Here’s how to use your power at the ballot box
Changes to Senate voting ensure your choices count down the line
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.