The Highs and Lows of Election Day
Porridge is the best start to a day. That’s Labor candidate for Monaro, Steve Whan’s, secret breakfast on days when the public decides who will hold the position of Member of Parliament for the next four years.
“Plenty of energy for the day,” he said.
Despite a leisurely 8:00am start, Whan justified it as a reward for all the effort that went in to the campaign over previous months by both himself and his army of red-shirted supporters.
“Most of the work’s done. You still come across a lot of people who say they actually make up their minds on the day, but you’ve got to have actually set the scene,” he said.
Whan stood for selection in the 2015 New South Wales campaign in March for the fourth consecutive state election, where he held the seat of Monaro until 2011.
2015 was his sixth campaign overall, Whan heading into the contest far more experienced than his National Party counterpart, incumbent member John Barilaro.
Whan said he’d learnt in his lengthy political career how to best cope with the pressure the day presented.
“Elections are hard work, but they’re quite interesting. You talk to a lot of people and that’s quite rewarding,” he said.
“It’s really just about experience in what you’re doing, what not to get worked up about and what to get worried about.”
Being approachable and calm is essential to Whan’s pleasant and relaxed disposition on critical Election Saturdays.
“You can get a little bit of an idea from them how people are feeling by the number of people who go ‘good luck’ or give you a wink or nod or something like that.”
Whan said being in touch with the community is always important while you’re in office, but on Election Day, it’s totally about the public.
“When it’s busy and you’re talking to people you don’t think about it [the result] all that much,” Whan commented.
As such, his favourite place on Election Day is nearest to the door of the voting room.
“Being closest to the door makes sure the voter hears Steve’s name last before they go in,” one of his How-to-vote minions advises me.
Of course, the constant sociability of elections is exhausting, Whan mused around mid-afternoon.
“Standing for a long period of time, you get a sore back.”
After a power nap, Whan returned to his post, continuing to hand out ‘how to vote’ pamphlets, greet voters, and answer questions for them.
A concerned citizen approached one of Whan’s campaign offsiders wanting to discuss his commitment to lowering the prevalence of drug related crime in the state.
While this lady was fortunate enough to have her concerns heard, this does beg the question, what about all of the other voters across the electorate?
“It would be nice to be able to go to all the booths, but because the electorate is two and a half to three hours from one end to the other, you would actually spend most of the day in the car and not meeting or talking to voters,” he explained.
Instead, Whan chose to spend his day at Karabar, one of the many polling places in his home town of Queanbeyan.
“I normally come to this booth, Karabar, and spent most of the day here,” he said.
“I’ve been here for all of the elections for the last 18 years, and I know a lot of the people who come by, and they know me and it’s a good way of just having a chat, and getting a vote.”
The day has its lulls, but Whan wasn’t concerned. He said that even if people don’t turn up at Karabar, it doesn’t mean they aren’t supporting him.
“What’s really different now to 18 years ago is around a quarter of the electorate actually pre-poll vote in the two weeks before the Election. So the numbers actually voting on Election Day is declining, which is quite a change to the way it all operates,” he said.
“It doesn’t worry me, as long as people vote.”
However, underneath the calm and collected optimism, the signs of nerves continued to grow in Whan throughout the day. But he explained there was no point letting them get the better of him.
“It’s really after the polls close when it’s all over and you’re waiting for the results to come in – that’s when it’s quite nerve racking.”
It’s a late night for Whan, his supporters and his family, irrespective of the result. But having a gathering at the Queanbeyan Leagues Club makes the endless wait for information a little bit easier.
“We have scrutineers who go inside all the booths afterwards and they phone through results,” he explained.
“They give us hopefully an indication in a couple of hours as to how things are going. Of course the Electoral Commission is reasonably quick now with the results.”
But Whan says that it’s still the worst part of the day, and it’s impossible to truly know the outcome until the proverbial fat lady has sung.
“If there’s a distinct and obvious swing on, you know reasonably early. But if it’s close, then it can drag on for a long time.”
Despite the eventual result being a held seat for the National Party, Whan said that after three disappointments, he was well aware of how to best deal with losing an election.
“When you lose it’s pretty awful,” he said.
“If I lose, that’s the way it is. Of course it’s depressing if you lose, it’s frustrating, and you’ve got to go and find a job.”
It seems politicians are just as human as the rest of us.