Residents in the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale’s North Ward will be asked to cast their vote again in March.
The election of North Ward councillor Rob Coales to the role of shire president has left a vacancy which must now be filled by an extraordinary election.
But voters will not return to the ballot box.
In a controversial move, council has elected to go back to the postal vote system.
The poor turnout of voters (14.3 percent) in the October in-person election was the biggest catalyst for change.
“At the 2023 ordinary local government election, more than 85 percent of eligible electors did not participate,” shire officers said.
In comparison, in Armadale, Kwinana and Murray, around 30 percent of people returned postal ballots in their respective local government elections.
With generally fewer people voting in by-elections, SJ officers are predicting that as few as 2.5 percent of eligible voters could cast a ballot if an in-person election was held in March.
But wounds are still healing after the scandalous 2021 election where a number of postal ballot papers were stolen from letterboxes and fraudulently cast in the North Ward, which led to the ward election being declared invalid by the Court of Disputed Returns in July last year.
Cr Shaye Mack who submitted the invalidity complaint after placing third to Garry Singh in the 2021 North Ward election and who then re-contested and won the extraordinary election last year, was understandably against the return to postal voting.
“We know there were people in our community who interfered with the electoral process and who weren’t charged,” he said.
“And it wasn’t deemed within the public interest to prosecute.”
But deputy mayor Tricia Duggin was hopeful the shire had evolved.
“I’d like to think there have been lessons learned,” she said in support of a return to postal voting.
Council officers said “neither postal voting or in-person voting are immune to fraud”.
They also said that it is likely that in-person voting becomes more expensive per person when the costs of advertising and promoting an in-person election are factored in.
“To achieve a participation rate of greater than 14 percent, may require a promotional campaign akin to that at the Town of Cambridge which was estimated to be $50,000,” officers said.
Ultimately the motion to return to a postal vote was passed 3:2, with Cr Mack and president Coales against.
The North Ward extraordinary election will be held on March 23, 2024 by postal vote. Nominations will open on February 1 and close on February 8.
The 2025 and 2027 ordinary elections will also be held by postal vote.