BASS Coast and South Gippsland residents have been hit with fines totalling more than $290,000 for failing to vote in the council elections last year.
But some are disputing the fines, and assert their votes were lost in the mail.
More than 3200 residents in Bass Coast and 2161 in South Gippsland received apparent ‘failure to vote’ notices in January and February.
From this, 1015 Bass Coast residents and 625 from South Gippsland provided valid reasons for not voting.
But now 3731 residents across the two shires who either didn’t respond or gave an invalid response, have each been hit with a $78 fine.
Across the two shires, the fines total $291,018, just $477 shy of covering South Gippsland’s councillor’s allowances and superannuation for the 2015/16 financial year.
Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) senior communication officer, Lawson Fletcher, said the commission’s advice to people is to respond to the infringement notice, especially if people didn’t reply to the first notice.
“Before sending infringement notices, we send an apparent failure to vote notice giving recipients a chance to explain why it appears they didn’t vote.
“The vast majority of infringement notices issued have been to people who did not reply to this initial notice,” he said.
But Korumburra residents claim they did vote and are frustrated over the postal voting system.
Korumburra resident, Scott Lawrence, lodged his and his daughter’s election paperwork but received a ‘failure to vote’ notice in January. They both responded saying they did vote.
“Later we both received another letter stating our reason was not satisfactory and we were required to pay over $70 each as a fine.”
Mr Lawrence and his daughter Kayley wrote back to the VEC again, claiming once more they did lodge their votes.
“We didn’t vote because we have to, but more because we want a say on who gets in.
“We both have better things to do with our time and money. This was the first time Kayley was voting, as she had only recently turned 18.
“This is far from what she expected to have happen and said she feels like she’s in trouble with the police,” Mr Lawrence said.
Korumburra resident, Karen Fowles, said she filled out the election paperwork and posted the letter.
“I was surprised to get the original fine in the mail as we all voted at home together and I posted them all together.
“How they lost one out of all of them has me buggered,” she said.
But Ms Fowles hasn’t heard back from the VEC after she told them she did vote, as long as any additional letter from the VEC wasn’t also lost in the mail.
The VEC has offered a helpline for concerned Victorians.
“If you did vote or believe you had a valid excuse for not voting, request an internal review and provide the VEC with as much supporting information as possible so we can make an independent assessment of your circumstances.
“Our helpline on 1300 551 575 is also available to provide you with specific advice.”
Failure to pay the fine within 42 days of the date of the infringement notice will result in an additional $22.60 in costs, the VEC says on its website.