Victorians pay the price for ignoring council elections

Victorians have been slugged almost $17 million and hundreds of thousands of people have been sent to court for failing to vote in local council elections.

New figures from the Victorian Electoral Commission show almost 225,000 fines were lodged with the Magistrates Court of Victoria in relation to failing to vote at council elections held in 2016. That year, 78 of the state's 79 councils held elections.

The VEC said almost $17 million in penalties were collected last year to be passed on to councils.

Melbourne City Council was a hot spot for non-voting, accounting for just over $1 million in fines from more than 11,000 people.

One person fighting the system is former Kensington resident, and now resident of Adelaide, Keaton Hulme-Jones.

Mr Hulme-Jones said he was part of the "forgotten 18-30 year old demographic who didn't know the [Melbourne City Council] election was on until sifting through piles of junk mail afterwards.

"I never once saw an ad online in social media or any websites I visit. With my head down on the way to work I never once saw any posters.

"Apparently this excuse was not valid and I have a court order," he said.

Melbourne City Council has strict voting rules. It is the only council in Victoria where voting is compulsory for all people on the council's voters' roll, except for those more than 70 years of age.

This means people on the roll who live outside the council or who are not Australians citizens must vote, or risk a fine, which was $78 in 2016.

This fine then soars if the person fails to provide an acceptable reason for not voting, and the case is referred to the Magistrates Court.

Unlike other councils, Melbourne City Council voters must vote on two separate ballots: to elect the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor, and to elect the nine councillors.

In addition, Melbourne City Council has the state's highest proportion of non-residents (57 per cent), about half of whom failed to vote in the 2016 election.

The VEC is responsible for pursuing people who do not vote in local council elections, "through the court if necessary".

Prior to the 2016 local government elections, court files were passed to councils for action, and the approach to how these matters were prosecuted rested with each council.

It's unclear whether the non-voting penalties are a record, although Victoria's record population growth and the VEC's greater role suggest it is likely to be.

There are also suggestions the penalties for not voting will put the Magistrates Court - already bogged down from collecting CityLink fines for operator Transurban - under further pressure.

This story Victorians pay the price for ignoring council elections first appeared on The Age.