On Sunday I posted a guide to the 50 or so minor parties running in the Australian federal election, and on Thursday I posted an explanation of how Australia’s preferential voting system allows you to vote for a minor party without “wasting your vote”. Although that’s easy enough in the House of Representatives (the small green ballot paper), the Senate (large white) ballot paper is chock-a-block with candidates, and gives you the tempting alternative of simply writing a “1” in the box above the thick black line for your chosen party, group or independent. But where do your preferences actually go if you vote “above the line”?
Before the election, each political party, group, and independent registers a full list of preferences, called a group voting ticket, with the Australian Electoral Commission, and these are made publicly available. Voting above the line gives your chosen group the right to distribute your preferences according to its pre-existing group voting ticket.
Most parties decide their preferences through non-transparent deals with other parties, which can sometimes be inconsistent with a party’s stated ideology. (Two exceptions are the Pirate Party and Save the Planet, who allocate their preferences according to transparent processes.) For example, if you vote for the Wikileaks Party you probably don’t prefer Australia First or the Shooters and Fishers ahead of the Greens, yet if you vote above the line for Wikileaks in NSW that is where your preference will flow.
Wikileaks is just one of many parties at this election who have made bizarre preference decisions which call into question whether they really stand for what they claim. Reportedly, many parties are acting on the advice of controversial strategist Glenn Druery, who is allegedly trying to get a Shooters and Fishers Party candidate elected
If you don’t like your chosen group’s preferences, you can instead vote “below the line”. A helpful website is Below the Line, which presents all the group voting tickets in an easy-to-read format and allows you to prepare your own ballot to use on election day. Here’s how it works:
- Go to http://belowtheline.org.au/
- Select your electorate from the dropdown box. If you’re not sure which electorate you are in, use the location search feature.
- Once you’ve selected your electorate, you should reach a page listing your incumbent local MP, your 12 incumbent state Senators, and your House of Representatives candidates for this election.
- Click the “View preferences” button to view a list of your Senate candidates, who will initially be listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.
- For most parties and candidates there are links to their website and/or Wikipedia page.
- Use one of the dropdown menus to view the group voting ticket of any party, group, or independent.
- If you don’t like your chosen group’s preferences, return to the page for your electorate and click on the “Ballot Editor” button.
- In the Ballot Editor for your electorate, click and drag the parties or candidates to reorder them.
- If you want to leave the website and continue ordering your preferences another time without losing the work you’ve already done, click “Save” and keep the URL. If you do this multiple times, you’ll get a new URL each time.
- When you’re happy with your preference order, click “Download PDF” to get a PDF showing you exactly how to fill in your ballot paper on election day.
- You can print out your PDF and take it to your polling booth to use as your personal How-to-Vote card.
It is your democratic right to determine where your vote goes. You don’t have to abdicate that right to political parties making backroom deals.