THE loss of almost one third of the ballot packs for the South Gippsland Shire Council election has forced the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to extend the close of voting by one week to 6 pm on Friday October 29, 2021.
Just over 9000 ballot packs, all addressed to voters whose surnames begin with the letters from A to G from throughout all three wards of the municipality, have gone missing, after being lodged with Australia Post for delivery.
More than 20,000 other eligible shire voters, whose surnames start with the letters H to Z, received their ballot packs last week as expected.
The VEC started to investigate the mystery of the misplaced packs on Thursday October 14, and the decisions to reissue them and to add an extra week to the voting period were made late on Friday afternoon October 15.
Victorian Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately, asked printers to work through the weekend to reprint those ballot packs that had not been delivered, “to ensure all voters in the Shire have the opportunity to cast a considered vote.”
The declaration of the poll, originally scheduled for on or by Friday November 5, 2021, will now occur a week later, too, so the nine successful candidates will be announced on or by Friday November 12, 2021.
In a statement issued on Friday evening October 15, Mr Gately said “over the past 24 hours the VEC has identified that a number of voters across all three South Gippsland Shire Council wards have not yet received their ballot packs for the election.
“In order to ensure that all voters have adequate time to cast a considered vote and thus ensure the integrity of the election, I have made the decision to extend the close of voting by one week from 6 pm on Friday October 22 to 6 pm on Friday October 29,” he said.
Mr Gately said the extended voting timeline was the fair and appropriate action and will apply for all voters across the Shire, regardless of whether their ballot pack delivery was delayed or not.
“Although some voters will have received ballot packs with the original close of voting date, they should rest assured that we will be accepting completed votes mailed or delivered to the election office in Leongatha before 6 pm on Friday October 29.
“The VEC is working closely with Australia Post to investigate why just over 9000 ballot packs lodged with Australia Post have not been delivered.
“To avoid any further delays, the VEC has made the decision to re-issue the ballot packs for these voters,” he said.
“Voters should contact the South Gippsland Shire Council election office at 37 Bair Street in Leongatha on 1300 202 885 if they have not received a ballot pack by close of business on Thursday October 21, 2021.”
VEC communications and engagement director Sue Lang said the mislaid ballot packs still hadn’t been found by Monday morning October 18, “however, we are working with Australia Post to find out what happened to them.
“No doubt there has been some sort of human error!” she said, adding that the VEC had not experienced losing voters’ ballot packs “on such a scale” before.
“Australia Post picked up the reprinted ballot backs on Monday afternoon and took them straight down to South Gippsland for distribution, and we’re hoping that these voters will have their reprinted packs within 24 to 48 hours.”
Ms Lang said the “main thing for the VEC is focusing on getting the ballot packs out to voters as quickly as we can because it’s important people have enough time to think about how they’re going to vote and to return their ballot papers by the new voting deadline.
“We’d rather be safe than sorry, and so it was decided to reissue the packs and to change the close of voting date,” she said.
“Information about the extended close of voting, which is now by 6 pm on Friday October 29, has been inserted into the new ballot packs as it was not possible to change the original date as shown on the front of the envelopes.”
Ms Lang said about half, or around 15,000, of the South Gippsland Shire’s eligible voters had already registered to receive voter alerts from the VEC via an SMS sent to their mobile telephone, and/or to their email address.
“We’ll be having a voter alert going out later this week with the latest information and updates about the South Gippsland Shire Council election, and we urge all voters to sign up to receive them,” she said.
“Please visit the VEC’s website at www.vec.vic.gov.au and hover over the Enrolment button at the top of the Home page to find the VoterAlert link to register.”