Making Your Vote Count

A Guide to Voting at Australian Federal Elections

On September 7th, 2013, registered Australian voters will head off to the polls to determine who will lead our nation for the next three years. Many people find this a chore, but there are people in nations all over the world who are fighting for the right to have a say in who governs them. It's a right that we shouldn't take for granted. Here's a guide to ensure your vote isn't wasted.

A bit about the two Houses...

On voting day, you will have two ballot papers to fill out. One ballot paper is for the House of Representatives (Lower House) and one is for the Senate (Upper House). Both involve slightly different processes both in voting and in vote counting.

House of Representives

The House of Representatives ballot paper is the smaller ballot paper.

When filling out the ballot paper, you must fill out all the boxes in your order of preference. If you don't do this, your vote won't count.

Despite what we see on the news and in the papers, there are more parties than just Labor and Liberal. Even if your vote eventually ends up going to Labor or Liberal, by putting smaller parties first, you can help them get funding, as any candidate who receives at least 4% of the primary vote receives election funding per vote.  You do not have to follow your preferred party's How to Vote card.

To research who your local candidates are and what they stand for, try using Antony Green's brilliant Election Guide.

To see how your vote is counted in the House of Reps, view the video below or check out this slightly cheeky comic strip.

The Senate

The Senate ballot paper is the gigantic ballot paper.

When filling out the Senate ballot paper, you have the option of voting above the line or below the line.

Voting above the line

When you vote above the line, you choose only ONE party or group of candidates. When votes are being counted, your vote then follows that party's preferences. You don't have a say in it. If you plan to vote above the line, it's important to see where your party will send your vote. You can check this by visiting the site belowtheline.org.au which allows you to input your preferred group and see their preferences. This is important, as many parties/groups have done some strange deals, and you may accidentally end up giving your vote to a party you disagree with.

Voting below the line

Voting below the line seems overwhelming for many people as there are so many candidates. BUT, voting below the line ensures that YOUR vote ends up where YOU want it to go.

An easy way to vote below the line is to use an online ballot editor before you head to the polls. The ballot editor at belowtheline.org.au is excellent, as it also provides a link to the party's website, so you can see what they stand for. Another useful Senate ballot editor is available at senate.io. Both of these sites allow you to access a PDF of your choices to take with you on polling day so you can order your candidates correctly.

HANDY HINT: If you're still a freaked out about ordering 100+ candidates and getting it right, Antony Green points out that you can technically do BOTH, so if you make an error below the line, the polling officials will then look at your choice above the line.

N.B. You can vote for a different party in the Senate to what you voted for in the House of Reps. There  are many more parties to choose from, so it's worthwhile investigating them!

The video below explains how Senate votes are counted.

"The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all" - John F. Kennedy

We get the government that we deserve. Lazy voters will continue to get lazy politicians. Be a critical thinker and do your own research - don't rely solely on the information presented to you via one or two media sources. Visit websites, read policies, engage in discussions and keep your eyes and mind open. You might even like to try a tool such as the ABC's Vote Compass to see where you stand. Politics isn't a reality TV show - it's real life. We're not voting someone off an island. We're electing people who are going to shape our future. Choose wisely.

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