Up to half a million West Australians who fail to vote could determine the final outcome of Saturday's Senate re-run election.
Senior figures inside the Liberal and Labor parties fear that low voter turnout - driven by apathy and frustration at the fourth election in the State in the past year - could have more influence on the result than advertising or political campaigning. Although the ALP is considered most at risk from a low voter turnout, the Liberals believe their third candidate Linda Reynolds would also be exposed.
Party officials had been preparing for voter turnout to fall to just 70 per cent, compared with last year's election turnout of 92 per cent.
But Defence Minister and the Liberal Party's number one candidate, David Johnston, warned yesterday that it could be even lower. "We will probably have a turnout of about 60 or 65 per cent," he told ABC Radio.
With almost 1.5 million people on the WA electoral roll, a 60 per cent turnout would mean just 900,000 West Australians exercising their right to vote. It would be the lowest turnout for a Senate election since 1922 - before the advent of compulsory voting.
Labor leader Bill Shorten told _The West Australian _he was concerned Saturday's election could see the rise of an "apathocracy", where people win power through the apathy of others.
"People's vote is important - I'd prefer they vote for us but I'd rather they vote for someone than not vote at all," he said.
Privately, the major parties believe the Australian Electoral Commission, which lost 1300 votes that plunged the State into the re-run election, has put most of its resources into measures to avoid losing ballot papers again rather than informing voters there is an election on.
After each election, the AEC sends letters to all non-voters demanding they either provide a valid reason for failing to vote or pay a $20 penalty.
If the person does not respond with a valid reason, the matter is referred to court where the non-voter can be fined up to $170.