2020 Local Government Elections - COVID-19 Protection Measures

The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) has carefully considered the impact of COVID-19 on the conduct of the 2020 local government elections and Currumbin and Bundamba by-elections. This includes the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic and the decision of the National Cabinet on 18 March 2020 to ban non-essential static gatherings of more than 100 people.

After considering this decision and taking advice from Queensland Health, the ECQ has determined that, based on current advice available, the elections should proceed. This is on the basis that: the elections facilitate an essential service by providing for continuity of democratic representation for Queenslanders; and measures will be put in place at polling places to limit the number of people inside the building to fewer than 100.

The ECQ acknowledges that this is a unique situation for Queensland electors and will be enhancing its service delivery approach for these elections to promote public health and confidence in participating in the electoral process. This includes additional personal hygiene precautions and people management measures for both electors and polling officials at polling booths.

Remember, voting is compulsory.

Directions for the 2020 elections

The Electoral Commissioner has issued a new Direction about Candidates and Scrutineers at Particular Places under the Local Government Electoral (2020 Quadrennial Election) Regulation 2020 and the Electoral (By-elections Before Next General Election) Regulation 2020. The Direction limits the access of scrutineers during preliminary and official counts. This is to support social distancing measures in line with advice from the state’s health authorities. The ECQ has provided additional guidance PDF (0.28 MB) to candidates and registered political parties about the application of the Direction.

In addition, the Regulations have banned the display of election signs at polling booths prior to 5am on polling day, Saturday 28 March 2020. The ECQ has developed a fact sheet PDF (0.13 MB) regarding the restrictions on setting up election signs at polling booths.

The Electoral Commissioner has issued a new Direction about distribution of how-to-vote cards and other election material at polling booths PDF (0.05 MB) under the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 and the Electoral Act 1992. To support social distancing, all persons are now prohibited from distributing how-to-vote cards or election material at all polling booths, but materials may be provided to booth supervisors for display at the booth. The ECQ has provided additional guidance PDF (0.21 MB) to candidates and registered political parties about the application of the Direction.

The Chief Health Officer has released a Direction regarding the conduct of the 2020 local government and state by-elections to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

What personal hygiene measures will be in place?

  • Queensland Health’s personal hygiene guidelines are to be followed by all people at polling booths including voters and polling officials. Copies of these guidelines will be distributed to and available at early voting centres and polling booths.

QLD Health Personal Hygiene Tips

  • Where available, hand sanitiser will be provided for voters and polling officials at early voting centres and polling booths.
  • Additional cleaning of polling booth areas will be undertaken to ensure that hard surfaces are regularly disinfected.
  • All people in polling booths should follow social distancing guidelines including maintaining distances of 1.5 metres where possible and avoiding handshakes.
  • The ECQ has written to candidates advising that no how-to-vote cards or other election material can be distributed at a polling booth.
  • Voters are encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil with them to vote, although pencils will still be available to all voters.

How will the numbers and proximity of people be managed during voting?

  • Early voting will be open from Monday 16 March until Friday 27 March.  Voters are encouraged to vote during the early voting period at a time convenient to them, where possible outside of peak periods.  Voters should note that numbers are usually higher at lunch time or the end of the day.
  • Early voting centres are generally open from 9am to 5pm during the first week of early voting, and from 9am to 6pm during the second week.  ECQ has extended voting hours at most   early voting centres between 9am and 9pm on Wednesday and Thursday this week and next week, and on Saturday 21 March between 9am and 5pm.
  • Polling officials will be monitoring the number of people in attendance at polling booths to make sure there are fewer than 100 people present at any one time. This has been revised down from 500 following the decision of the National Cabinet.
  • Additional measures such as queue control will be put in place where voters will need to wait to enter booths.
  • Vote issuing tables and polling screens will be positioned to maximise distance between all people in attendance, based on the space constraints of the polling booths.
  • ECQ will be employing additional staff to assist with managing queues and to help people cast their vote in the most efficient manner. This includes ensuring that high risk members of the public, such as elderly people, receive additional assistance.

