ALMOST a week into pre-poll voting for the December 4 council election and we're getting an idea of how new COVID-safe rules are playing out.
And so far few seem to be happy.
Under the new rules, designed to reduce the number of people on hand at the pre-poll centres at any one time, two voting places have been in operation (at the Bathurst Girl Guide hall on Charlotte Street and Cathedral Parish Centre on Keppel Street) while candidates (and their supporters) have not been allowed to hand out how-to-vote material within 100 metres of the front door of the polling places.
But if voters had imagined that would mean voting would be a more peaceful experience, then many have been surprised by the reality.
Regardless of the intent of the new rules, in practice they have not stopped candidates and their supporters mobbing voters as they arrive at the ballot; the rules simply mean they can't hand them a how-to-vote form.
So handing someone electioneering material has been deemed a COVID risk but directly approaching them spruiking the merits of one candidate or another has not.
At the same time the two pre-polling centres have made life extremely difficult for candidates to cover both bases, particularly solo candidates who must rely on family and friends to give up their time if they're to have a presence at both centres.
The opposition minister for local government, Greg Warren, has also taken aim at the rules, accusing the state government of using the pandemic to "compromise the democratic right of voters to make educated and informed decisions".
Mr Warren said the strict COVID rules were only supposed to be used "in the event of further COVID outbreaks in specific wards, suburbs and local government areas" and claimed the government had only kept them in place to "limit the political damage to the brand of the Liberals and Nationals".
"Community safety is not the motivation for these measures," Mr Warren said.
"If it's safe to go to a night club, surely it's safe enough to stand outside a polling place on December 4."
That may all be debateable but what cannot be argued against is the intolerable strain these restrictions have placed on solo candidates, in particular, while seeming to achieve little in terms of COVID safety. Let's hope the measures are in place for this election only before becoming a memory.
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