Every Victorian election is more demanding than the last: Commissioner

18 April 2023

Edited highlights from the VEC Commissioner's appearance.

Victoria’s 2022 election had more of everything; more voters, more candidates, more parties and more early electors than ever before.

Despite the challenges, ‘the election was very well conducted by the VEC and its many staff,’ outgoing Victorian Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately told the Electoral Matters Committee.  

Mr Gately was speaking to the Committee on March 27 during the first public hearing of the Committee’s inquiry into the conduct of the 2022 Victorian state election.  

The inquiry will consider people’s views on how the election was conducted and suggest how things could be improved. The inquiry will look at all aspects of the election, including enrolling, being a candidate and voting.  

Mr Gately appeared alongside the VEC’s Director of Elections, Ben Sutherland, and its Director of Communication and Engagement, Sue Lang.  

The election saw 4.4 million electors on the roll, up 255,000 from 2018. There were 1,194 candidates, an increase of 307 from the last election. And early voting soared by nearly half-a-million to 1.87 million electors.  

‘I think it speaks for itself. I think every election is harder. It is getting more demanding, more difficult. Timelines are now very tight. But I believe it was well conducted,’ Mr Gately told the Committee.  

Committee members raised the issue of ballot shortages that affected a number of polling places on election day. 

The VEC’s Director of Elections Ben Sutherland said that despite the shortages ‘no voter was turned away’. 

‘We have travelling election support officers who actually deliver ballot papers once they have been informed that [polling places] are running low,’ he said. 

In addition, he stated, the VEC provides polling places with ‘a blank set of ballot papers to respond to this specific issue.’ 

Mr Gately highlighted the drop in voter turnout from 90 per cent in 2018 to 88 per cent in 2022.  

He suggested this drop could partly be due to the high quality of the electoral roll and automatic enrolment programs.   

‘The roll is in the best state it has been in terms of participation for many, many years, if not ever,’ he said. But with a high number of voters automatically enrolled, the electoral roll inevitably included a number of reluctant voters.  

The Commissioner also highlighted election fatigue as a possible cause of lower turnout, as well as the impact of COVID, with some voters reluctant to enter crowded spaces. He also noted the large number of campaign workers outside polling stations, with some engaging in aggressive behaviour.  

‘Perhaps running the gauntlet of the many, many party workers and campaign workers puts people off,’ he said. 

A video recording of the entire hearing is available on the Committee’s website