Coffs Harbour locals provide support for Low Vision voters

As Australians prepare to cast their votes and enjoy a democracy sausage this federal election, Department of Human Services staff have been helping people with low vision who can’t attend their local polling booths.

The Coffs Harbour Smart Centre is operating a Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre for the Australian Electoral Commission, giving people the ability to cast their votes over the phone.

Seventy staff have been taking calls from around the country since pre-polling began.

“We have over 9,000 different ballot papers covering every one of the 151 electorates,” Lauren Toogood from the Australian Electoral Commission said.

“It doesn’t matter where someone calls from in Australia, we’ll be able to take their vote.”

It’s the third election on the phones for the Coffs Harbour staff. They’ve received hours of training to provide support to this group of voters, while remaining impartial.

“It can be a very difficult balancing act,” said DHS Voting Centre Supervisor, Naomi Markham.

“Staff need to explain the ballot papers and take people through the process without providing advice. It’s a very unique part of polling.”

Once an eligible person has registered to vote over the phone, they ring the Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre. Voters identify themselves using a registration number and PIN. The operator, observed by a witness, then reads the entire ballot paper, including all the candidate’s names and the parties to the voter.

“Once the staff member records the vote, they read the selections back to make sure everything is correct. The witness then seals the completed ballot paper in an envelope and returns it to the AEC official,” Naomi said.

In the 2016 federal election, the Coffs Harbour Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre took almost 2,000 votes.

“The staff love helping people at election time. They’re working with a group of people who would find the voting process extremely difficult and overwhelming if it wasn’t for their help,” Naomi said.

2 sitting women
DHS Smart Centre staff Billie-Jo Porter and Colleen Hill record and witness votes over the phone.

Vision Australia has welcomed the service which provides tailored and independent support for low vision voters.

“In the past many people with low vision had to rely on family and friends at election time,” Chris Edwards from Vision Australia said.

“The concern was in those situations some people may be encouraged to vote a certain way against their wishes.”

“Now they can be confident they’re being assisted by people who understand vision impairment. They will have their questions answered and their vote cast exactly as it should be.”

The Blind and Low Vision Voting Centre will take calls until the polls close at 6pm AEST on election night.

More information

Feature image Download