Preferential Voting ?

Photo credit: aec.gov.au
Photo credit: aec.gov.au

Preferential voting is a fundamental system in Australian politics. Selecting candidates in numbered order, with the least popular candidates being eliminated and their votes redistributed to the next-preferred candidate, is the way we decide who will lead our country. But does the average Australian truly understand who they are voting for, and how?

At the NSW election on the 28th of March, the candidate supporters are the observers of who is voting and how. Helen is a candidate supporter for the Australian Christian Democratic Party states that “This year has been really different. No one is taking flyers, everyone seems to know who they’re voting for. They’re just walking straight past us and going in to vote. It’s very different from last time.”

Perhaps the bizarre results of the 2013 election, where Ricky Muir with 0.5% of the primary vote was elected to the Senate, has shaken people up a little. Perhaps Australia does have a better idea of who they want to vote for, and how.

Information on the voting system is complex, confusing and a challenge to decipher when attempting to work out exactly where a vote will go. Websites such as belowtheline.com.au redirect solely to Western Australia information, while practical information on filling out ballot papers is available on the Australian Electoral Commission website. But the fundamentals of who is supporting what and how, the practicalities of a preferential voting system, are often less clear. Relying on media stories is not always the best way to discover the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates. The Electoral Commission website states that there are ‘many different voting and counting systems used in Australia’. Why so many? Do the public understand the preferential voting system, or are they asking for help?

“I’ve only had one couple in their fifties ask for help,” says Helen. “A lot of young people are refusing flyers, they all know who they’re voting for and how it works. I’m quite surprised.”

Helen believes that the average voter seems more informed and more aware than the previous elections she has worked at. A Labor advocate agrees, “everyone knows who they are voting for, and how to fill out the gigantic polling paper effectively.” As we speak, the Greens advocate is given a sharp dressing-down by a voter who informs him that his party has an ‘appalling’ record on infrastructure.

With political discontent spread through Australian society, it is time that the voting systems used throughout elections be reconsidered, both for the sake of the average voter and the practicality of voting.

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