New emergency powers available to ban candidate posters and hand out voting cards at polling station gates | County Leader of St George and Sutherland

Imagine an election without candidate posters covering polling station fences and party loyalists meeting you at the door, trying to shove a card explaining how to vote.

Well, that could be the case in the municipal elections on December 4, where the NSW Electoral Commission has been given the power to ban these age-old practices within 100 yards of voting booths.

The commission says the decision to take action “will depend on the nature and severity of any further developments of COVID-19 and public health orders ahead of an election.”

The regulations state that the commission “may direct that no posters be displayed and/or no election materials be distributed, whether in or on a polling station or pre-voting office, or relevant premises less than 100 meters from a polling station or a pre-voting office”.

The commission can also limit the number of scrutineers allowed to observe particular election processes, encourage voters to access candidate information online, and livestream certain processes, such as the opening of mail-in ballot envelopes.

A spokesman for local government minister Shelley Hancock said the government was “working with the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner to ensure council elections are held under as normal conditions as possible and hope sincerely to see candidates and campaign agents able to go door to door outside the polling stations”.

“However, COVID-19 has made it difficult to carry out activities that we would normally associate with elections,” he said.

“The Local Government (General) Regulations 2021 empowers election administrators to restrict canvassing and posting within 100 meters of polling places.

“Electoral officers are only authorized to issue a directive restricting canvassing and postering if they are satisfied that it is necessary to comply with an existing public health order or to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19.

“The decision to restrict canvassing or posting outside polling stations will ultimately rest with the New South Wales Electoral Commissioner and other election managers.

“The government is confident that election managers will be sensitive to the needs of candidates and voters when giving instructions.

The legislation also introduces other COVID safety practices, including social distancing, check-in and mask-wearing.

Ms Hancock said in a statement that the legislation provided emergency powers to deal with the risks of COVID-19 as they arise.

“We are constantly adapting to the current environment caused by COVID-19, and the government is leaving no stone unturned to ensure COVID-safe local elections take place on December 4,” Ms Hancock said.

“The legislation, which will only apply to local elections in 2021, will be used as a fail-safe to protect the health and safety of voters, candidates and election staff in accordance with the advice of the NSW Electoral Commissioner.

“It is time our communities had the opportunity to choose their leaders after the September 2020 municipal elections were twice postponed due to security concerns caused by the pandemic.

“The NSW Government has worked closely with the NSW Electoral Commission and NSW Health to implement a comprehensive plan to ensure voters can vote safely,” Ms Hancock said.

Ms Hancock said other measures already introduced would reduce the number of voters going to voting booths on election day to help social distancing.

“NSW Electoral Officials have also been empowered to apply COVID safety measures including social distancing in voting booths and counting locations to protect voters, candidates, scrutineers and NSW Electoral Commission staff. “

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