Election campaigning

Prior to nomination, candidates must complete an online induction to be fully aware of what to expect as an elected member and the rules related of campaigning.

 

Rights and obligations of candidates

Candidates to have completed training

Prior to nomination, candidates must complete a short online induction to be aware of what to expect as an elected member and the rules related to campaigning.

Candidates are to receive copies of electoral rolls

As a candidate, you are entitled to a copy of the electoral roll (hard copy or electronic) for that election free of charge. You may be charged for any additional copies. This will depend upon the policy of your local government.

Candidates may be present for the acceptance of nominations

After nominations close, the returning officer (person running the election) must announce the nominations that have been accepted in front of any candidates (and anyone else) present. This will normally occur shortly after 4.00pm but it could be delayed, for example, if the returning officer has decided to amend a candidate’s profile. You can expect to be advised if there is a delay. You can also be present for the drawing of positions on the ballot paper.

Candidates and donors must disclose electoral gifts

Both candidates and donors are to disclose information about any election related gift with a value of $200 or more that was given or promised within the six-month period prior to election day. For example, the reporting period for the 16 October 2021 elections commence on 16 April 2021. For more information, please refer to Electoral gifts and crowdfunding.

Candidates may observe counting of votes

You may be present at the place the votes are counted, subject to any directions of the returning officer. This place will be identified in the election notice that the local government publishes. If you do not see the notice, you should ask the returning officer for your local government where the votes will be counted.

Candidates must also be given advance written notice of when and where the electors’ certificates for postal voting papers will be checked. They may also be present for the checking of certificates for absent voting papers. However, ballot papers for postal and absent votes will not be checked until after voting closes.

Where a postal election is conducted by the Western Australian Electoral Commissioner, to expedite the count, the returning officer may arrange for the opening of the ballot paper envelopes prior to 6.00pm on polling day. Without examining the ballot paper, the returning officer may remove the ballot paper from the envelope and place it into a sealed ballot box which must remain sealed until the close of voting.

Candidates may be present at the result declaration

As soon as practicable after the result of an election is determined, the returning officer must declare in the presence of any candidates or other persons, the names of each candidate, the order in which they were elected or excluded, and the terms of office of those declared elected.

Candidates can appoint scrutineers

A scrutineer is a person who observes the conduct of an election on behalf of a candidate. After an election is called and polling places are identified you can appoint your scrutineers. Any number of scrutineers may be appointed but only one of your scrutineers may be actively representing you at any one polling place at any one time.

A scrutineer must be 18 years of age or over to be appointed.

You cannot be appointed to act as a scrutineer for elections at which you are a candidate.

Before acting, each scrutineer must make a declaration on a form prescribed by the Local Government (Elections) Regulations 1997, before an authorised witness. This may be the returning officer, the returning officer’s deputy or a presiding officer. The declaration sets out rights and duties for scrutineers.

Scrutineers must be identifiable as scrutineers at the polling and counting places. They can observe proceedings to see that legal requirements are being met. However, they must not interfere with the process or conduct of an election. This means that they are not to impede work, slow down the checking of votes or interfere with automated processes, nor expect a returning officer to provide them with lists of information such as who has voted.

Only one scrutineer for a candidate can be present at a count. However, a returning officer may permit one scrutineer per candidate for each counting table.

Scrutineers must comply with the directions of the returning officer and with reasonable requests made by an electoral officer.

Rights and obligations of a scrutineer

What a scrutineer may do

  • attend at a polling place mentioned in your notice of appointment to observe the conduct of the election and to make sure that the Local Government Act 1995 is being complied with;
  • observe the checking of absent and postal votes; and
  • attend when ballot boxes are opened, when preferences indicated on ballot papers are recorded electronically and when votes are being counted.

What a scrutineer must do

  • wear identification of your appointment as a scrutineer;
  • have your copy of your scrutineer appointment form with you at all times and produce it when requested to do so by the presiding officer at a polling place; and
  • comply with all directions given by the returning officer and all reasonable requests made by any other electoral officer.

What a scrutineer must not do

  • enter a polling place if another scrutineer appointed by the same candidate is already there (unless one of you is in the polling place just to cast your vote);
  • take part in the conduct of the election;

while in or within six metres of a polling place, you must not:

  • canvass for votes;
  • solicit the vote of an elector;
  • induce an elector to vote for a candidate;
  • induce an elector not to vote at the election; or
  • record the name of a person who attends a polling place to vote, or record any information given by a person to an electoral officer to receive a ballot paper.

Offences

Electoral offences

There are several other offences set out in the Local Government Act 1995 (the Act) that you need to be aware of, some of which are as follows.

