Independent candidate Monique Ryan has maintained she will continue to pursue legal action over concerns some COVID-positive people could be prevented from voting in the election, until emergency measures to fix the problem are in place.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on Friday recommended the time period for people in isolation to cast their ballot over the phone who had contracted COVID-19 be extended after concerns were raised thousands of people could miss out.
This would have applied to people who tested positive after the cut-off to apply for a postal ballot but too soon to qualify for telephone voting.
The concerns had prompted Dr Ryan to lodge a court application seeking to challenge the legality of the AEC regulation that would have prevented people who tested positive from Sunday to Tuesday at 6pm, but failed to register to postal vote by the 6pm Wednesday, from casting a ballot.
On Friday morning, the federal government said it had accepted a recommendation from the AEC to allow anyone who tested positive after 6pm last Friday 13 May to use telephone voting.
But a spokesperson for Dr Ryan – who is running against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the Melbourne electorate of Kooyong – said she would continue to pursue her legal challenge until the change was in place. Dr Ryan had set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of the challenge.
“The legal papers have been filed and the action is continuing, and will do until our legal team can confirm the commitments made by the PM and Minister Morton in relation to AEC regulations are in place,” the spokesperson told SBS News.
“If that happens then the donations made to support the action will be returned to those who provided it.”
She claimed that the AEC changing its mind on phone voting was a win for independents, but Special Minister of State Ben Morton, who the legal action is against in his capacity overseeing electoral matters, said otherwise.
“Any suggestion this is a response to a teal independent in Melbourne is wrong – this is something the government has been working through,” Mr Morton said.
“This is an issue that I have been raising with the election commissioner in the last 48 hours.”
Mr Morton said that it was important that every Australian who is enrolled and entitled to vote can “exercise their democratic right and this change ensures that”.
Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said telephone voting was a two-step process that involved getting a registration number and then calling in to vote.
He urged people using the service to be prepared when they called and to expect delays because staff could be “effectively reading out the ballot paper”.
“If people need the entire ballot paper read out, there will be queues, but it will ensure everyone can vote,” he told the ABC.