Polling booths in Queanbeyan, near Canberra (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)
Polling booths in Queanbeyan, near Canberra (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Australians who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and are self-isolating risk not being able to vote in this election because they’re ineligible for phone voting and instead must rely on their postal ballots arriving in time.

Since 2013, about 2000 blind or vision-impaired Australians have voted each election via the phone voting method. The Australian Electoral commissioner was given the power to allow “coronavirus-affected individuals” to use phone voting when the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended in February. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is allowing people who tested positive for COVID-19 after Tuesday at 6pm to do so.

A total of 137,332 Australians reported testing positive for COVID between Sunday and Tuesday. These people are expected to self-isolate past election day but are ineligible for phone voting. Instead they must rely on their mail ballots arriving in time or miss out on voting. Some have been told by the AEC that their ballot papers won’t be delivered until after the election. Also left without a way to vote is anyone who is isolating until after the election, or who tested positive before Tuesday but did not apply for a postal vote before the AEC’s deadline at 6pm on Wednesday.

Over the weekend, Kate, 29, started to get symptoms but tested negative on Monday morning. Symptoms worsened over the day and she tested positive on Tuesday.

Since she tested positive before Wednesday 6pm, she was ineligible to vote over the phone. But when she applied for a mail vote, the AEC website said her ballot wasn’t expected to arrive until May 23 — two days after the election — even though she lives in Melbourne.

On Twitter, the AEC Twitter account’s replies are filled with people who say they have the same problem: “I tested positive on Monday and applied for postal vote that day (the only option on your website) However you’ve indicated that it’s not likely to be received until 29 May” one person tweeted


The AEC said people who applied for a postal vote would not be fined even if they did not receive it before election day, but could not promise their ballots would be counted.

“Postal votes are being sent out by priority post through Australia Post. Additionally, for late postal vote applications, the AEC uses a courier service to ensure delivery happens even faster. We do absolutely everything in our power to ensure postal vote applications are delivered to voters in time, however we cannot guarantee this,” it said.

The AEC noted that the number of affected Australians would be lower than the total of new COVID-19 cases because of pre-polling, postal votes and the inclusion of under-18s and non-citizens in the case number totals.

Another problem that some have raised is that postal voting requires a witness — a problem for those who’ve tested positive to COVID and live alone. 

The AEC reaffirmed the importance of a witness to postal voting and suggested ways voters could fulfil this requirement. 

“They may be able to arrange with family or a friend, with safety measures in place (e.g. through/under doors, with the use of masks, distancing, sanitiser or other COVID safety interventions), to swiftly & safely complete this requirement,” it said. 

Update: The article erroneously stated that the phone voting eligibility began on Wednesday, not Tuesday, and wrongly stated the number of people affected based on that period. Further comment from the AEC has also been added.