Safe voting options & guide during the Coronavirus Epidemic
On March 28 elections will be held across all of Queensland for local councils. Given the bans on large gatherings because of Coronavirus, many people are worried about attending polling stations. Here is how to vote safely during a Coronavirus Epidemic.
Image courtesy of AEC
About the elections
As most people know, there are local council elections on March 28 for all 77 of Queensland's local councils. Yes, voting is still compulsory despite Coronavirus, so unless you have a good excuse, you have to vote.
Local councils are important as they provide many important basic services that are needed throughout the community. Ensuring we have the right government during a time of crisis is important.
The Coronavirus risks
Coronavirus is a respiratory disease that can be transmitted through the air or through touch, where you touch a surface or a person with the virus, pick it up with your hands and then touch your face. Warnings to not to touch your face are difficult to follow. A fun game is to see who can go the longest during an activity without touching their face. Play it with your kids as a way to make the warning sink in and be fun too.
One of the biggest risks is that with COVID-19, people can get mild or no symptoms, but be infectious. This is means someone with the disease can unknowingly transmit it to others.
Reducing the risk at a polling station
Polling stations will see many people come in, queue and vote over the day. The Australian Electoral Commission is planning measures, including limiting the number of people inside a polling station at any time, and I assume cleaning surfaces and setting up queues that avoid crowding people together. But there are precautions you personally can take.
Image courtesy of AEC
If you think you might be getting the symptoms of Coronavirus or suspect you might have been exposed to the disease, don't go to a polling station. If you have been ordered to isolate yourself or in quarantine, arrangements should be made to help you to vote, though more details are below on some other voting options. Don't forget, if you head to a polling station after being told not to go out, you can be fined, and it is a criminal offence in Queensland to knowingly spread the disease.
The one that springs to most people's minds is face masks. Yes, surgical masks can reduce the chance of getting infected. But they don't seal off your face, but can stop larger particles getting through, and stop you from touching your nose and mouth. I don't recommend wearing a surgical mask, but it if you choose to wear one to attend a polling station, put it on just before you go in. If you wear a mask for more than an hour, it will get damp from your breath and be more or less useless. You may be asked to remove it if you have to identify yourself.
A better mask option is the P2/N95 filter mask, which is specifically designed to remove particles from the air and forms a seal around your face, unless you have a beard. They can be found at hardware stores or you can buy them online through places like eBay and Amazon. While they are more effective than surgical masks, they still do not provide 100% protection.
One thing a surgical or P2/N95 mask does do is reduce the chance that you would transmit Coronavirus, if you unknowingly have it. Overall there is no harm in wearing a mask. Note: The real harm is in people buying up large supplies of surgical masks, even though they don't really do much to prevent the disease.
Another important strategy to prevent the spread of Coronavirus is hand hygiene. Essentially at a polling station, avoid touching surfaces, use disposable paper tissues or towels to open doors or handling things, you will be allowed to bring your own pen or pencil for voting, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands as soon as possible. Yes, hand santisers can work, but they are not as effective as washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.
To avoid being exposed to lots of voters, you can also do pre-poll voting, which starts from Monday, March 16 and finishes on Friday March 27. The availability of pre-poll voting will depend on where you live, and some areas not providing this option for the whole week. Once again, use the options described above if you are worried about infection.
Telephone voting is available for eligible voters. This service is meant for people with a disability or other impairment, but will also be available for people in aged cared facilities. So generally don't swamp the call centre asking to be registered for phone voting, but it may be an option for some voters. Voting and registration begin from March 16 and you should be able to register right up to election day. You are also able to vote on election day.
The government is encouraging people to do a postal vote, but registration for this closes on Monday March 16 at 7 pm. The easiest way is to apply online. This gives them plenty of time for them to send you the voting forms. The easiest way is to apply online. You can also call 1300 881 665, though this is not widely advertised.
Check for updates on the Electoral Commission site
The Coronavirus means that the government is changing their plans and process continually as the situation changes. Which means, that between now and election day, changes might occur around voting, so please check the AEC's website for updates.
Despite an international pandemic democracy continues. You have to vote on March 28, but there are lots of options to remain safe. So whether you go to a polling station or use a postal or other voting method, we can beat the virus and support democracy.
Thanks for the suggestions, Roy, but we have been trying to call the Center for three days flat and never could get through. We heard the same from friends! The system needs a lot of improvements!!! Kind regards,