It is an offence to:

  • bribe or exert undue influence to get someone else to commit an electoral offence;
  • print, publish or distribute deceptive material about others;
  • not disclose to the CEO of a local government, an election gift received in the relevant period;
  • publish unfair or inaccurate information derived from an electoral gift register;
  • make false statements in your nomination;
  • canvass voters, solicit the vote of an elector, or induce an elector not to vote for a particular candidate or not to vote at the election, within six metres of the polling place, unless the presiding officer or returning officer relaxes this requirement;
  • forge, deface or destroy a ballot paper;
  • fraudulently put a ballot paper into a ballot box;
  • interfere with any ballot box or ballot paper;
  • assume the identity of an elector;
  • supply a ballot paper or mark a ballot paper without authority;
  • communicate with, assist or interfere with an elector while the elector is marking a ballot paper from a postal voting package;
  • apply undue influence or pressure on an elector to apply for a postal vote, interfere with an elector while the elector is applying for a postal vote or take custody (or cause any other person who is not the elector to take custody) of an envelope in which there is a postal vote (these offences specifically relate to candidates, or a person expressly authorised to act on behalf of candidates such as a scrutineer);
  • not include the name and address of the person authorising electoral (campaign) material to be printed along with the name and business address of the printer.

The offences listed above carry maximum penalties ranging from $2000 to $10,000 and/­or imprisonment for two years.

For a general understanding of electoral offences, it is suggested that you peruse sections 4.85 to 4.95 of the Act. Copies of the Act can be downloaded from the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office website.

The following information is designed to assist people who have never campaigned for a local government election before. There are many ways to campaign. This is merely an introduction to the subject.

Tip: You may not need to run a campaign (as there is always a possibility of being elected unopposed) so it may be unwise to spend money before nominations have closed.

Tax deduction for campaign expenses

Under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (Cth), councillors are entitled to claim the first $1000 of their campaign expenses as a tax deduction.

Unsuccessful candidates are also entitled to claim the first $1000 of their campaign expenses as a tax deduction.

Please consult a suitably qualified financial adviser to discuss your individual circumstances and any impacts an election campaign may have for you.

Preparing for a local government election campaign

To begin organising a campaign, a candidate needs information about the electorate and about whether voting in the election is ‘in person’ or postal.

Tip: Your formal campaign should begin at least as soon as notice is given to hold the election.

The returning officer (person running the election) can provide details of electors in ward or district boundaries, while the Australian Bureau of Statistics can provide demographic information on the population living in the area. Each candidate, when nominating, will be supplied free of charge with the relevant electoral roll identifying all voters in their electorate.

You may also refer to the Office of Multicultural Interests’ ‘Search Diversity’ tool, to better understand the demographics, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of Western Australians, including profiles of all WA electoral divisions and local government areas.

As a candidate you will want to become familiar with the election processes and with your local government’s existing policies, activities, and latest initiatives because many questions are likely to be asked about these matters. For example, you could have a look at your local government’s strategic plan, policy register, budgets, and minute books.

You would have also already completed online training prior to nomination, which provided an outline of the rules of campaigning.

Planning your campaign

It is worth remembering that voting in local government elections is voluntary. Before you can convince people to vote for you, you must first motivate them to vote.

When organising a campaign, three key points need to be remembered:

  • Voting is voluntary, and people are more likely to vote if they believe that you can achieve something for the district.
  • Local government is locally based and personalised, so a campaign should reflect this.
  • You may need assistants.

There are many methods of campaigning, including:

  • telephoning people you know;
  • distributing leaflets and pamphlets;
  • doorknocking;
  • contacting local organisations;
  • meeting people in public areas like shopping centres;
  • preparing articles for local newspapers;
  • paying for press advertisements;
  • providing a profile of your background to the local paper;
  • building a social media presence;
  • addressing public meetings; and
  • giving interviews to local radio stations.

The methods used, and the type of campaign you choose to run, will depend on several factors, including:

  • the likely strengths of opponents;
  • the most effective media for reaching voters in the district;
  • time availability;
  • the number of assistants who can be organised;
  • the size of the district to be covered;
  • the funds available for the campaign;
  • the type of election (voting ‘in person’ or postal); and
  • the structure of your local government, i.e. is it divided into wards or do elections cover the whole district?

Campaigning techniques

Doorknocking

Apart from nominating, doorknocking is usually the most important pre-election task for a candidate. Although it may be the most effective form of communicating, it can also be the most frustrating. It is a slow process, and you will be lucky to cover 15 houses in an hour and many of these will be unattended.

It can also be disappointing. Many people will show no interest whatsoever, some may be abusive, while others will have little knowledge of anything to do with local government.

Tip: When you find a home unattended do not announce this fact to potential thieves by leaving visiting cards or election material anywhere visible such as on the doorstep, tucked into screen doors or under doormats. Potential voters will not view such actions favourably. If you or your assistants wish to leave any messages or election material, it might be best to place it in the letterbox.

