Election 2010

Australian Federal Election polling boothsLast Saturday I helped out at one of the polling booths for the Federal Election – the one at Putney Primary School for the division of Bennelong to be precise. I never used to be interested in politics; maybe thinking about having kids puts one in the frame of mind of thinking about the socio-economic environment we live in. And then of course there was the National Broadband Network.

I got roped into it because the officer-in-charge, one of my wife’s colleagues at the Salvo’s, was worried that they’d be short staffed and Jenny and a couple of her other colleagues agreed to sign up. Several more people turned up than were expected, maybe about 15 of us in total (not including the party spruikers outside), but that ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Jenny and I, and a guy named Charles were in charge of the Declaration votes – kinda like the “odd jobs” queue for people from other electorates, people whose names weren’t on the official roster, etc. The day started at around 7:15am when we arrived to help with the final set up of the booth (most of it had already been done the previous night by the officer-in-charge). People already started rocking up by about 7:30am, wanting to get the chore out of the way and not realising that polling didn’t begin until 8am.

So when we unlocked the doors, there was already a queue of people. Throughout the morning, the queue just kept growing and growing, to the point that it snaked its way out from the entrance out onto the street. I’m not 100% sure how many people there were in total, but judging by the count (more about that later), we would’ve processed in excess of 3,000 that day. The polls were open for 10 hours (from 8am – 6pm), which means that we processed on average 5 people a minute. The queue was long through most of the day and we had a lot of people who were irate at having spent half an hour or more minutes waiting in line. It only relented sometime around 5 – 5:30pm. It was a good thing that we had the extra hands otherwise none of us would’ve been able to take a break.

Speaking of breaks, after 6pm, there were none. The counting process began immediately after polling closed, with the spruikers coming in from outside to act as “scrutineers”. They themselves were not allowed to touch the ballot papers; only to watch and ensure that nothing improper happened during the counting of the House of Representative ballot papers (not sure why they didn’t bother with the Senate). On our part, the three of us “Dec’s” sorted through the votes cast for the other electorates, to be sent on for inclusion in their final tallies. After all that was done, the whole team went on to count and sort the “tablecloths”. The above-the-line votes had to be counted towards the primary vote, but the below-the-line would presumably be sent somewhere for computers to determine the 2-party preferred calculations.

Jenny says that she saw at least one obligatory penis drawing in amongst the informals (the ones where the voter didn’t provide a valid vote); I didn’t come across any – not that I’m disappointed or anything; just surprised at how well behaved people were overall. Then again, we were in Putney and not some boganville out West. Counting continued until at least 10pm, and the sorting, securing and packing until nearly 11pm. All I remember of the counting was that for the Senate, our location recorded 1500+ for the Liberals, against 720 for Labor. I can’t remember how many the Greens got, not that it mattered anyway. It was clearly Liberal all the way for the good folk of Bennelong.

On Sunday, we rested. And rested. I never would’ve imagined that it’d be possible to get that tired from sitting down all day, and sorting through bits of paper all night. For all that, we got paid $339.83 for the day itself, and $51.14 for the online training that we had to complete prior to the day – before tax. Was it worth it? Not for the money, that’s for sure. It was an interesting and highly educational experience, but not one that I’m keen to repeat again.