So there’s an election coming up in a week’s time. Maybe this is the first time you’ve voted, maybe you’ve been voting since Harold Holt was a nipper. But do you really know much about the voting process? It’s surprising how many people are under strange misapprehensions about how their vote will be distributed and counted. First and foremost among these is what I will now call …
The “preference myth”:
The political parties make preference deals and can distribute my vote any way they want to.
So many people believe this is the case, but it is most definitely not true!
When you walk into a polling booth you can be certain that only you can decide who gets your vote. Let’s look at the ballot paper for the House of Representatives:
You can see from the instructions that you need to number every box. Maybe you like Candidate D the best, so he or she gets a “1″, but you still have to put numbers in the other boxes, in the order you like. These are your preferences. Your vote will be distributed according to the order in which you number the candidates. Nobody else has any say in it! (There is one possible exception to this when voting for the Senate, see below.)
But what’s all this stuff you hear about parties making preference deals? All this refers to is how each party or group will choose to order candidates on the “how-to-vote” cards that they will distribute at polling booths. You know those annoying people who want to hand you a wad of papers as you walk in to vote? All those ex-trees they are handing you are how-to-vote cards.
Here’s how it works: parties make agreements with other parties about the preferred ordering of candidates, then they publish these on a how-to-vote card and try to force it upon you as you arrive at the local primary school gates on election day. And that’s the beginning and end of it! In this great and democratic country of ours you are of course under no obligation to follow your favourite party’s how-to-vote card, you can vote any way you want.
Here’s a quote from the website australianpolitics.com which neatly sums up the whole “preference deal” malarky (note the section which I have emphasised):
Decisions about preference allocation are made by the political parties, sometimes after negotiation and agreement with other parties, but there is no way of enforcing these agreements other than by issuing how-to-vote cards.
I suggest you now take a few minutes to watch an excellent short video by the Australian Electoral Commission which explains beautifully the process of counting votes for the House of Representatives using the preference system (it may take a few seconds to load).
If you enjoyed that video, you can try this one about the counting of votes for the Senate. It’s a little more complicated but worth watching. Trust me, you will learn a lot in just a few minutes!
If you just watched the Senate video, you’ll see what I meant earlier about an exception to the rule that “nobody else has any say” in your vote. When voting for the Senate you have two choices as to how to place your vote. Let’s look at the ballot paper for the Senate:
You’ll see there are two sections, “above the line” and “below the line”. If you vote above the line, then you must only put a single “1″ in the box corresponding to your preferred party. If you choose to vote above the line, then (from the AEC website, my emphasis):
By casting a vote this way, voters are allowing the order of their preference to be determined by the party or group they are voting for.
So you see, only in this particular case can someone else decide your preferences for you. The party to whom you give your “1″ vote above the line may get to ultimately determine who gets your vote. But even so, each party must have lodged what is called a “group voting ticket”, a written statement which clearly lists each party’s preferences. These group voting tickets will determine the order in which the AEC will allocate “above the line” votes. In effect, you are voting for which group voting ticket you want to be used to distribute your vote.
(Importantly, all group voting tickets are available at polling booths on election day. So even if you choose to vote above the line, you can request to view your party’s group voting ticket at the polling booth, prior to casting your vote.)
Better still, you can choose to vote below the line in the Senate. If you do this you must number every candidate in your preferred order, just like the House of Representatives ballot paper. Sometimes the Senate ballot papers can be enormous, so this may seem a daunting prospect, but if you want to remain in control of your vote this is what you may choose to do.
So there you are. Your vote is your vote, end of story. Ignore all the crap you hear about “preference deals” and most importantly ignore ridiculous headlines such as this:
THE preference deal between Labor and the Greens has injected a radical new note of uncertainty into the election campaign, says Tony Abbott.
What bollocks! Number every box on election day!
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