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.

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Making your Mind Up! The Cate Speaks Summary / Voter Guide

Once again, my final set of voting preferences still requires a bit of tweaking, but I have grouped the parties into eleven categories, to help figure out where to put people on the ballot.  Why eleven categories?  Because that way I can give my favourite parties ‘Douze points’ and award the gun-totin’ racists ‘Nul points’ in best Eurovision style.  Also, it turns out that I do have eleven distinct categories, so there you go.

I’m not really ranking parties within categories – I mean, yes, based on how I feel about them right at this moment, I’ve put my preferred options at the top of each category, but I often make slight changes to my final rankings at the ballot box.  And some of those parties are ones I don’t have the option to vote for anyway.  Besides, I feel it’s good to preserve some minor level of mystique about my actual vote…

Finally, before you start reading this, allow me to draw to your attention the Senate Voting Card Creator website.  This excellent website allows you to list your parties and then your candidates in your order of preference, and then generates a printer-friendly list, so that you can easily see which numbers will go into which box when you vote below the line, and don’t risk missing a number somewhere.  I was very sad when Below the Line closed down, and am delighted to see that this website has now replaced it.

NB: I’ve noted the Group next to parties running in Victoria.  For parties running only outside Victoria, I’ve noted where they are running.

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And so here we are again.  This time tomorrow, we will be eating our democracy sausages and considering the bounty at the local primary school fundraiser, and in a day or two, we will know our electoral fate for the next few years (always assuming we manage to keep whichever Prime Minister we get, which may be an overly optimistic assumption in the current climate).

Don’t forget to vote.

Really, don’t.  Especially if you are working in a polling booth or handing out how to vote cards (yes, I know this sounds silly, but apparently these are exactly the people who are most likely to forget to vote).

And when you vote, please, make sure you vote what you mean.  These days, politicians seem to be paying less and less attention to what the population says in between elections.  Voting is one of our few opportunities to show what they are thinking in a way that can’t be ignored.

Make the most of it.

Remember that the Senate voting rules have changed – you now need to number at least six boxes above the line or at least twelve below.

But don’t stop there.

Particularly don’t stop there if you are voting for independents or small parties that might not get up.  Make sure your vote counts.  You don’t have to number all 116 boxes – personally, I suspect I’m going to stop numbering boxes at around 100, when I am faced with a choice of racists, conspiracy theorists, and unpleasantly un-Christian Christian parties – but do number your way down as far as at least one of the three big parties.  Don’t let your vote be discarded before it gets to someone that might have a real crack at a seat.

Also, do remind people around you of the new voting rules.  Make sure your friends and family also know how to exercise their democratic rights!

Who should you vote for?  I’m not here to tell you that, and you probably have a pretty good idea what I think already, but just for fun, here are my top picks – not necessarily in the exact order I’ll put them.

  1. Ricky Muir.  I have no idea how we got this lucky with the Motoring Enthusiasts, but I’ve really appreciated Mr Muir’s honest and wholehearted approach to doing his job.  I gather he is not tipped to stay, and I, for one, will be very sorry if he goes.
  2. The Arts Party.  Making Arts more accessible and careers in the arts more feasible is a noble goal, and they want a space program.  Their approach is pragmatic and intelligent and their non-arts-related policies are socially progressive.  They’ve even made a stab at figuring out the economics.  I don’t expect them to get very far, but they deserve my vote.
  3. Marriage Equality Party.  It’s a single issue party, and a vote that is really mostly there to send a message to the government, but I don’t care.  It’s past time we stopped treating our GBLT brothers and sisters like second-class citizens.  Let them marry already.
  4. Eric Vadarlis. An independent with a track record of going to bat for refugees.  What’s not to like?
  5. The Nick Xenophon Team.  They are a little to the right of where I’d normally go, vote-wise, but I really was struck by their position on the pokies.  And they want to retain penalty rates for weekends, which is actually a really important issue for many people.
  6. The Greens.  Realistically, this is where my vote will end up, and it’s a good place for it.  These days, they are basically the centre left party anyway.

I also have a soft spot for Group B (former Democrats, currently imploding in fine style), the Renewable Energy party, and the Science Party, though I also have some reservations about each of these.

