Here’s the thing about scrutineering. It isn’t just about protecting your party’s votes or recording where the preference flows are going (though this is, of course, what you are appointed to do). It’s also about both observing and protecting the process of counting votes, and, particularly in an election where the results look like being quite depressing, I find it rather comforting to have watched the process and to know that yes, those really are the votes that were cast. For those who care, here’s what happens after they shut the doors at your polling place.
Apparently the people of Victoria have spoken, and they have said “We can’t tell the major parties apart. Also, it’s raining, so you can’t expect us to bother voting.”
How on earth can voter turnout be an election issue in a country where voting is compulsory?
I am completely boggled by this.
Anyway, it looks like we won’t know the result until Monday or later. Which sounds strangely familiar, only this time we don’t even have any independents or Greens or unaffiliated Nationals to make it more interesting. It will just be boring major parties all the way…
Yesterday was the election. Andrew and I handed out How To Vote Cards at our local Primary School from 10am to 1pm (the hazard of being married to me is that you get volunteered for everything. It’s even worse than being a friend of mine – although you do get fed more often, so I suppose it isn’t all bad). Our friend Patricia was there before us, so we got to catch up with her at handover, and another friend, Loki, turned up to vote and stayed to be social.
I had a lot of fun (since I was sleepy-hyper) doing the big smiley friendly thing and seeing how many people who refused cards from everyone including Andrew, would take cards from me, and stay to chat, or indicate that they would vote Green. It turned out to be quite a few, which is both amusing and disturbing. It shouldn’t be that easy – I know a significant percentage of people actually don’t decide who they are voting for until they are in the polling booth, but I find that quite unfathomable
Handing out how to votes was quite different from last time. Firstly, Coburg turned out to be a two-electorate booth, which made handing out cards something of a headache (because we were supposed to ascertain which electorate people were voting in and give them the right card – and of course, most of them didn’t know). Secondly, I had a lot of people stop and ask me questions about where the Greens had sent their preferences in this seat and elsewhere, and whether voting Green would weaken the Labor party or make Liberal win. So I was very glad to have done my research, which allowed me to explain accurately, honestly and, I hope, persuasively.
And thirdly, I somehow managed to attract the woman handing out cards for Family First, of all parties, who decided at a glance that I looked like someone to be friends with, and acted accordingly. We chatted on and off through quite a lot of the shift, and by the time Andrew and I left, she was hanging out happily with all the lefties inside the gates, while the Liberal man languished outside on the path. After all, we agreed that we were all there for the same reason – we want Victoria to be a better place, we just disagree about which party will give that result. I felt rather sorry for her, actually – she had driven down from Bairnsdale to work at another booth from 7am, and then stayed at ours from 12 until 6 – and very, very few people wanted her cards (or, indeed, voted that way, as I soon discovered). Which is a good thing, really, but what a way to spend your day…
At the end of the day, I went back to do scrutineering. This turned out also to be very different from last time, and not in a good way. We watched them open the boxes, pour out the votes, sort and count them, which is always interesting – but we’d also been asked to tally where everyone’s preferences were going in both the lower house and the upper house, which was an utter nightmare. To make life more fun, one of the officers seemed to object to me – the Labor man could make objections, but whenever I opened my mouth (which wasn’t all that often) she told me I wasn’t supposed to be talking… to do him justice, the Labor man eventually got fed up with this and mildly pointed out that I was also allowed to offer opinions, but it was rather uncomfortable, and made me start wondering whether I had misunderstood my role. Fortunately she left after the lower house was counted.
The upper house count, while taxing, was also fascinating. To my intense amusement, while Liberal and Family First voters vote overwhelmingly above the line, Green voters are basically loose cannons, about one in 5 of whom vote below the line. My fellow Green scrutineer and I agreed that this was something to be proud of. The ALP mostly vote above the line, but had a significant minority below the line. There was definitely a clear trend that the further left-wing the party, the more inclined its voters were to choose their own preferences, thank you. Makes me wonder what the Socialists are like, actually.
And then when we were all done, they discovered that they were missing a significant number of votes. As in, closer to 100 than to 50. So they recounted everything in batches, and that didn’t help. I left at the point when they decided to recount everything again, from scratch, while hunting for any boxes that might not have been emptied – since it was all too probable that they would be there all night.
And then home to watch it all on TV. And to discover that after all this work – it seems that the Greens are doing precisely as well as they did last election – not a percent more or less…
The answer, as far as I can see, is a resounding ‘well, sort of’. I’ve downloaded from the Greens website a document called ‘How to Vote Greens’, which shows all the How to Vote Cards for the Lower House seats.
There are (if I have counted correctly) 98 Lower House seats in Victoria. In 71 of them, the Greens have preferenced Labor ahead of Liberal. In 4, they are asking people to put Greens first, and to number the rest in any order they like.
And in 23 (mostly in country Victoria, but also, to my surprise, in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne), they have issued a ‘split ticket’ – where one side favours Labor over Liberal, the other Liberal over Labor (actually, there is one other split ticket, in Footscray, where one side favours an independent ahead of Labor, and the other doesn’t, but both are preferenced ahead of Liberal, so this isn’t part of the issue). Which is, as cjander potentially damaging to Labor – depending on which side of the card faces up.
