I was worried about voting. My eyesight is poor and I’d heard that the ballot paper for the Senate, as well as being a metre long, was in 12-point print. There was talk of magnifying glasses being available but I took one of mine along (I keep one in my work room and one in the living room for newspapers, the TV program and sundries) just in case.
Saturday morning in Sydney was warm, heading towards a projected 29 degrees, and at 10 AM the queue at the Newtown polling booth stretched for a block and a half. The first hopeful to approach me was the Socialist Alliance rep. I took the flyer, still undecided between them and the Greens. I refused the Liberal offering firmly, took the Greens flyer and went to the end of the queue.
Unlike in some countries, polling stations in Australia are peaceful places with people chatting, not necessarily about the election, and sipping take-away coffees. The queue moved pretty quickly with everyone grateful to get into the shade.
I had a good discussion with the Get Up guy handing out what he called a score card – independent advice on how the organisation rated the parties. I showed him my two flyers and he confirmed that they rated highly as progressives.
A young couple, a very attractive woman and her companion, just ahead of me, could scarcely keep their hands off each other. Not offensively, rather sweetly, and good to see. A quite heated argument broke out between two men who’d voted differently, but no violence.
When I entered the voting room I knew I was in trouble. The lighting was so dim that I’d struggle to read anything. I’d brought my pension card, which states that I am legally blind, and applied to one of the electoral helpers for assistance. He sprang into action, taking me to the head of the line and to the first roll clerk available. Then he escorted me to the booth and I experimented with the magnifying sheet. I could see the names and numbers better but not clearly enough to be able to mark the boxes because of the poor light.
‘Are you allowed to mark the ballots for me?’ I said.
‘Just a minute, Peter,’ he said, ‘I‘ll find out.’
Peter? I thought.
‘Do you know me?’ I asked when he came back.
‘I’ve seen you on TV,’ he said.
I’d rather he’d read my books but I was grateful anyway. He was permitted to mark my ballot with another helper to witness the correct procedure. He numbered one to nine for the Reps. I wasn’t going to ask him to deal with the Senate ballot in detail and had him vote one above the line for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, of which I am a member.
I thanked the witness, was escorted to the boxes and dropped the papers in. Then I shook hands with the helper who steered me from the room. I sensed that he was delighted to have had something more interesting to do than just tell people where to go. Next time I’ll head straight in, flash my card and not have to have to wait in line. When you have a disability, make the most of it.