SA Liberals push for ban on how to vote cards

The Opposition will introduce legislation to ban how to vote cards from polling places at South Australian elections, with the Premier saying the government is “open-minded” to reform.

Feb 21, 2024, updated Feb 21, 2024
How to vote cards should no longer feature at South Australian polling places, the Liberal Party says. Photo: supplied

How to vote cards should no longer feature at South Australian polling places, the Liberal Party says. Photo: supplied

The proposed ban, announced by Opposition leader David Speirs today, would prohibit party volunteers from distributing how to vote cards within 100 metres of a polling booth.

The ban would also apply to car parks at polling places, even if they are more than 100 metres away from a booth.

Fines of $5000 would apply for breaches.

Speirs said voters were being “bombarded” with how to vote cards and it is “annoying and unnecessary in modern politics”.

“All too often voters get swarmed by electioneers who want to push their political party’s preferences and we think this practice no longer has a place at the polling booth,” he said.

“People hate the volunteers, the electioneers stepping forward as they approach the polling place trying to thrust a how to vote card into their hands.

“As someone who has done that many times, you get a lot of negative feedback about that.”

The ban would not see how to vote cards banned altogether, just at polling places.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said the government was “open-minded” to reform when asked today if the government would support the ban.

“We’ve already banned corflutes – first government to be able to get that done in South Australia – so if there are other measures that we can contemplate we’ll look at it,” Malinauskas said.

“But we want to think it through carefully. There’s got to be a balance here.

“We don’t want to deny people at the same time the ability to participate in the democratic process: often it’s maligned and lamented, but it is also an important ritual and shouldn’t be ashamed about that.

“Whatever change we make we want to advance the cause, not diminish it.”

The government earlier this month supported an Opposition Bill to ban election corflutes on public roads and infrastructure ahead of the Dunstan by-election on March 23. Labor had previously voted against a corflute ban.

How to vote cards are a way for political parties to inform voters how they would like them to distribute their voting preferences on a ballot paper.

Dr Rob Manwaring, associate professor at Flinders University’s College of Business, Government and Law, said the cards have gradually become less of an influence on politics due to electoral reforms which reduced the number of preferences voters have to fill out.

“What I think the Liberals are pointing out here is that in one sense how to vote cards are slightly less important in how people shape their vote,” Manwaring said.

At the 1996 federal election, 56 per cent of voters followed how to vote cards when filling out their ballot, according to a longitudinal survey of Australian voter attitudes, known as the Australian Election Study.

By the 2022 federal election, the percentage of voters relying on how to vote cards dropped to 31 per cent, according to the study.

“But the flipside of that is a third of voters… actually do use how to vote cards because they don’t often know a huge amount about politics and some of the other political parties, and they look to their main party to give them guidance,” Manwaring said.

Manwaring also said that political campaigning would still be allowed to occur at polling places and “the nuisance factor is not going to be mitigated just by removing how to vote cards”.

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