Do I expect any of these to get up?  Honestly, I have no idea.  The Greens will undoubtedly get seats, and I suspect the Xenophon Team will do OK too.  As for the others, anything is possible.

Remember – so long as you number all the boxes, you can’t waste your vote (unfortunately, the fact that one can now choose to number a relatively small proportion of the boxes, it is possible to waste one’s vote overall, which is why I advise against this).  Voting for that teeny tiny party that has no hope of getting a Senator will not stop your major party of choice from getting up, and if your tiny party gets 4% of the vote, they will get $2.59 per vote which they can use towards their next campaign.  This is how tiny parties grow into minor parties, and how minor parties become large ones.  Think of it as seed raising – you’re providing the greenhouse and the protective environment for now, and watering the soil, and with a bit of luck, it will sprout, not at this election, but maybe at the next one.

As for me, for all the complaints about single-issue microparties (which usually, I note, come from governments who are being thwarted in their efforts to do awful things), I firmly believe that small parties are what make our democracy stronger.  A duopoly, in the end, leads to a very narrow spectrum of views being represented in the House and in the Senate, and that makes it harder and harder for change to happen.  Frankly, I think it’s quite healthy for a government to have to work a bit to win the Senate over, and one of my biggest issues with Turnbull is that he didn’t ever really try.

Of course, you may disagree with me, and that is your absolute right.

But whether you agree or disagree with my policies, please do make sure you exercise that right tomorrow, at your polling booth.  Because however much we write about political parties and our opinions of them on the internet, it’s what we do once we walk into that little cardboard booth with our pencil and our gigantic white ballot forms that really counts.

It’s the next four years.  Let’s get it right.

Vote Early, Vote Often, but above all, Vote

By tomorrow evening, we will hopefully have at least some idea what our new government will look like.

Or not.  I started a post this way three years ago, and look what happened then.

Myself, I’m hoping it won’t look like Tony Abbott gets control of both houses of Parliament, and in my ideal world, he wouldn’t get either of them.  Ideally, I’m hoping that the Senate will maintain a distinct greenish tinge (though not the kind one gets from contemplating the prospect of the Mad Monk as PM). There are many things we cannot afford as a country, and a PM who doesn’t think that science is real is one of them.

But all that is in the future. Between now and then, if you are Australian, there’s something quite important you should be doing.

Please, vote.

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Federal Election 2013: Partying with the small parties

So, we all have our opinions about Liberal and Labor, more or less. Most of us are even vaguely aware of the Greens, Family First and One Nation. And who could possibly forget the existence of the Sex Party?

Hooray for us! That’s six whole parties we’ve heard of… but what about the other 33 charming little bagatelles currently decorating the Victorian Senate Ballot Paper? What of HEMP and Rise Up Australia? What of the Secular Party and Smokers’ Rights? And are the Democratic Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats offshoots of Labor, Liberal, the Democrats, or some other beast entirely?

For those of us who like to vote below the line, these are important questions which could keep us busy for far too much of the lead-up to the election.

Or perhaps I’m just taking this whole thing way too seriously…

Either way, over the next few weeks, I intend to work my way down the Senate ticket, group by group, visiting their websites, reading their policies, checking out their preferencing, and reporting back on what I find. My reports will be as partisan as all hell as far as commentary goes, because I’m a Bleeding Heart Greenie Feminist Lefty Pinko with no economic sense, and I’m not ashamed of that. They will, however, be as factually accurate as I can make them.

I will be working from the assumption that policies and mission statements posted on official party websites are a fair representation of what that party stands for – or at least, what that party wants voters to believe they stand for. In other words, I will not attempt to predict future behaviour based on what any elected representatives or random party members have done in the past, but I will feel entirely free to provide commentary on any subtext I believe is implicit in these statements.

My reasoning for this is simple: there are a lot of political parties out there, I have limited time, and I am not a political commentator. But I do have the ability to read documents and make some deductions about the person writing them – what he or she is trying to convey, and perhaps what this implies about his or her values. And of course, a look at where preferences are going can tell you an awful lot about a party’s true colours.

But enough of this introductory babble! It’s time to meet some of our small parties…

Politics: Vote Early, Vote Often!

This time tomorrow, we will hopefully have at least some idea what our new government will look like. Myself, I’m hoping it won’t look like Tony Abbott, and that the Senate will have a distinct greenish tinge (not the kind one gets from contemplating the prospect of the Mad Monk as PM, however).

