Make your vote count

So, the election is tomorrow.  You’ve done your reading.  You’ve maybe even listened to a few Eurovision songs along the way.  With luck, you have at least some idea who you are going to vote for.

There are two things I want to write about today.

The first is just to touch on how incredibly fortunate we are in our electoral system.  I’ve been corresponding with a friend in the US recently, and she mentioned in passing that she was in Australia during an election a few years ago and she couldn’t believe how many places there were that you could vote.  Airports!  Hospitals!  Mobile polling booths that go to aged care facilities and remote communities!  Coming from a country where restricting access to the ballot box is an actual strategy for one of their major parties, it was a revelation.

I write about our Australian Electoral Commission at almost every election, because it is a national treasure and we are so lucky to have it.  I think, though, that I’m going to just cheat this time and link you to my last post on the subject rather than writing a new one, because I just did a count and I’ve already written more than 140,000 words in this electoral cycle and I’ll be honest with you, I’m tired and I have a Eurovision party to bake for.

Also, there’s something else I really want to talk about in this post, and that’s about numbering all the boxes on your Senate Ballot, whether you opt for voting above or below the line.

Yes, I know, it’s optional now.  If you number six boxes above the line or twelve below, your vote will still count.

And yes, I know, it takes ages, and you don’t want to give Pauline Hanson or the Shooters and Fishers your vote.  I do get that.  And it’s tempting to stop once you run out of acceptable options.

But the thing is, there are a lot of unacceptable options this year, and some of them really are worse than others.  I mean, my personal line is ‘bigots with guns’ versus ‘bigots without guns’, and you may well have a different one, and that’s fine.  But for me, if a bigot is inevitable, I’d prefer an unarmed one.

(Also, it doesn’t have to take long – I’ve already mentioned the Senate Voting Card Creator, but I’m going to mention it again now, because it’s a great tool.  You can spend ten minutes at home carefully ordering your parties and candidates, and then print out a handy list that tells you which number to put in each box, column by column, so that you don’t have to go hunting all over the ballot paper to find people.  And then you only need two minutes in the ballot box to copy out your customised how to vote card.  Or three minutes if you are in NSW, which got more than their fair share of parties and independents this year.)

But back to voting all the way to the end of the ballot.  I think there is an idea that when you vote in the Senate, there is a point where your vote reaches a major party and stops, but that’s not really how it works with proportional representation.  Maths is not my best thing, so I’m going to keep this example simple.  Let’s say that you have 100 voters in your electorate and there are four Senate seats available (so you’re probably in Tasmania) (sorry, cheap joke).  To get a Senate seat, a party needs a quota.  The system, for reasons that I don’t understand, defines a quota as the number of voters divided by (the number of seats + 1).  So in this case, a quota of votes is 20.

Labor and the Liberals will probably get more than 20 votes each, which means they would each get one Senator automatically.  But their remaining votes now need to be distributed somehow, and because each vote has to have equal weight, we can’t just say, OK, the Liberals got 25 votes, we’ll just peel off 5 votes at random from that pack and distribute them to their second preferences.  Nope – instead, what happens is that first, the Liberals only have 5 votes to count towards their next quota.  Depending on how other parties do, they may be able to gain enough votes to make another quota, or they may be eliminated as preferences are counted.  And if they are eliminated, all of those original 25 votes now go to their second preferences, but instead of counting as a whole vote each, they now count as 1/5 of a vote each, because the other 4/5 of that vote got used up on that first Liberal Senator.  Those fractional votes will go to whichever parties were listed after Liberal on those ballots and are still in the game, and some of these are probably going to be kind of terrible.

And if you haven’t listed anything after the Liberal party, then 1/5 of your vote is lost and won’t do anything at all.

And maybe that doesn’t matter to you.  But I think that if you’ve been reading all of these posts, your vote probably matters to you quite a bit.  I think you probably do care enough… maybe not to try to find the exquisitely thin line that divides Fraser Anning from Australia First (that way lies madness), but hopefully enough to grudgingly concede that the DLP, while still awful about LGBTQIA+ people and Section 18C, don’t actually want to revive the White Australia policy and weaken gun control, and are thus a marginally better option than those who are awful about LGBTQIA+ people *and also* want to do both those other things.

In other words, there might still be a point on the ballot where you go, you know what, these remaining parties are literally all steaming piles of excrement and there is nothing to choose between them, and that’s a valid choice.  I’m merely suggesting – and asking – that you consider numbering far enough down the ballot to at least make sure that you are preferencing the parties which have one or two non-toxic policies over the ones that are wholly despicable.

I mean, let’s be real here.  I am still absolutely and enthusiastically encouraging you to preference your favourite, most adorable, idealistic, unrealistic political party or independent first.  We are lucky enough to live in a country where you can’t waste your vote – where you can vote for your ideals, where you can vote for the party of your heart, where you don’t have to compromise what you love to get an outcome that you can live with.  This is a great joy and I would never deprive you of it.

All I’m asking you to do is to let your ideals speak equally loudly at the bottom of your ballot – to make sure that the most loathsome party really is listed last, that the lesser of two evils is given its appropriate priority, so that if, by some terrible misfortune, it comes down to a choice between two really horrible minor parties, your vote can help ensure that the slightly less horrible one gets up.

And yes, that means you won’t have the privilege of saying, well, it wasn’t *my* vote that got them in.   It means that your hands won’t be as clean as perhaps you’d like.

But I reckon that if you get your hands dirty helping to clean out the toxic waste from the bottom of the ballot so that your fellow Australians won’t have to live in the sludge, that’s pretty honorable dirt.

We on the left of politics are not always good at this.  We like to be pure and we like to keep our hands clean and we don’t like to compromise.  But there is a reason why the expression ‘to wash your hands of the problem’ is a negative one.

