'Harassment' at polling booths sparks debate

Debate flared at council this week when councillors spoke publicly about alleged “harassment” at polling booths during September’s election.

During discussions at the combined committee meeting, the behaviour of members of the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Action (ERA) political group at polling booths was criticised. 

Cr Fergus Thomson suggested council prepare a report to seek alternative ways for local elections to be held – including postal voting - after voters were “harassed” at polling booths.

Cr Thomson said voters were annoyed by political group supporters at polling booths.

However ERA’s Cr Neil Burnside hit back and called for Cr Thomson to provide examples. He said Cr Thomson must have been in a different electorate in September.

“I think [Cr Thomson] is not happy with the result of the local election,” Cr Burnside said.

Cr Gabi Harding didn’t hold back in sharing her accounts of the local government election. She said she spotted some political party supporters steering voters away from other party supporters.

She also said her husband saw 15 yellow-shirted people at the Moruya polling booth, standing at one gate.

Former councillor Keith Dance addressed the committee and said other formats for conducting elections – including online and postal options - should be better explored as part of Cr Thomson’s suggested review.

“[Council should] get the government to support such a change and bring the community back into the process,” he said.

He said 35 per cent of shire voters did not participate in September’s election and the community needed to be better engaged.

Mr Dance said postal voting worked in Victoria, where voters are sent out all the information and have the time to “digest” the information before voting. 

“It works in Victoria, why shouldn’t it work here?” he said.

Cr Thomson said it wasn’t about making specific changes but looking at a report on how to go about the process.

Cr Danielle Brice supported his view and said if there was a better way to conduct elections, it was worth investigating.

The motion divided ERA councillors.

Cr Burnside said he hadn’t heard anything negative about how September’s local government elections were held and it wasn’t worth pursuing.

Cr Milton Leslight agreed.

“It would be a waste of our resources in spending money to do a report,” he said.

However ERA’s Liz Innes supported the motion, saying there was room for improvement in the elections.

The motion was carried with ERA’s Cr Burnside, Cr Leslight and Peter Schwarz voting against it.

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