth at the 2017 election. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

TRADITION: Voters at the Wirreanda polling booth at the 2017 election. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Cr Abbott said she had successfully used iVote as part of a trial in 2011 and 2015 state government elections.

“I was able to vote for my local candidate on my mobile phone,” she said. 

Cr Palmer found the numbers to uphold his notice of motion, confident it was a superior way to go.

“It potentially helps people make a better informed decision about how they vote,” Cr Palmer said.

“We also think we could save $100,000 doing it this way.”

Cr Palmer said any saving was worth pursuing and could be re-invested in the local economy.

“I resent what Cr Arnott has said, it is a significant amount of money that could be re-invested here,” he said.

The council will now send a letter to the Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton asking that she draft legislation that would enable Port Stephens Council to conduct the poll via postal vote.

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