Between now and then, if you are Australian, there’s something quite important you should be doing. Please, remember to vote.

Yes, voting is compulsory here. Or rather, turning up to the polling booth and getting your name ticked off is compulsory. Nobody actually stands over you to check that you are actually voting, rather than covering your ballot paper with little flowers.

I think this is a good thing. It tends to balance out the fanatics at either end of the political spectrum with those who care less, and might not care enough to bother in a country with voluntary voting. And, you know, I think it’s good for us, as citizens, to at least think about how we are governed once every three years.

Part of me would like to jump up and down and say ‘Vote Green! Or if you won’t vote Green, for heaven’s sake, at least don’t vote Liberal. Or Liberal Democratic Party.’ Because, as anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at my journal recently knows, that’s the way I swing.

But that’s not what I’m going to say, because that’s not what I really want you to do.

Here’s what I want you to do.

When you go to your polling booth, take your ballot paper, look at it, and think. Or think before you even go to the polling booth. Think about what you want the government to do in the next few years. Think about what the parties have been saying and doing, and what you believe they are likely to do next. And when you’ve thought about that, think about who is most likely to achieve the things you’d like to see happen, and put them first. Then number your way down from there. Or, alternatively, work out who is absolutely the worst possible candidate in your eyes, put them last, and number upwards from there. Admittedly, that’s how it often works.

When you vote in the Senate, think about voting below the line. The party that wins is going to be making a lot of decisions on your behalf over the next few years – do you really want someone else to make this decision too? If you do, that’s fine – vote above the line, and make sure it’s formal. Or if you are worried about skipping a number below the line and ending up with an informal vote, by all means, pick your best option above the line and go for it. If you do vote below the line, have fun. Enjoy exercising your democratic right to rank all the parties – the dull, the exciting, the crazed, the sane, the inspiring, the terrifying – in whatever order you see fit. This is not an opportunity that comes along so very often, after all.

And on your way out of the polling booth, buy a sausage in bread. Or some biscuits. Or a slice of cake. Or a pinata decorated with the face of the politician of your choice. Or a raffle ticket. Because half the fun of election day is the inevitable school fête that occurs at every polling booth. You might as well enjoy it.

Here are some things I don’t want you to do.

Don’t vote informal. Really, don’t. It’s a waste. There is always one option you like least, even if there isn’t one you like most. Work from there. At least if you vote, you have the right to complain about the government afterward. If you don’t vote… well, you had your chance to do something about it, and didn’t even try. How does this give you the right to complain?

Don’t donkey vote. This is worse than voting informal, because you are sending whichever person is at the top of the ticket your vote without thinking. And if that person is a complete nutjob and gets in, you are partially responsible.

Don’t forget to vote. That goes double if you’re handing out how-to-vote cards. I gather the number of people who spend the whole day looking after a booth or handing out cards, and are so focused on this that they forget to vote themselves is quite high. Don’t be part of that number. You’ll want to kick yourself if you are.

And please, don’t absent-mindedly put the ballot paper in your pocket and walk out with it, or deliberately toss it in the bin. This last isn’t even about democracy, it’s about the poor blighters who have to count the votes in your booth. If, when they’ve tallied up all the votes, the total doesn’t match the number of people who voted in that booth, they have to tally them all up again. And if it still doesn’t match, they have to start going through the rubbish bins on the voting site, looking for the missing ballot paper. If you didn’t know that before, that’s OK, but you know it now, so please don’t make the vote counters’ lives miserable unnecessarily. Believe me, if you want to torture them, voting below the line will do the trick…

The only comfort for me back in 2004 when Howard won *again* was the knowledge that I’d been standing right there when they counted the votes, and that people like me had done the same thing all over Australia, to make sure the votes were counted correctly. The result was horrible, but at least I knew it was the result the Australian voters wanted (this is a somewhat mixed comfort, admittedly).