So please, vote as well as you can, and as thoroughly as you have time for.  Vote with hope and delight at the top of the ballot, and vote with rubber gloves on at the bottom of the ballot if that’s what it takes.  Above all, make your vote count.

You can always wash your hands later.

And then go get your democracy sausage, buy a cake or some jam from the school fête, and go home and pray for a nice, decisive result early in the evening – because some of us have to get up at 5am to watch Eurovision on Sunday!

Happy voting, and thanks so much for reading.  And may we all wake up on Monday morning to a government that cares enough to do something about the environment, that will look for creative ways to address poverty and disadvantage, that will act with honesty and transparency and compassion, and that we can feel proud of having elected.

One Last Eurovision Song, because you knew that was inevitable.

A public service announcement from Verka Serduchka, explaining the need to number your ballot boxes properly – ein, zwei, drei…

Dance your way to the ballot box!

19 thoughts on “Make your vote count

  1. Hi Cate, I just wanted to say THANK YOU! I just found your blog and the amount of research you’ve done is amazing and so helpful. I found you while trying to look up some of the independents (build websites already!) and you have made things much clearer.
    Happy Voting!

  2. Hi Cate
    Keep doing your good work! I also stumbled across your blog while trying to get more information about the parties and independents to educate myself this election. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your humorous take on the sorry state of the Senate ballot this year and your helpful summaries. The people in line at the ballot box might hate me but I’m numbering every box below the line!

  3. Have to echo the other commenters Cate – thank-you. This post in particular is a really important one, and so encouraging, but the whole blog is an entertaining and useful read.

    I’ll be voting with delight in my heart tomorrow as well as metaphorical rubber gloves for those lower numbers.

    Good luck with Eurovision!

    • Thanks, Elisa! I’m glad this is resonating with people, and that it’s encouraging. I love our electoral system, because it gives us so many choices and so much power to really vote in a way that reflects our beliefs – I hope that my work will help people feel empowered to do that, rather than being overwhelmed by so many choices on the ballot.

      (And good luck to you, too! It would be nice to see the Democrats returning as a force in politics in Australia… we need a party that can capture some of those compassionate conservative votes which are never going to go to Labor or the Greens, and use them for good!)

      • Thanks so much Cate – and you’ve just articulated my passion!!

        I come from a super-conservative background myself (my mum once ran for Family First!) and…I’m revealing a lot now…I was a bit ‘that way’ myself until my early 20s. Not because I didn’t care about people or the planet, but because I’d only ever been exposed to a limited set of ideas – a lot of which were based on fearing the ‘other side’ with all their nefarious agendas!

        As you say, there are some really compassionate conservative people out there, that will likely never vote Labor or Green for one reason or another. Reaching out to them, and encouraging us to talk and build relationships with people outside our regular communities, is a personal passion of mine.

        Maybe it’s idealistic but I’ll keep on keeping on. Thanks for your encouragement!

        • Please do! We need more idealists in politics. And I think we get there by learning from our mistakes and trying to do better (and, of course, doing our best to undo or redress any harm that we have caused – compassion isn’t always enough, sadly.).

          And since we are bringing our political skeletons out of the closet, I might as well own up to my own guilty secret: the first time I ever voted, back in 1996, I cast my vote for John Howard. I’ve regretted it ever since, because, when it comes down to it, my vote harmed others. (I also voted for some decidedly doubtful characters in the senate in my first few elections, because I just wasn’t interested in politics and had no idea what they stood for.)

          I can’t undo that, but this blog is part of my commitment to doing better (and helping others avoid my mistakes).


  4. Cate,

    THANK YOU for all that you do!

    I’ve been following you for a few elections now and I really appreciate your efforts.

    The addition of Eurovision this year has been brilliant! I’ve had many laugh out loud moments, from both your political commentary and song choices (Waterloo?! Nearly cried!)

    I’ve shared your posts with so many in my circle when they’ve been unsure of who stands for what and why.

    You’re a treasure. Thanks again!
    Happy election day eve,

    • Thanks, Jess! I’m glad I’ve been able to inform and entertain. I must admit, there were a few times when I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew with my Eurovision project… but it really did make the whole thing a lot more fun to write.

  5. I’ve been reading your blog for several elections now (you are my go to site to sift through the noise of microparties for signal), and used the senate voting card calculator you linked this time. Love your insight, analysis, humor and Eurovision obsession. Thank you very much – enjoy the final!

    • Thank you – that’s lovely to hear, and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my reviews. I’m just hoping Australians will vote better today than the Europeans voted in yesterday’s semi-final… though I suppose favouring dull competency over flamboyant weirdness is not the worst set of traits in a political party… (not convinced it’s right for Eurovision, however.)

  6. Hi Catherine, just discovered your blog today! It is brilliant, so helpful. Got my below the Senate voting for Victoria all sorted. Many thanks for all the research and commentary. (Tim).

  7. I think we need to start a petition that Eurovision Saturday become our compulsory voting day for all future elections (and maybe also that election campaigns can only last 6 weeks – this one has been a lot less nauseating than usual, I think mostly because it was so short). Thank you, Cate, for putting yourself through all the pain to help others make more informed choices. I gets pretty icky-feeling down the end of the ballot paper – Do I number “98% evil but very obscure” higher or lower than “92% evil but disturbingly popular”?? I wish I could number my top 40, then give all the others 99.
    My own electorate is sadly never going to swing significantly leftward, but I’m so chuffed that I’ll never have to see Tony Abbot being interviewed in his bathers again!

    • Oh no, please don’t wish that on me! I have to say between politics, work deadlines, Easter singing and Eurovision, I have never been so exhausted in my life. And I have to say, right now I’m feeling pretty nauseated at the results coming in… though losing a Tony is certainly a consolation.

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