Written by Peter Jetnikoff, Librarian, Collection Development & Description.

When councils hold elections in Victoria, we in the web archiving team (uploading to PANDORA) prepare for a modest task compared to polls at other levels of government. Typically, we’ll find a small number of websites for individual candidates for collection and a smaller still number of parties online, along with some social media. The job is usually enough for a single staff member to cover. But the 2020 Victorian Council elections were to be an election with a difference.

Council election campaigns are waged on the ground. Candidates take to the streets and public spaces, reaching out to their potential constituents. The personal appearance is central to the process: handshakes, door knocks and many, many conversations are on the daily agenda for everyone who steps forward for a council position. To an electorate already months deep into lockdown, there were questions to be answered.

The Victorian Electoral Commission answered the first: there would be statewide council elections but voting would be by post only. What followed was a larger than typical job of informing the public on how this was to be done and what was expected of them, a kind of slow but steady spread of information, chiefly, the official list of electorates and who was running in them. Also, as usual, there was a wealth of electronic help in the form of the Commission’s website and a great number of multi-lingual videos. We collected those.

Screenshot of video from the Victorian Electoral Commission website.

The councils themselves posted extra pages on their websites about how to vote in the local area, advice for candidates and voters alike. While these were effectively standard, many of the councils thought to provide their own touches and decor. We collected those, as well.

Council Elections by Horsham Rural City Council.

And then, just as the official sources did, the candidates took their campaigns to the only place still available to them: online. A great number of individual candidate websites appeared and many of them were attached to purpose-built Twitter feeds, blogs and YouTube videos. This was the aspect where the uniformity of content and design of government resources was left behind in preference for clear and insistent individuality. This is the material that forms the character of an election coverage and adds personality to the historical record. We collected that in record numbers.

Screenshot of video for Candidate information by the City of Greater Bendigo.

The issue for web archiving when collecting events like elections is time-sensitivity. Campaign sites disappear almost immediately after polling day. Election gathering for web archiving is concentrated, needing to be done in a window of a very few weeks. This one proved even more arduous than we expected. In 2020, we didn’t get a hundred or so new titles to cover the event but five hundred. It was one of the busiest internet collection tasks the Library has done.

We have been on the job for the current federal election since December 2021 and have continued steadily adding new titles. This campaign has had the advantage of breaking back out into the physical world and is proving to be a more typical task. However, the 2020 Council elections that changed the way elections worked remains a milestone in polling and collections and, perhaps (who knows?) a sign of things to come.

The 2020 Victorian Council Elections collection can be viewed on Trove.

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