I have two alternative titles for today’s post. For those of you who were just as bamboozled as I was when you arrived at the polling station on Saturday, it’s called…
- Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted
And for those of you who were expecting the complicated voting arrangements that awaited me, this post is called…
- Well, you should have Googled “How to vote in an Australian Federal Election” before you turned up, shouldn’t you?
Going to the polls
This isn’t the first time I have voted in Australia as an Australian citizen, you will remember that I cast my vote in the Queensland state elections which took place in March of last year.
At the time I took a photograph of myself proudly entering the polling station to place my vote…
On Saturday it was a Federal Election and I couldn’t really see it being much different, that’s why I didn’t take my camera, so I’m sure the Green Party will be overwhelmed that I have recycled the above photograph for this post.
Yes, it was the same hall that I attended to vote, same setup, so why on earth would I need to take more pictures? You’ll find out why when I get to the section about Senate voting. But first…
Voting in the UK
Here’s what I’m used to when it comes to voting in elections. Back in the UK, voting in a “General Election” was very straightforward; decide who you wanted to vote for and then vote for them.
Sometimes there would only be three choices, unless you were lucky enough to live in an area represented by someone from The Official Monster Raving Loony Party or one of the other minor parties. It mattered not though, your task was very simple; put one simple cross in one simple box and the job was done.
If you wanted to make it more complicated than this, you could always go to the pub after voting and discuss what you’ve done and why with anybody else who would listen. That though, was voluntary.
Preferential voting in Australia
Those of you unacquainted with the Australian political system will probably need to brush up by reading my post Australian Politics Explained first.
Here, in Australia, things were completely different. On arrival at the polling station, I was issued with my voting slip which had seven candidates on it, but rather than selecting one, I had to choose them in order of preference, numbering them 1 to 7.
Pretty simple, really, and as I grabbed that voting slip and began walking towards the voting booth, the guy behind the desk said “not so fast!”
He then handed me a larger piece of paper, much much larger, with so many boxes on it my head was spinning. For all I knew, it could have been some kind of complicated flowchart that might perhaps assist a scientist in his project to create perpetual motion.
It wasn’t though; it was another voting slip, this one for the Senate.
This sheet of paper was so big I couldn’t put it down and lay it flat in the polling booth. I’ve had to take three photographs, courtesy of my mobile phone camera, to capture it all. I’ve used political terms to describe each one of these photographs.
First, here’s the extreme left…
I was told I needed to place all 82 candidates that appeared below the line in my preferential order, numbering them 1 to 82 OR, if I decided to vote above the line, I just needed to place a 1 in one box and let the magical process of preferential voting automatically do the rest for me.
Before I try to explain how all this works, let’s go back to my vote for Federal Government and pretend, just for the sake of this example, that I only had four choices, not seven. Let’s say the political parties I could have voted for were…
For one of these parties to win a seat in the House of Representatives, they would require a majority which is 50% of the total vote + 1. In this example, let’s assume 100 people were voting, so one party would need 51 votes to win.
Let’s say though that the first vote goes like this…
- Red – 31
- Yellow – 16
- Green – 29
- Blue – 24
As you can see, nobody has achieved 50% plus one, so nobody has a majority. In Australia’s preferential voting system, whoever came last is out, so in this example we say goodbye to Yellow.
All the people who voted for Yellow may have lost their primary vote, but their secondary vote now kicks into play. So, let’s say the 16 people who voted for Yellow voted the following parties second…
- Red – 5
- Green – 1
- Blue – 10
These votes are added to the primary votes already gained by these parties giving us new totals of…
- Red – 36
- Green – 30
- Blue – 34
Now we are down to the final three, but still no majority. Bottom of the pile is Green, so they are out! As before, the secondary votes for the Greens are added as primary votes and if that second vote was for Yellow, who are already eliminated, then the third preference is used and so on.
Let’s say, in this example, that the Greens preferential votes went as following…
- Red – 12
- Blue – 18
The winner then is Blue, who you will remember were just third after the primary vote, but now has 52% with Red second on 48%.
NB: I can assure you that these colours were picked at random and no political message has been hidden within by the author, honest.
So, that’s how preferential voting works here, but it does get much more complicated.
What is above the line voting?
Back to that vote for the Senate. Remember those 82 choices? And remember you can either put all 82 choices in order numbered 1 – 82 or you can just vote for one and be done?
Well, if you take the easy way out and just choose one, you are kind of losing control of your vote. Because whoever that one party chooses as their secondary preference, that’s where your vote is going to go.
If, on the other hand, you take the time to vote below the line and put them all in order, then you are always in control of who you are voting into the Senate. Your secondary vote, third, fourth and all the way down to your 82nd choice, if necessary, will be taken into consideration.
So, clearly it is best to fill the form in properly from 1 to 82. So who does?
In the last election, only just over 3% of voters actually bothered.
That’s how it all works here in Australia. Maybe old habits die hard, but I much prefer the old system I enjoyed in the UK; one man, one vote, one cross and if you wanted to, one pub.