Tomorrow, if we are particularly unlucky, we could end up with a Prime Minister who scares me more than Howard ever did. If your conscience or beliefs tell you to vote Liberal Democrat or One Nation – well, in all honesty, I find that hard to understand, but I’ll still be glad you’ve voted. Not everyone thinks correctly like me, which is possibly why Winston Churchill described democracy as “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

I’d rather you voted for someone I can’t stand than that you didn’t vote. Because apparently the beginning and end of my patriotism is this: you need to care enough to spend five minutes every three years thinking about who you want to run this country, and make the best decision you can. This is your legal obligation; I believe it is a moral obligation as well. You can be as apathetic you like for the rest of the three years, just so long as you care for five minutes tomorrow.

So please, remember to vote.

Politics: Election Time!

The election was called today – the date will be August 21.

This means that the voting rolls close at 8pm on Monday.

I’ve checked that I’m enrolled to vote, and I am – are you?

Remember, if your name isn’t coming up as enrolled on this site, you need to update your details by Monday if you want to vote in this election (or even if you just want to avoid a $100 fine for not voting). You can update your details online, though if you have never voted before, you may need to go to a post office and show ID. On Monday.

Even if we can’t stand any of the candidates, this is our only way to influence the outcome – and the beauty of our electoral system is that, while it doesn’t always achieve the government everyone wants most, it’s pretty good at allowing us to avoid the government we want least (actually, with John Howard and George Bush out of the running, this becomes slightly simpler). Cold comfort, but still comfort of a sort…

… I have a feeling this journal is going to get quite political over the next few weeks…

Politics: A little reminder…

…that if you are Australian and have moved house or changed your name or other details recently, do make sure your electoral enrolment is up to date, OK?

Those silly laws about needing to be enrolled within 24 hours of an election being called are still on the books, and we really don’t know when Jules will call it, but the indications are that she will do so quite soon.

I won’t claim that I don’t care who you vote for, because that isn’t true, but I care much more that you are *able* to vote and that you *do* vote. If you aren’t sure about your enrolment, go here to check. If you know you aren’t up to date, you can download a form here, or get one from your local post office (which is also where you lodge them – very convenient!).

Our Electoral College – and indeed, our entire electoral system – is a national treasure. We should make the most of it.

Politics: It’s Time!

What I want for my name-day is a new government. By which I mean one NOT headed by the Coalition for Mediocrity and Selfishness.

Australia, do you think you could manage that? My name day is this Sunday, just so you know. As it happens, there will be an election between now and then, so…

All flippancy aside, I do hope we can get the Liberals out tomorrow. I don’t think the ALP is perfect, but the Coalition has shown itself to be purely destructive – paranoid, self-centred, xenophobic, consistently supporting the strong against the weak whether it be in healthcare, employee relations, or in their (our) treatment of the Aboriginal community, of migrants, and of refugees.

This government has made Australia less. Not less than what it could be – which would be forgiveable – but less than what it has been. Than the bare minimum of what it should be. I am angry about this. I feel shamed by our government. But most of all, I want to weep for what has happened to us. Perhaps the thing that makes me the saddest is that I have lost my idealism about government. I never expected government to be completely altruistic, but I did, for many years, believe that the majority of people on all sides of politics were acting in what they genuinely believed to be the best interests of the country.

I can no longer believe that any more. Not about Howard. Not about the Liberal Party. And I’m not at all sure about the other parties, either.

We don’t know what the ALP will do if they get into government. But we do know, we must know by now, what Howard will do if he gets another term: the same, and more.

Please, let’s not give him another chance.

Politics: Changes to Electoral Law

The government has just passed legislation closing the voting rolls at 8pm on the day the election is called. This means that anyone who is not already registered to vote on that day will be unable to vote at the next election.

This legislation will particularly disadvantage young people (first time voters who would not yet be registered) and, I would think, the less well-off; non-home owners or new home owners (people who have moved house in the last 3 years and have not updated their registration would not be eligible to vote in their new electorate, and possibly not in their old one either) – in other words, the people most likely to vote against the current government.

Apparently, they are also bringing in new legislation on April 16 that will make it harder to register for voting generally, which is just charming.

I do wonder about the legal inconsistency of all this, since voting is compulsory – it seems that the government is making it very difficult for disadvantaged people to obey the law.

In any case, if you are an Australian reading this, please, please visit the AEC website and make sure you are currently correctly registered to vote.

And please also consider signing this petition to the government to overturn this dangerous piece of legislation.

We have a really, really good electoral system in this country, and it would be a shame to see it eroded.