How does preferential voting work in Australia?
This post originally appeared on ABC News: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-21/how-to-preference-voting-australia-federal-election/100991154
By Sarah Motherwell
Australians are preparing to head to the polls to decide which party will run the country for the next three years.
To do this, the election uses a preferential voting system for the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the Senate (the upper house).
While the major parties will try to get as many candidates as possible in both houses, it is the winner in the House of Representatives that gets to form government.
What is preferential voting?
Preferential voting gives people the chance to say who they want to win the election and who they don’t.
You do this by numbering the candidates on the ballot paper in order from your first choice (1) to your last.
Voters get two ballot papers for the two houses — green for the House of Representatives and white for the Senate.
For the House of Representatives, voters must write a number in every box next to the candidates’ names.
For the Senate, voters can choose to vote above the line by political party or below the line for individual candidates.
If you vote above the line, you must number at least six boxes from 1 to 6.
If you vote below the line, you must number at least 12 boxes from 1 to 12.
How are preferential votes counted?
Preferential votes are counted until one candidate gets more than half of all the votes.
On election day, the vote counters look at who everyone picked for their first choice.
They then add up all those votes and see if a candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes.
If no-one has enough votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated.
The vote counters then go back to ballot papers that chose the eliminated candidate as the first choice and look at who they picked for their second choice.
Those votes are given to the remaining candidates. That process repeats until one candidate has more than 50 per cent of the votes.
This means that if a voter’s first choice doesn’t win, their second choice might.
Can I have an example?
Let’s say you live in the electorate of Pavlova and there are four candidates to choose from: Buddy, Muffin, Rusty and Coco.
Your first choice to win is Coco, so you number them 1 on the ballot paper.
But when all the votes are counted, no-one has more than 50 per cent of the vote and Coco got the least amount of votes.
First round of vote counting:
- Buddy: 8 (27 per cent)
- Muffin: 10 (33 per cent)
- Rusty: 7 (23 per cent)
- Coco: 5 (17 per cent)
Coco is eliminated from the race.
Now the vote counters look at all the ballot papers that put Coco as number 1 — including yours — to see who they put as number 2.
Those votes are then given to the remaining candidates.
Your second choice to win was Rusty.
Second round of vote counting:
- Buddy: 8 + 2 = 10 (33 per cent)
- Muffin: 10 + 2 = 12 (40 per cent)
- Rusty: 7 + 1 = 8 (27 per cent)
But after the second round of counting, no-one has more than 50 per cent of the vote.
Rusty got the least amount of votes and is eliminated from the race.
The vote counters look at all the ballot papers that put Rusty as number 1 to see who they put as number 2 — those votes are given to the remaining candidates.
For those who put Coco as number 1 and Rusty as number 2 — like you — the counters see who they put as number 3.
Your third choice to win was Muffin.
Third round of vote counting:
- Buddy: 10 + 4 = 14 (47 per cent)
- Muffin: 12 + 4 = 16 (53 per cent)
Muffin now has more than 50 per cent of the vote and is elected to represent the people of Pavlova for the next three years.
How does this decide who is prime minister?
The prime minister is not an elected position, but the person chosen to lead the party that forms government.
To form a government, a party must win more than half of the 150 seats (electorates) in the House of Representatives.
This is called a majority government.
If a party cannot get more than 50 per cent of the seats — but gets close — it may rely on support from other parties or crossbench MPs to form government.
This is called a minority government.
This election, Scott Morrison is the leader of the Liberal Party and Anthony Albanese is the leader of the Labor Party.
Australia has a number of political parties, but due to the way the system is structured, government will most likely be formed by either Labor or the Coalition (the alliance of the Liberal Party of Australia, the Liberal National Party of Queensland and The National Party of Australia).
As well as campaigning for their party to win the election overall, Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese must win their seats in order to be a Member of Parliament.
It is rare, but possible, for a leader of a party to lose their own seat in an election.
In the 2007 federal election, Liberal Party leader John Howard became the first sitting prime minister to lose their own seat since 1929.
What if I don’t want to vote for anyone?
It is compulsory to vote in the federal election if you are an Australian citizen aged 18 and over.
The fine for not voting is $20.
Votes that are not cast correctly are known as informal votes and are not counted — but you are not fined for casting an informal vote.
Informal votes can include ballot papers that are:
- Not all the boxes are numbered
- A number is repeated
- Ticked or crossed, rather than numbered
Ballot papers that identify the voter or do not make the voter’s intention clear are also considered informal and are not counted.
What are preference deals?
Preference deals are the agreements between political parties on where to number each other on how-to-vote cards.
These do not have a direct impact on your vote unless you chose to follow them.
The only preferences that count are the numbers that a voter writes on the ballot paper by the voter themselves.
How do I vote early in the federal election?
To vote in the 2022 federal election, you must be enrolled to vote by Monday, April 18.
You can enrol to vote, or change your enrolment details, online at the Australian Electoral Commission website.
Early voting starts on Monday, May 9.
You can vote early in-person or by post if you can’t get to a polling place on election day.
How do I apply for a postal vote?
You can apply for a postal vote online at the Australian Electoral Commission website.
Postal votes must be received by the AEC no later than 6pm on Wednesday, May 18.
When is the 2022 federal election?
The next Australian federal election is on Saturday, May 21, 2022.
The polls open at 8am local time.
The polls close at 6pm local time.
Counting gets underway in each electorate as soon its poll closes.
That means votes in the eastern states are counted while people in central and Western Australia are still voting.
Posted 21 Apr 2022 Thu 21 Apr 2022 at 6:23am, updated 6 May 2022Fri 6 May 2022 at 1:43pm