(I also note with interest that in Lyndhurst alone of all electorates, they’ve preferenced Family First ahead of the Liberal party – although since the Liberal candidate is Gary Anderton, this is perhaps not so surprising. The Greens have also done pretty well out of the donkey vote, being listed first on the voting card in at least 25 seats)
What does all this mean (aside from the fact that both people I mentioned above are technically correct)? Well, to me it means that yes, in some areas, around half of all people following Green How To Vote Cards will be preferencing Liberal ahead of Labor. And I’m not very happy about that. If the Greens truly don’t care which way the preferences go in those seats, they should do what they did in the 4 seats where they encourage voters to put Greens first and then vote whatever they like (although that does carry the risk of people voting informal, so perhaps this is an unfair expectation).
But for me, while I don’t like this particular piece of politics at all, it isn’t actually a deal-breaker. Why? Well, first, I’m handing out how to vote cards in an electorate where the Greens do, unequivocally, preference Labor. In fact, I note that in both Brunswick and Melbourne, the seats near me that were strongly contested by the Greens in 2002, they also unequivocally preference Labor (I admit, I really do not understand what logic underlies their choice of areas for split tickets – I would have thought Kew, of all places, would be a safe Liberal seat – why encourage them, then? Or are the Doctors’ Wives at work here? In which case, again – why encourage the Liberals??).
Primarily, though, I still like the Greens’ policies the best of all that I have read. Oddly enough, this isn’t about me being a great environmentalist (I’m a pretty poor one, actually). But their policies in the areas of health, disability, public transport, social justice, and many other things appeal to me very strongly. Do I think they are ready to form a government? By no means. And I can’t imagine that they will in the near future. But I’d really like to see what they can do in collaboration with a Labor Government. I am quite partial to the Bracks government, and I like their policies and promises as well. I want to see them get back in – but I’d really like to see the Greens have a voice in the Lower House as well as the Upper House. Politics needs a few idealists in it, and I think the Greens need to learn how to work and play well with the larger parties if they want to become a more major party themselves.
And this, incidentally, is why I’m not actually a member of the Greens. I’m a swing voter – I’ve been swinging pretty strongly towards the Greens for several years now, but I’ve voted in other directions in the past, and may well do so again. I don’t think I’m cut out to join any party, to be honest – I’m not single-minded enough, perhaps; my favourite moments in politics are the ones where people from different parties work together to achieve goals. And it seems unethical to join a party knowing that I might not be there for the long haul – I’d rather throw my energy behind whoever currently best represents my vision for Australia, on a case-by-case basis. And write lots of letters to politicians in between elections…
Hmm… this has gotten very unfocused, sorry. I meant simply to get to the bottom of all this business with preferences, but got sidetracked.
I always vote below the line in elections. There’s something very satisfying about figuring out which political party is the most vile of all, and putting them dead last. Also, of course, if you vote above the line, your preferences are distributed according to the preferences of the party you select… which can mean they sometimes go places that you really wish they wouldn’t.
With this in mind – and particularly after the shenanigans at the Federal Election which resulted in Family First getting up much against the wishes of most constituents – I encourage everyone to vote below the line if possible. If you can’t do so, for whatever reason, I suggest you have a look at the 2006 Group Voting Tickets for the Victorian State Election before election day, and figure out which party is distributing preferences most according to your wishes.
I don’t claim to be unbiased (I think you all know that I am, once again, handing out how to vote cards and scrutineering for the Greens) – but my primary agenda in this and any election is that people vote knowledgeably. Vote for whoever you choose – but please make sure you DO choose, and that you know who and what you are voting for. I could, I hope, be satisfied even with the scary religious parties in power, provided I thought that was what the Australian Public actually wanted (though, admittedly, I would probably choose to be satisfied with this from New Zealand, as clearly a country which truly thought this way would not be my country any more). But I have more faith in the Australian Public than that.
In order to further my ambitious political agenda of Knowledgeable Voting, I have created what I believe is a complete list of parties participating in the current election (yes, even the ones I utterly loathe), with links to their policy pages. Have a look behind the cut if you want to know more. We may only have one vote each, but it is our responsibility to use it as well as we can.
Australian Democrats: http://vic.democrats.org.au/cs/commitments.html
Australian Labor Party: http://www.vic.alp.org.au/dl/2006_vic_platform.pdf (this link is to a PDF)
Christian Democratic Party: http://www.christiandemocratic.org.au/vic/index.htm
Citizens’ Electoral Council: http://www.cecaust.com.au/main.asp?sub=info&id=cec.htm
Country Alliance: http://www.countryalliance.org.au/policies.htm
Democratic Labor Party: http://www.dlp.org.au/policies.htm
National Party: http://www.vicnats.com/policies/default.asp
People Power: http://www.peoplepower.org.au/VIC06/Policies%203.htm
Socialist Alliance: http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=190
The Australian Greens: http://www.vic.greens.org.au/about-the-greens/policy/policy-documents/
I haven’t found all the Independents yet – I’ll see how I go for time.
In the course of my job at a non-profit that provides support and advice to individuals and families with genetic conditions, I’ve been asked to do an ‘election special’ for our newsletter, involving reading and reporting on party policies in the areas of healthcare, education, carers, and other areas of interest to our members.
This is, of course, a fine idea.
Except that I really have to keep it apolitical, and I am, of course, as biased as hell.
What I’m doing is putting the name of each party, saying ‘these are the areas in which the party has policy documents, and here is where you can find the policy documents’, and then picking the area or areas in which I think our members will be most interested, and putting a little box with their statement on that subject.
Note: this post is a compilation of several, shorter, posts, written as I was reading through the various pages