Administrators of rural councils without automatic postal voting approvals were at pains on Monday to assure voters that they could safely participate in the March 28 local government elections in person despite fears of the spread of COVID-19.
While 16 shires largely in the west of the state have been given approval to offer residents postal voting only, some such as Boulia, Croydon, Carpentaria, Cloncurry, Central Highlands, Flinders, McKinlay, Murweh and Winton will be using traditional polling booths for people to cast their vote on the day.
Referring to the national restriction on gatherings of more than 500 people, McKinlay's acting CEO Edwina Marks said it was unlikely that all of the shire's approximately 500 voters would be likely to gather at a single polling station at the same time on polling day.
"We're not anticipating any significant large numbers at one time," she said. "Based on what the Electoral Commission Queensland tells us, we expect around 40 per cent of voters to attend on the day."
The other 60pc would have either voted early or have pre-registered to postal vote.
Despite calls from some quarters for an extension for postal vote applications to be lodged, thanks to the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, they closed at 7pm on Monday.
I’ve written to the Minister to ask for more time for residents to apply for a postal vote in the Council elections given the current #Coronavirus pandemic. Currently you have until tomorrow to apply for a postal vote but given the concerns it would make sense to extend this. pic.twitter.com/Q3DBd0uGqU— Mayor Karen Williams (@CrKarenWilliams) March 15, 2020
As a result, an unprecedented number of Queenslanders will be postal voting, with an additional 130,000 applications received in 24 hours.
By 5pm, approximately 487,000 postal vote applications had been received in total.
ECQ's call centre, with 110 staff, had been operating at capacity, fielding some 6800 calls on Monday, plus 1900 emails.
Through social media channels Facebook and Twitter, over 700 messages were handled over the weekend of March 14-15, with approximately 8600 individual engagements.
An ECQ spokesman said the calls to extend the timeframe for postal vote applications to be lodged couldn't be complied with, without altering legislation.
However, early voting opened as planned in 130 locations from Monday, with voting figures said to be in line with expectations. By the end of the day, around 73,900 early votes had been received.
If you are having trouble lodging your application for postal voting, you can email us your details. We need some specific information to make it a formal application, see our website //bit.ly/2020QLGE to find out what information you will need to provide, and where to send it.— ECQ (@ECQInfo) March 16, 2020
In shires such as McKinlay early voting open will be available from next Monday, and Ms Marks said they were liaising with HACC to ensure that voting among the community's elderly citizens was spread out through this means and all through voting day, to reduce chances of disease spread.
In order to protect the health of vulnerable people, the ECQ on Monday cancelled its planned visits to nursing homes, instructing returning officers to contact each declared institution in their electorates and support its residents in applying for postal or telephone voting.
The ECQ has released two fact sheets regarding the impact of COVID-19 and additional protection measures being implemented for the elections.