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The ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in Australia could see tens of thousands of people having to cast their vote over the phone in this year’s Federal Election.

A date for the ballot has not been called but May 14 has been tipped as a possible day for the poll to take place.

The service is usually only open to vision-impaired voters or Australians in Antarctica.

Man on phone
Phone voting has been greatly expanded for this year’s federal election. (Getty)

However, when the legislation was initially passed, Australia was believed to be largely past the Omicron peak, and cases were dwindling.

Since then, the spread of the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, combined with increased social interaction everywhere from the classroom to the pub, has sparked an ongoing surge in cases, with health officials warning of another surge in winter.

If the election were held today, more than 240,000 people in New South Wales alone would be calling the phone lines, along with more than 53,000 in Victoria.

A man is tested at a Histopath COVID-19 drive through clinic in Maroubra, Sydney
COVID-19 cases are surging across the country. (Louise Kennerley)

Cybersecurity expert and Internet 2.0 co-founder Robert Potter insists people could be “confident” in the Australian Electoral Commission and a “trusted process” but said there is always “concerns” when any new system is implemented.

“The government has a bit of history there,” he told nine.com.au.

Australia’s move to an online census in recent years has been plagued by issues including site crashes and lost results.

“There’s enough time, but the track record isn’t there,” Mr Potter said.

However, he said people could be confident about their privacy and other security concerns while voting on the phone.

“We have very resilient election systems in Australia, and a trusted process,” he said.

He said people could be “confident” in the Australian Electoral Commission.

The legislation provides for a 72-hour window for telephone voting after postal vote applications close on the Wednesday ahead of the election.

“We will have very clear communication regarding this service available, and distributed, during the election,” an AEC spokesperson said.

Will posting voting be expanded?

Unlike during recent state by-elections, postal votes will not be universally provided to voters.

“We’ll be running a significant campaign encouraging people to plan their vote according to their circumstances,” the AEC spokesperson said.

“If, for example, someone has circumstances that may result in a higher risk of contracting COVID or being a close contact then that person should assess whether voting early in the early voting period is a good option for them.”

Voter casting ballot in Tasmania state election (Getty)
In-person voting is still encouraged if people (Getty)

The spokesperson reminded people that postal voting was considered an “emergency measure” for federal elections.

“Federal elections are designed to be in-person community events and people who can turn up to a in-person voting centre should do so safe in the knowledge that there is a range of COVID-19 safety measures in place.”

Postal voting levels have remained steady at about eight per cent for the past few federal elections.

The AEC said, however, postal voting rates had risen for other pandemic elections in Australia and overseas.

“However, while we don’t have an estimate and are ready for high levels if they happen, we think the increase in postal voting won’t be as significant as some people may estimate,” the spokesperson said.

“The range of COVID-19 safety measures that will be in place at early voting centres and election day polling places will be over and above what most Australians experience at their local supermarket.”

The more postal votes cast in the election, the longer it could take to get an indication of the makeup of the next Parliament – and who will form government.

Political photo ops that captured the attention of punters on social media

“The majority of postal votes come back to us after election night,” the spokesperson said.

“The less votes we have on the night, the less results can be fed into the election-night count.”

A record number of postal votes were cast in the Super Saturday by-elections in New South Wales on February 12, leading to long delays for some close-fought electorates, most notably the Willoughby seat left vacant by former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

It was not until March 2 that Liberal candidate Tim James was declared elected.

Stay up to date with election information at the AEC website.

Source: 9News

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