In case you’ve been snoozing, tomorrow 7 September 2013 is federal election day in Australia and it is compulsory for all Australian citizens to vote.
I admit that I jumped into Australian citizenship without too much contemplation.Â I was already living and working here and needed to be an Australian citizen to be eligible for a youth sailing program to celebrate the quincentenary of the discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus.Â Citizenship would also be handy for some policy positions in Canberra that appealed to me.Â So I lodged my application for citizenship – not an arduous process for applicants from across the “ditch” in New Zealand.Â I never did pursue the youth sailing program – I suffer terribly from motion sickness!Â Nor did I take up a job in Canberra.Â However, the upshot was that I ended up entitled/obliged to vote in the country that I pay taxes to and that is no bad thing.
Even as a masters graduate in political science, I found it took my brain a long time to grasp the technicalities of the Australian voting system.Â I had come from pre-MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) New Zealand with a simple first past the post system for a unicameral parliament.Â By contrast, Australia applies a preferential voting system. Thus on the House of Representatives ballot, you have to number ALL the candidates in order of preference:
A House of Representatives candidate is elected if they gain an absolute majority (more than 50%) of the formal vote
First, all of the number ‘1’ votes are counted for each candidate. If a candidate gets more than half the total first preference votes, that candidate will be elected.
If no candidate has more than half of the first preference votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded. This candidate’s votes are transferred to the other candidates according to the second preferences shown by voters on the ballot papers for the excluded candidate. If a candidate still does not have more than half the votes, the next candidate who now has the fewest votes is excluded and the votes are transferred according to the next preference shown. This process continues until one candidate has more than half the total votes and is declared elected.
Confused?Â Wait until you read about how the votes for the Senate are counted.Â Even the Australian Electoral Commission statesÂ “the Senate count is more complicated than a count for the House of Representatives. Counting of first preferences begins on election night but the full count cannot be completed until several weeks after the election“.Â Â I will save you a long-winded explanation.Â Suffice to say that voters are instructed to vote either “above the line” or “below the line”:
Above the line: You can just put a ‘1’ in the box above the line for the party or group of your choice. By doing this youâ€™re allowing the order of your preference to be determined by the party or group youâ€™re voting for.
Or below the line: You can choose to fill in every box below the line in order of your preference. You must put a ‘1’ in the box beside the candidate who is your first choice, ‘2’ in the box beside your second choice and so on, until you have numbered every box. You must number every box for your vote to count.
This election voters in my State (New South Wales) are confronted with a metre (100cm) long ballot paper with 8.5pt font.Â A polling booth is only 60cm wide so there will be millions of contortionists tomorrow and many of them will require a magnifying glass that is apparently standard issue for voting venues in 2013.
UsuallyÂ I drop into the polling booth at Copacabana primary school on my way home from my morning swim.Â Thus I undertake my civic duty attired in a damp, clammy swimsuit and sandy thongs.Â It seems a suitably Australian approach.Â This time, as I am travelling outside my electorate to teach, I cast a postal vote.Â Here’s a snapshot of my voting papers prior to completion:
I will miss the aroma of theÂ P&C sausage sizzle and running the gauntlet of party volunteers thrusting how to vote flyers. Instead, I got to count from 1 to 110 in my own time (I like to vote “below the line”) and my vote is in the mail.