What to do if you didn’t vote in council elections

Voting for the Dubbo Regional Council elections closed at 6pm on Saturday night, so if you haven’t voted now you could be up for a fine.

The penalty for failing to vote at a Local Government election is $55, according to the NSW Electoral Commission. 

If you were enrolled to vote at an address in the two Local Government Areas and didn’t turn up to a polling place today, you might be getting a penalty notice sent to you by mail.

The NSW Electoral Commission says you can do the following things if you receive a notice:

  • provide a claim that you voted and details of where you voted
  • give a reason in writing for not voting
  • pay the penalty
  • apply to have the matter heard in court (the maximum penalty that a court may impose for an offence of failing to vote is $110 plus court costs).

What’s a good reason for not voting?

There’s no clear advice on what exact is a valid and sufficient reason for not turning up to vote.

In Australia, voting at all levels of government is compulsory, and it’s your responsibility as a citizen to get yourself out to vote.

Pre-polls and postal votes are in place to make sure that even people who cannot get to a polling booth on election day have the chance to cast their votes.

But, if you didn’t get out there, electoral commission officers get to determine if you have a “valid and sufficient reason” on merit.

Unfortunately, guidelines about these reasons are not made public.

As a rough guide, for the federal voting agency, the Australian Electoral Commission, publications suggest that a fine would be ‘unlikely’ in the cases of ‘the elderly and frail, women in late pregnancy, or the intellectually disabled’.

And, according to the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, a voter’s belief that it is part of her or his religious duty to abstain from voting is also considered a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.

Anecdotally, people who have been travelling for a long time without a set address, were really sick on the day, were not aware of the election being on, or who swear they actually did vote but must have had the wrong name crossed off might be okay too.

But we’re just guessing! Whatever reason you give, it should be the truth – and if you don’t have a good reason, you might have to cop the fine. 

Make sure you do something

If you get a notice in the mail, you must reply or may the fine within 28 days of the issue date of the notice.

If you do not, you will be sent a penalty reminder notice giving you a further 28 days to pay the fine before the matter is referred to the State Debt Recovery Office for action.

If you then don’t do anything at all, the SDRO might issue a penalty notice enforcement order against you.

This may lead to the cancellation or suspension of your drivers licence, cancellation of your car registration or worse.