Heading into a new week, each day brings closer the day voters have their ballots arriving in their letterboxes. I have been musing on the role of the letter box in this democratic process. The letter box is almost redundant in our lives. I have even met a young voter who has never posted a letter. The letter box is a legacy of a time when communication was slower, less immediate and mediated by many along the way in the process of sent and received. Now a simple click of a keyboard and a broadcast can occur, no need for hundreds of hours being added to the price of a stamp.
Our stamps will be changing and EIIR letterboxes will be fading from view. Apparently letter boxes began in Russia in the middle of the 19th century. Long before, people found ways to pop their messages into all kinds of places to be collected from bottles, to secret spaces in walls and being delivered back and forth on horseback.
A postal ballot feels so much less secure to me than a vote cast in the privacy of a booth, in full public view of officials and neighbours. The post box at your home is not that secure, anyone can pull a letter out! I have full confidence of Australia Post making the trip from their boxes to the Electoral Commission safe but not the bit before. Also, I worry that the opportunity for coercion and someone saying they will do the post for someone and then not actually posting their papers feels very real. I am nervous about democracy with a postal vote.
Nevertheless, this is the type of ballots votes will be delivered in October and November for the local government elections in South Australia. It is a postal ballot. The posties of my state will have the sacred duty of aiding democracy when they deliver the ballots to your letter box. This is also a non-compulsory election, so only those motivated to vote will do so. While 85% of rates are made by decision-makers in the City of Onkaparinga, last time round only 26% of voters returned a ballot.
I want people to vote, and I have been asking residents, when I am out door-knocking to vote. I have been asking them if they vote in local government elections. True to the data, three out of four, tell me they have never voted for at a council election. I ask them why and most common answers I hear are:
- It’s a waste of time, council decide what they want to do anyhow
- I’ve never met someone running for council, so didn’t know who to vote for
- I am not a property owner, so I didn’t think I was eligible.
To those people who don’t vote in council elections, it is not a waste of time, make it your business to find out who is running and why check out the Electoral Commission website and start talking to others about the choice you are going to make.
If you haven’t met anyone, this is completely not true once I’ve knocked at your door you know someone, and most people acknowledge this, give a big smile and say how much they appreciate the fact I knocked on their door.
Lots of people are of the impression that if they rent, or share a house with family or friends that they aren’t eligible to vote. They are always happy to hear that they are eligible if they are already on the electoral roll.
If we let other people make decisions for us, our voices won’t be factored in. We have a responsibility to also use our vote and voices for those who don’t have one, including future generations and other species.
Postal non-compulsory voting is the thin edge of the wedge in eroding democratic opportunities. You can help turn this around by using your ballot papers to vote for the people who reflect your values and make visible your preferred community leaders.
Don’t outsource your vote to others, encourage your family, neighbours and friends to do the same. The future is in your hands, once you get the papers out of your letter box and put them back into the hands of the trusted Australia Post letter box.