Do you understand Australia’s Preferential Voting system? I do.

You’re about to exercise your free and democratic right to vote – something that millions around the world can only dream about. So it’s an important privilege that’s worth understanding. Let me explain quickly!

If you are not completely sure, you are in good company. Me? I’m a bit of a political junkie. I get excited about my democratic right to vote and I use the preferential voting system to make sure that my voice is heard. Bear with me! It might be politics, but it’s fun to understand things like this – honestly!

In the federal election on September 7 the voting system is compulsory preferential, which means you have to preference every candidate on the House of Representatives green voting slip. The winning candidate needs to secure either an absolute majority (50% + 1) of the first preference vote to win, or alternatively an absolute majority after the distribution of preferences.

At 6pm the polling booths close and the voting boxes are opened. Counting starts immediately. Every valid green voting slip is put into piles and counted, sorted by the number 1 preference. So, if there are 6 candidates, there will be 6 piles. Informal votes are set aside and not counted. If you don’t number every square your vote will be informal.

Your first preference (your number 1 vote) determines which pile your voting slip will be put into. And that candidate benefits from your vote. But that’s not all. If your number one preferred candidate does not have enough first preference votes to win, they are eliminated and your voting slip is then moved to your number two preferred candidate. The entire vote. And this process keeps going until your vote sits with the candidate who is not eliminated. This is particularly important to benefit minor parties. Many Australians think that if you vote for a minor party who have very little chance of winning, it is a wasted vote. But I hope you can see from what I’ve just explained that this is not the case. If you vote for a minor party and they do not win, your entire vote moves to your next preference. And so on. But the great thing for minor parties is that candidates who receive at least 4% of No. 1 votes receive government funding for their party which in turn gives them a voice post election.

6 Responses to “Do you understand Australia’s Preferential Voting system? I do.”

  1. David Skerritt says:

    The preferential system has a tendency to give too much opportunity to fringe parties. The 4% rule is ridiculous! The compulsory voting is not freedom of choice. Western democratic nations normally espouse these principles: Freedom of speech; freedom of association; freedom of choice. Compulsory voting defies the last one. Our 3-yr terms are too short. Governments need longer for their programme to take effect. A definite overhaul is needed!

  2. Craig says:

    This article is incorrect. The preference system doesn’t work this way. You state “If your number one preferred candidate does not have enough first preference votes to win, they are eliminated and your voting slip is then moved to your number two preferred candidate.” This is not true. Only the lowest polling candidate is eliminated and only voters for that candidate have their second preferences redistributed as votes. Your article does not state this and is incorrect. Considering the imminence of the election I suggest you pull this page immediately to prevent people taking your poor advice. Please do more research in future and refrain from posting things like this until you have an actual clue about the subject you are writing about.

    • Wendy says:

      Correct, the lowest polling candidate is eliminated. Every candidate apart from the winning candidate at one stage during the process of preference counting becomes the lowest polling candidate and is eliminated. My aim with this post is making it as clear and simple as possible.

  3. Lynda Hammond says:

    Thanks Wendy, that was useful :)
    Regards, Lynda

  4. Pat says:

    Agree with David when he states that our whole voting system needs an overhaul. When a Senate ‘How to vote’ card is as long as a tablecloth, there is a serious question about our system. For those who take no interest in politics, it is all too easy to vote just by going down the ballot paper, numbering from the top to the bottom. The secret deals done by the minor parties can completely distort the wishes of the majority. There needs to be a limit put on the number of minor parties, I feel.

  5. Kelly says:

    Enjoyed reading this snapshot! Thank you!

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