To doorknock effectively, try the following steps:

  • Be positive — you are offering to perform a voluntary service for the people of the community.
  • Briefly explain the purpose of the call — if the person is busy, ask for a time to call back.
  • Be friendly and listen to the issues people want to talk about — do not push ideas on to people.
  • Write down details of the person’s concerns and reactions to the visit – assistants could phone back supportive electors to remind them to vote for you on election day.
  • Limit the time spent at each dwelling or business.
  • Be prepared for complaints and be able to suggest ways in which people can pursue them through the current council.
  • Explain who can vote and try to speak to everybody in the household who is eligible to vote.
  • Finish the conversation by seeking support.
  • Leave a handout or a leaflet behind – this will serve as a reminder of the visit.

Tip: Respect the privacy of people who have expressed concerns or ideas to you. Discussing ideas and concerns with other residents can be an effective means of gauging public feeling on important issues. This can be done without revealing the identities of people who have previously commented.

When doorknocking, be cautious about making promises which require the support of others. You can only assure people that you will endeavour to keep issues of concern on the council’s agenda. Additionally, you should not be afraid of saying that you do not have an answer to a question. In such situations, you should subsequently research the issue and provide the elector with any information requested as soon as possible.

You are unlikely to be able to visit all the houses in your electoral area. You might target suburbs or groups within the community which are most likely to support you. You may also consider using assistants to cover suburbs which you cannot. However, they need to be well informed and briefed on your views as they are speaking on your behalf.

Many people are suspicious of strangers and will not unlock security screen doors to speak to you. Respect their right to that security and ensure that you and your helpers wear prominent identification.

For ‘in person’ elections, you may wish to offer transporting electors to the polling place, particularly if the voters are aged or infirm.

Printed election material

In addition to the candidate profile, it is common for candidates to distribute other forms of election material to inform voters they are running for council. This material can take the form of pamphlets, posters, ‘how to vote’ cards and letters. Campaign material needs to be authorised for use in an election campaign. To appropriately authorise campaign material, you must include the name and street address (not a post office box) of the person who authorised the material to be printed. Usually, though not always, that will be you. You also need to include the name and business address of the printer (this includes someone who photocopies election material for you).

There are offences associated with the printing and publication of defamatory or unauthorised electoral material.

Tip: Although the candidate profile must be printed in English for nomination, there is nothing to prevent you from producing additional promotional material in other languages if you believe it would be beneficial.

Any printed material should contain a wide variety of information in a concise and readable form. This must include your name and could include some personal details such as your occupation and involvement with community groups; issues of concern and suggested ways to address these. It may also be useful to include your photograph on the printed material. You should note that, before having any documents printed, it is advisable to ask a friend or supporter to read and check the information for clarity.

Ideally, every household in your electorate should receive a leaflet. If your ward or district has many absentee property owners, you may wish to send pamphlets to them along with instructions for postal and absent voting.

Distributing these leaflets can be time consuming and you should try to get supporters to deliver the leaflets where possible. Your time will be better spent in personal contact with electors. Advise your helpers to respect the ‘No Junk Mail’ signs on letterboxes.

If your budget allows, you may wish to use a professional distribution company to deliver your leaflets.

Personally addressed letters, either from yourself or other people in the local community can also be an effective way to gain support for your campaign. However, before deciding on whether you will use somebody else to send a letter on your behalf, you will need to seriously consider whether it will be of benefit to you.

Tip: Australia Post has recently changed delivery patterns to alternate days. If posting materials, it is useful to keep this in mind.

Posters are also a useful way to publicise that you are standing for council. In general, posters are only allowed to be placed on private property. However, if you are in any doubt, check with your council before affixing any signs.

Newspaper advertisements are commonly used by candidates. Advertisements must be authorised. However, the name and business address of the printer of the newspaper should be on the newspaper, so it does not need to appear in the advertisement.

Important to note: If a person photocopies a printed advertisement, this person is “printing” and is required to put his or her name and address on the photocopy.

Names and addresses of authorising people and printers do not have to appear on car stickers, clothing, lapel badges, pens, pencils, balloons and other similar promotional material.

Social media

Social media has revolutionised the way people communicate and interact with each other. For candidates, it can be a powerful tool for communicating ideas and policy platforms directly with the community.

However, care (and common sense) should be exercised when posting material on Facebook and other social media platforms. The Local Government Act 1995, Local Government (Elections) Regulations 1997, and Defamation Act 2005 apply in the virtual world of social media, just as they do in real life.

The nature of social media commentary and the widespread availability of these platforms is accessible to anyone. That means your detractors in the community as well as supporters. Consequently, there are inherent risks for candidates who feel the need to ‘speak their mind’ on social media in response to an inflammatory or critical comment from a member of the public or political opponent. A retaliatory post written on Facebook in the heat of the moment about a contentious issue, could end up being shared with an audience of hundreds or even thousands.

If a person downloads and prints your election material with the intent of distributing it, then the name and business address of the “printer” (e.g. Facebook) should also be included.

 

Page reviewed 23 July 2021