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Does your senate vote really count?

By Brett Walker - posted Wednesday, 28 March 2007

How did we ever get to this point? Ironically it turns out it was a deal done between the ALP and the Democrats in late 1983 that created the current Senate voting system which I think makes such a mockery of democratic process in Australia.

Why is this so?

Consider this. When you vote in the next Senate election (half senate elections will be co-ordinated with the next Federal poll due in October this year) you will be presented with two options: either vote above the line (option A) or below the line (option B).

Option A is simple - you select 1 box and your preferences (down to the last name in the long list that usually appears below the line) will be automatically allocated according to a group voting ticket notification lodged prior to the poll by the people whose box you ticked (i.e. your preferred political party will have already told the Electoral Commission how it wants your preferences to be allocated).


“Too easy” I hear you say. In fact ticket voting above the line has proven so easy (compared to its alternative) that 96 per cent of voters chose this option at the last federal election in 2004. No doubt about it, it’s more popular than sliced bread.

Option B (as it stands) is really reserved for those few crazed loners out there (mainly school teachers and political science students) who want to meticulously number each box below the line. No ifs, buts or maybes here either. You tick a box instead of numbering it and your vote is dead in the water. You mix up the numbers or double-up and the same applies.

Compared with ticket voting the chances of casting an informal vote via Option B are (hopefully) obvious.

But what's really wrong with this?

Well, if you're a back room Party strategist I'd guess you'd say "Not a lot, thank you very much."

And if you’re a micro party attempting to storm the gates on a single issue you’d no doubt agree.

But if you're someone who actually wants their vote to reflect their democratic view on a given day (say POLLING day for example) I would submit your response should be "How do we get rid of this beast?"


Of course you have to appreciate the sheer genius behind the whole idea of the line voting system and how ticket voting has exploited its weaknesses. Give voters two choices, one very easy, the other extremely onerous. It's a no-brainer which way people will go and the statistics back me up.

But if you asked anyone who voted above the line how their preferences were allocated (the real prize in a preferential voting system) I would bet my super the vast majority would have no idea.

So giving preference to a group you loathe over someone you love might be a direct consequence of ticking a box for your favourite political party “above the line”.

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About the Author

Brett Walker is a lawyer and small business operator who spends most Sundays enjoying time with his wife and kids. He tried to read the Bible once but got caught up in the begat-fest at the front. He remains sceptical of anyone who would ask him to not be sceptical.

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