SYDNEY – From the frozen Antarctic to the dry and remote outback, millions of Australians will cast their ballots Saturday in an election that poses logistical challenges in a continent-sized country.
Voting is compulsory and a record 14.7 million Aussies are registered to make their mark at some 7,500 polling booths set up at schools, surf clubs, church halls and community centers across the country.
But finding somewhere to vote for either incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party, the conservative opposition of Tony Abbott or more than 50 other minor parties is not always easy.
With many people living in far-flung locations, 38 polling teams began crisscrossing the country two weeks ahead of the Sept. 7 polling day to reach more than 400 isolated communities.
Residents of Warruwi, a Northern Territory Aboriginal community on South Goulburn Island, were among the first to cast their ballots.
Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn said the teams expected to cover more than 3.4 million sq. km by road, air and sea to reach pastoral properties, small towns, tourist resorts and mine sites.
“A large proportion of people who vote via the Australian Electoral Commission’s remote mobile polling service live in indigenous communities with the majority in the Northern Territory,” he said. “There are about 220 (voters) on the roll in Warruwi. However, there are many other smaller communities, such as Mulga Bore (40 voters) and Camel Camp (23 voters) that the AEC also has a responsibility to support this election.”
Anyone who fails to vote faces fines of up to $170.
Even working and living in one of the most isolated places in the world — Antarctica — is no excuse, despite being 5,500 km away from the nearest official polling booth in Tasmania.
The 53 scientists and support staff based at the Antarctic stations of Casey, Davis, Mawson and Macquarie Island must all vote, sending their ballots by ship or via a designated polling officer on site who will pass on their votes over the telephone.
Australian Antarctic Division station leader Allan Cooney said it was the first time he was voting in a federal election away from home, and the first time from the Antarctic.
While having only a “watching interest” in topical matters back home, he said voting was very important.
“Voting is a key component to the quality of life we enjoy as Australian citizens in a strong democratic country,” he said, adding that Antarctic staff would stay in touch with the election results online. “I will be checking how things are going from time to time,” he said. “We don’t have live broadcast options here for television, but there is a delayed option.”
Soldiers serving in Afghanistan and other conflict regions also need to vote, with their ballots being sent back via diplomatic bags.