With the federal election in Australia right around the corner (i.e. sometime this year, also known as whenever the current government could be arsed) I think there is merit in a timely reminder on how our voting system works in this country. Why do I think you all need a reminder? Well because I doubt very much you knew how it worked in the first place. This was made all to clear to me during a recent conversation with family when they had the system completely wrong, and would not listen to reason, instead relying on hearsay and ignoring factual references, because, what the hell do I know?
Now, let me be clear, I don't blame you for not knowing how this all works. In fact, I blame our government and school system. In my opinion, the government has a vested interest in ensuring that you not know how it works, because if you don't, then one of the two "major parties" is likely to be voted back in, which keeps them, and their corporate wallets, happy.
The reality is, that there is not enough information, in the correct format, made readily available to the public about the voting systems here in Australia. Yes, I said "Systems", plural. We have two, and we vote with both at the same time.
This issue is only made worse by our parents and grandparents giving us their distorted views on the voting system when we first turn 18 years of age. We respect our parents and grandparents, and that is great, but that doesn't mean they are always right, sometimes things change, or in this case, we just understand things slightly better than the previous generation. This is natural, and it's not a criticism on our fore bearers.
Further on in this article I have included some videos about how the voting in Australia works. The reason I have included more that one is not because I need to cover two voting systems, it is because even in the official documents, and other publications put forth by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), it is not made absolutely clear to the public how their votes will be counted. It is only when combining information from official, and academic sources, that a clear picture of our voting systems is revealed. This is disheartening because this type of information should be easily available to everyone of voting age, and at all intellectual levels, in order to ensure fair, and just elections.
If you want to check out the official information from the AEC, I suggest you check the following webpage:
Two Houses, Two Systems
Lets start by reviewing the basics. Australian Government is made up of two "Houses". The "House of Representatives", also known as the "Lower House". And the "Senate", or "Upper House"
The voting for each house is slightly different, but it is still preferential in both cases. The difference is whether or not it is Your preference that is counted, or the Political Parties Preference. Before this gets too confusing lets look at the simpler of the two, the lower house.
Voting in the House of Reps
To vote for the House of Representatives, you must fill in YOUR preference in each of the boxes that is on the ballot paper. This is important to remember because, as will be explained in the below two videos, if your preferred candidate is eliminated from the running, then your vote is redistributed as per YOUR preference. So your vote still counts. People don't seem to grasp this concept for some strange reason. I blame brainwashing ...
Regardless, the below two video's (one from the AEC, and one from Griffith University) should make this clear.
So, what are the take-a-ways from this? Well the main one I want to highlight is that if we, as the Australian Public, want a government that is not Liberal or Labor, we can have it! And at this point I think we need it. There are other issues, and it's not 100% that simple, but at the same time it really is. Your vote counts, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Vote for your Senator
And now, the complications arise. Whilst the votes counted for a seat in the senate are still based on preferential votes, they way they are counted is ... convoluted, at best, especially compared to the lower house's system.
Unfortunately the details given by the AEC both in written and visual form let us down once again.
Remember when your parents told you about how, if a party that you vote for looses in an election, that the party now gets to decide where your vote goes? Well this system is where that comes from, but that statement is also not entirely true. Below are, once again, two videos. One from the AEC, and one from the government funded ABC network. Admittedly, the ABC video is sensationalised, but it also illustrates the point.
If you vote "above the line", and you fill in ALL of the boxes, it is YOUR preferences that are counted. The same can be said for voting below the line. However, if you miss any boxes, then your vote may be subjected to redistribution by the Parties (or individuals) preferences. I give you the below video's as an illustration of this point.
So what have we learned about the voting system in the Senate? It's complicated, although not unnecessarily so given what the vote needs to accomplish. Bottom line, make sure you fill in all the boxes and understand your candidates, its the only way you can ensure your vote goes where you want it to go.
Australia's electoral system is both simple, and complicated. There are intricacies to learn, and hurdles to overcome. Knowing how your vote is counted in both houses will help you make the most of your vote. It is my hope that you take away this information and spread the word to your friends and family, disperse the fallacies, and educate the country, the government may not like it, but the rest of Australia will thank you.
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