Draw delivers top spot on ballot to Suzanna Sheed

By Myles Peterson

Candidates for the Shepparton seat and their supporters gathered at the Victorian Electoral Commission’s Benalla Rd offices yesterday for a randomised draw to decide positions on the seat’s ballot paper.

After a nervous half-hour wait when the system unaccountably stalled, incumbent Suzanna Sheed  took the sought-after top spot, strengthening her chances of retaining the seat.

Under Victoria’s compulsory voting system, disinterested voters have been known to fill out their ballots by simply numbering down the list and the top position can reportedly deliver a few percentage points in votes, critical in a close race.

VEC election manager Mick Bastian said his squad had been working for weeks to prepare the district for the vote, but preparations began back in April to source the 600sqm site and prepare the hundreds of staff who would be needed on polling day.

‘‘We’re employing nearly 200 people in our voting centres just for Shepparton,’’ Mr Bastian said.

From Monday, voters will be able to register an early vote and unlike previous years, do not need a reason to do so.

‘‘From Monday, we’re open for two weeks,’’ Mr Bastian said.

Voting is also available via a postal vote application form.

It is expected as many as 50 per cent of voters will take advantage of voting before election day, rendering the early days of campaigning as critical as the climax.

Along with staff at the Benalla Rd headquarters, three teams will be attending hospitals and nursing homes over the next two weeks to enable those who cannot travel to vote.

Strict guidelines exist to prevent political campaign staff harassing voters at the Benalla Rd centre or at one of the 31 voting centres on election day.

Signs are limited in size and campaign staff must remain at least six metres from voting centre entrances.

Further restrictions apply. Only registered how-to-vote cards can be distributed within 400m of voting centres to prevent fake cards being distributed, a dishonest tactic employed at previous elections.

Following the draw, Ms Sheed’s odds with betting agencies, already good, promptly dropped further, indicating she is the overwhelming favourite to retain the seat.

Her closest opponents, Cheryl Hammer and Peter Schwarz, raced out to an unlikely three to one.