New Senate Voting Rules

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you will have noticed a sudden and somewhat vicious outbreak of political warfare between the ALP and the Greens a month or two back.  While said outbreak covered a wide variety of contentious issues, the underlying cause appears to have been the new Senate Voting rules, which were voted in by the Coalition, the Greens, and a pyjama-clad Nick Xenophon, and opposed by the ALP, Bob Day (Family First, who has attempted to take this to Court), Ricky Muir (Motoring Enthusiast), David Leyonhjelm (LDP), Jackie Lambie, Glenn Lazarus and John Madigan.

The goal of this legislation is ostensibly to get rid of Group Voting Tickets and thus make it easier for people to direct their own preferences when they vote above the line, rather than having these directed by the party, often in directions unsuspected by the average voter.  Other goals attributed to the legislation include getting rid of microparties and independents, and making it easier for the government to get a majority in the Senate.  Whether or not the legislation will have any of these effects remains to be seen.

I’m going to discuss the Bill in detail below, but for those who want to cut to the chase, here is how you actually vote (paraphrased from sections 239 and 269 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act).

Above the Line: You can now number your political parties and grouped independents (but not solo independents) above the line!  Very exciting!  Your ballot paper will ask you to number at least six parties/groups above the line in order from 1-6, but you can do more, and you probably should if you don’t want your vote to exhaust.  However, since the government is aware that people don’t tend to read instructions and they don’t really want to have a huge number of informal votes, your vote will still be counted if you only put a ‘1’ in a single box above the line.  This just means that if your first preference doesn’t get up, your vote is ‘exhausted’, and there are no second or third preferences to count.  Voting ‘1’ only above the line will not mean that your vote then gets channelled down a list of parties determined by the party you put your vote beside – that is exactly what this Bill is meant to abolish.

However, voting above the line does still mean that the party you vote for decides which candidate gets first dibs on votes for that party, so if your party has decided to put someone loathsome at the top of their ticket, you might want to consider moving below the line.  Also, you are considered to have voted for *all* the candidates for the party you put first, then *all* the candidates for the one you put second, and so forth, in the order they appear on the party’s ticket.

Below the Line: This is now a much less risky choice than it used to be, because provided you successfully manage to count to twelve below the line, your vote will be counted.  Your ballot paper will ask you to number at least 12 candidates in order from 1-6, however once again, you can do more, and I would, once again, advise you to do so, so that your vote doesn’t exhaust.  Below the line is still the only way to vote for ungrouped independents, alas.

Oops, I voted Above and Below the Line: You enthusiastic thing, you!  Don’t worry, if only one of them is formal, they will count that.  If they are both formal, your below the line vote will be counted.

Honestly, while there are things this Bill could do better, this is pretty good as far as it goes.  My biggest issue with it is that a lot of votes are going to exhaust, leading to people not getting the full value of their vote if they only number 6 places above or 12 places below the line.  But I am definitely in favour of making it easier to vote formally below the line, as I know the huge numbers of candidates can be offputting and overwhelming.

So what about the rest of the Bill? Continue reading