Yesterday I spent the day at Enngonia Public School, which had become Enngonia Polling Place where I was the OIC. Having spent Friday evening setting up one of the classrooms with voting screens (think Ikea but with cardboard), tables, chairs etc aided by one very patient husband, I awoke at 6 am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to prepare for Polling Day Enngonia-style.
Unlike the rest of the country where polling booths take hundreds or even thousands of votes, Kath and I took 48 ordinary votes, 8 absentee votes and, after thoroughly memorising the 160-page Election Procedures Manual, not a single provisional vote. Most teachers will relate to the notion that there’s a lot of planning and programming regardless of whether there are 3 kids or 30 kids in your class.
And so it was with polling day. Every OIC form, check list and label still had to be completed. The 240 House of Representatives ‘pack’ that makes up the 48 Divisions across NSW and that all declaration vote officers receive still had to be check counted before polling day and again at the end of polling night – even though, after handing out 8 absentee ballot papers, I knew that there would be 232 ballot papers left. Then there was the polling place safety report, staff (of which I had one) report, questionnaires on suitability of furniture, lighting, heating, cooling, wheel chair access, kitchen amenities, toilet etc etc and numerous forms that required reading, checking/completing and filing.
During the day, it was decided that the dirt air strip in town was in such a state of disrepair that we would abandon Plan A for the return of ballot papers (Kaye meets plane in town at 7.20 Sunday morning). Thanks to the generosity of the station owner at ‘Belalie’, who was more than happy to lend us his air strip, Plan B was instigated (Kaye meets plane ‘up the road’ at Belalie station at 7 am).
And so it was that this morning we (Yes, Nigel kindly came with me as my personal police escort) awoke yet again at 6 am totally bleary-eyed and crumpled-tailed to meet Robert the bush pilot, who would fly in, check off my box of voting materials, weigh the box (items such as staplers, tape, calculators and basically everything bar ballot papers or expensive electronic items are given to the school to keep the weight down) before flying off to the next Polling Place manager at Weilmoringle.
While it might seem difficult to justify the sort of money required to employ two polling officials for the day, plus train them prior to the day plus send a plane to collect the ballot papers the next morning, it really is an example of democracy in action. The AEC goes to great lengths to ensure that everyone, who is entitled to vote, regardless of where they live, gets that opportunity. In today’s world that’s surely a welcome rarity.