What can voters do?

Voters can play their part during the elections by:

  • Practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene
  • Social distancing
  • Bringing your Voter Information Card with you to help mark you off the roll more quickly
  • Nearly one in three voters have voted before election day at an early voting centre
  • Bringing your own pen or pencil
  • If you are postal voting, completing and returning your ballot as soon as you receive it.

What can voters do if they are unwell?

  • Telephone voting was available for certain eligible voters, including anyone who has been advised by a medical practitioner to remain in isolation during the election period due to exposure to COVID-19.  Registrations for this service closed at 12pm voting day, 28 March.
  • Follow Queensland Health and medical advice regarding contact with other people and consider your capacity to vote during the two-week early voting period.

What further information is available?

Visit the Commonwealth Department of Health’s website for health alert information about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

Fact facts

COVID-19 is a unique situation that will impact Queensland’s elections

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic.
  • Understanding of COVID-19, its impacts, and health advice is very dynamic and changing daily.
  • The National Cabinet is meeting weekly and has made decisions based on health authorities’ advice which will affect public events, mass gatherings, and interpersonal interactions. These measures could be in place for the next 6 months. In summary:
    • Organised, non-essential static gatherings of more than 100 people where people are together for more than approximately two hours should be cancelled.
    • Social distancing is encouraged– e.g. no hand shaking, staying 1.5 metres away from other people, discouraging gatherings in enclosed places.
    • Practicing very good personal hygiene is essential.

The ECQ’s new plan for the March 2020 elections

  • The continuity of administration of 77 local governments and democratic representation in the two vacant state districts is essential. There is nothing to suggest that participating in the elections poses any greater risk than any other recommended daily activity.
  • The 2020 Queensland elections will therefore be proceeding, and the ECQ is taking measures to ensure the elections can be delivered to account for these unique circumstances. ECQ’s service delivery model for 2020 local government elections and state by-elections was based on the following: 60 per cent election day votes, 30 per cent early voting, and 10 per cent postal. Now it will be based on 40 per cent election day votes, 40-50 per cent early voting, and 10-20 per cent postal.
  • ECQ will be implementing extra hygiene measures in polling booths aimed at ensuring a safe and timely experience (e.g. where available the use of hand sanitiser, social distancing, a ‘bring your own pen’ campaign and additional cleaning of polling booths). These will be based on the latest advice available from health authorities.
  • ECQ will be employing additional staff to assist with managing queues and to help people cast their vote in the most efficient manner.  This includes ensuring that high risk members of the public, such as elderly people, receive additional assistance.
  • Crowd numbers in any polling booth at any one time will be monitored in keeping with guidance and direction from relevant authorise, noting the ‘100 people’ trigger for mass gatherings.
  • Extra voting screens are being deployed to booths so voters can move with minimal delays.
  • Vote issuing tables and polling screens will be positioned to maximise distance between all people in attendance, based on the space constraints of the polling booths.
  • Most other electoral arrangements and milestones remain the same:
    • Early voting centres and polling booths are largely unchanged.
    • Election day for all elections is Saturday, 28 March 2020; booths open from 8am-6pm.
    • ECQ extended voting hours at most early voting centres between 9am and 9pm on Wednesday and Thursday during both early voting weeks and on the Saturday prior to poling day between 9am and 5pm.
    • Postal voting applications closed at 7pm, Monday 16 March 2020. This deadline is set in accordance with electoral legislation and cannot be changed by ECQ.
    • Telephone voting registrations closed at 12pm (midday) on Saturday, 28 March 2020. Not everyone is eligible, so check first.
    • Voting remains compulsory in Queensland.
  • There may be some impacts on remote council elections due to the National Cabinet’s decisions about travel to and from such communities. These are being clarified as soon as possible.
  • The experience of voting and campaigning will be very different to what people are used to.
  • Vote counting and results declarations may occur differently or take longer than normal.