Here’s how to use your power at the bal­lot box

Changes to Se­nate vot­ing en­sure your choices count down the line

Central and North Burnett Times - - ELECTION 2016 - . VANI NAIDOO Jour­nal­ist

AUS­TRALIANS will go to the polls ear­lier than we had ex­pected thanks to the dou­ble dis­so­lu­tion call.

But as you en­ter the polling sta­tion on Satur­day, July 2, evad­ing those en­thu­si­as­tic po­lit­i­cal party vol­un­teers, your mouth wa­ter­ing at the smells of the busy sausage siz­zle, re­mem­ber that vot­ing this time around will dif­fer slightly.

Re­forms to the way we will elect the new Se­nate will stream­line the ap­proach to pref­er­ence se­lec­tion, giv­ing vot­ers a real-world abil­ity to en­sure their vote still counts way down the line as they want it to.

In the past, pref­er­ences have been linked to the far-from-trans­par­ent deals con­jured up through group vot­ing tick­ets.

Yay me, but hmm, what are pref­er­ences?

In Aus­tralia, we use a pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem so a can­di­date needs a ma­jor­ity of the vote to win a seat in­stead of a “first past the post” sys­tem where the can­di­date with the high­est num­ber of votes wins. You vote for sev­eral candidates in the or­der you pre­fer and if your first choice has the least votes when the num­bers are tal­lied, he or she is elim­i­nated from the run­ning and your vote passes on to your sec­ond favourite, then your third choice and so on. Pref­er­ences are al­lo­cated un­til one of the candidates con­test­ing the seat has a ma­jor­ity of votes.

Seems fair, so why the change?

While Aus­tralians have al­ways had the op­por­tu­nity to vote their pref­er­ences, very few ac­tu­ally do, less than 5% in fact.

Group vot­ing tick­ets were in­tro­duced for Se­nate elec­tions in 1984. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties and groups could register an of­fi­cial or­der of pref­er­ences with the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion so if you voted above the line for a po­lit­i­cal party by plac­ing a num­ber 1 next to its box and left the oth­ers blank, your pref­er­ences were counted ac­cord­ing to the group’s of­fi­cial list.

Par­ties and groups quickly started making back-room deals that were not al­ways ap­par­ent to the voter and is one rea­son mi­cro-party candidates were so suc­cess­ful at the 2013 elec­tion. Aus­tralian Mo­tor­ing En­thu­si­ast Party’s Ricky Muir, for ex­am­ple, was elected to the Se­nate with just 0.51% of the over­all vote.

Goody for Ricky but you lost me. Vot­ing above what line?

The Se­nate bal­lot pa­per is di­vided into two parts.

The names of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and groups in the top sec­tion, with the names of all the hope­ful candidates in the bot­tom.

A hor­i­zon­tal line sep­a­rates the two sec­tions. You had the choice of just putting a num­ber 1 in the box of your po­lit­i­cal party above the line or as­sign­ing your pref­er­ences for in­di­vid­ual candidates be­low the line but had to fill out every box. This can be tricky when there are more than 100 candidates. Fail­ure to al­lo­cate a num­ber to every can­di­date be­low the line voided the vote.

Well, how is this year dif­fer­ent?

Okay, let’s be clear. Vot­ing for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives – Aus­tralia’s lower house from where the Prime Min­is­ter is elected – is un­changed ex­cept for the fact that you will now see the lo­gos of po­lit­i­cal par­ties next to their names. You still num­ber the boxes in the or­der you would like.

It is the Se­nate vot­ing that has changed. If you are vot­ing above the line, you have to num­ber at least six boxes from 1 to 6 ac­cord­ing to your choices. So if La­bor is your first choice, put a 1 in its box. If the Greens are your sec­ond choice put a 2 in their box and so on.

You are free to la­bel all the boxes but you must la­bel

at least six for your pref­er­ences to pass on. If you se­lect just one box your vote will still go to your party but won’t live on if your party doesn’t get enough votes.

Be­low the line, un­derneath each party logo, are the names of the candidates in the or­der in which the votes will be dis­trib­uted.

You can pref­er­ence your vote by num­ber­ing the candidates from any party in any or­der. You have to num­ber at least 12 boxes from 1 to 12. You don’t have to agree to the or­der in which the par­ties have their candidates listed and you can choose from dif­fer­ent par­ties if you want. The free­dom is yours.

I feel so em­pow­ered! Now once more, but quickly so I won’t for­get

Okay. In the vot­ing sta­tion you will get two forms – green and white. The green bal­lot is for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and you must num­ber the boxes or candidates ac­cord­ing to who you want to run the coun­try.

The white bal­lot is for the Se­nate.

Here, you must ei­ther num­ber six boxes above the line from 1 to 6 or 12 boxes be­low the line from 1 to 12. Only the con­sec­u­tive num­bers will be counted, so if you leave out num­ber 8 only 1 to 7 will be counted.

Be sure to take your time and use your pref­er­ences. If you don’t, you can hardly com­plain about the gov­ern­ment you get.

What if I stuff it up?

How? By think­ing about the sausage siz­zle? Don’t leave all the boxes blank and cer­tainly don’t use crosses and ticks. Just num­bers, peo­ple. And please, please don’t write your name and ad­dress on the bal­lot – you would be sur­prised at how many peo­ple do. If you make a mis­take you can ask for a new bal­lot pa­per.

Just be sure to take your time and use your pref­er­ences. If you don’t, you can hardly com­plain about the gov­ern­ment you get.

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