Senate Voting I: Voting Below the Line

This post is intended to be the first in a planned sequence of two which detail the heinous errors made by the Australian public in voting at the last election and how to rectify them. The first of these, to be discussed in this post shall address the question of whether to vote above or below the line in the upper house.

In the last federal election, the number of voters choosing to vote below the line was disappointingly low, with a national average of no more than five percent, and only in the ACT and Tasmania was the figure approaching some sort of respectability. The outcome of this, is that it is no longer the voter’s preferences that determine the fate of the election, but instead the preference deals negotiated by the parties and the resultant party tickets that above the line voters end up choosing. The undesirable outcomes of this practice were exhibited for all to see at the last election when Family First won the last seat in Victoria with a primary vote of only 1.9 percent, after Labor preferenced them over the Greens. It almost goes without saying that presumably this would not be the choice of the vast majority of Labor voters if asked.

A quick google search will reveal that this is not an isolated incident, especially when one looks at state elections where the same voting method is implemented. This suggests that there is a systematic problem at foot, and indeed there is – the party power brokers should not have so much power to determine who is and isn’t elected, and resolving this problem is an issue that we need to address. Nevertheless I will not dwell on the structural problems here, and instead discuss how to vote under the current situtation.

Choosing who to vote for is an important issue that should be taken seriously by all voters. As such, one should care about who one is directing preferences to. Those who vote above the line clearly do not care about the fate of the country, and in all honesty shouldn’t be voting in the first place. It is arguable that the most important vote one casts on election day is the preference expressed between the final remaining candidates for the last senate seat (especially for voters in a safe lower house seat). This direction of preferences is of paramount importance, and the only way to make sure that the preference distribution matches your wishes is to vote below the line – a party ticket will not line up with your own interests.

So remember on November 24 to vote below the line for the Senate. One would like to think that the heinous errors committed by the Victorians in the last election would encourage more people to take appropriate care in their voting, but somehow I am not confident in the political awareness of the Australian public. While the current system is in place, below the line voting is the best weapon we have in expressing our wishes – we must not let that weapon go to waste.

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2 Responses to “Senate Voting I: Voting Below the Line”

  1. largestprime Says:

    Interesting… for the record, when Dan Mathews came to visit me in New York, we both voted below the line at the consulate about a week before everyone else went to the polls.

    I’d be interested to hear your opinions on the structural problems of our voting system. I’ve recently been reading Arrow and it seems that, owing to the impossibility theorem, we are doomed from the start… but I could just be getting confused.

  2. bartogian Says:

    Well I know that the statement of Arrow’s theorem requires a complete ordering of candidates, rather than just picking out the top one or six. Still I think we are doomed from the start in creating a perfect system.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that all systems are equally bad, the preferential system in Australia seems like a pretty good one. The results can appear to be quite sensitive to pertubation though, looking at Andreww Bartlett’s blog here. Perhaps the solution is to infiltrate the process of making preference deals.

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