Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I wonder when

the Electoral Commission will have the sense to ban the use of "How to Vote" cards?
For those of you who live in other places I perhaps need to explain that "How to Vote" cards are actually pieces of paper, advertising literature if you like, which tell voters how to vote for a particular party.
They are only necessary because Australia has a system of "compulsory preferential voting". The system is, according to those who support it, fairer than one of "first past the post".  I have talked about that elsewhere.
But back to the "How to Vote" cards. On election day you turn up to the polling booth and there you are met with a formidable array of people all wanting to hand you pieces of paper which tell you how to vote for their party.
You have three choices.
You can take one piece of paper from someone handing out paper from the candidate or party of your choice. That immediately tells everyone how you intend to vote. No, that's my affair.
You can take a piece of paper from everyone. That doesn't tell anyone how you intend to vote but it is a waste of paper unless you come back and return the papers. That is a waste of time.
You can, politely I hope, refuse to take any cards at all.
I do the latter saying, "Thankyou. I know how I want to vote."
Then I join the inevitable queue, prowl in, get my name crossed off the roll, take my papers, enter the booth, mark them according to my wishes, place them in the requisite boxes and prowl out again.
My wishes may or may not accord with the wishes of my number one choice. I make up my own mind about these things.
I believe the vast majority of people do not do this. They do as their first choice has asked them to do. Many people even believe they must do this.
The various parties claim that How to Vote cards ensure that people do not "waste" their vote. Despite that around 700,000 people did not cast a valid vote at the last election. (Around another 900,000 people did not bother to vote although attendance at the ballot box is compulsory. There are also about 1,200,000 eligible adults who are not on the electoral roll.)
It seems to me however that information could be put up in each booth at a polling station. It could be provided by the Electoral Commission after they have been advised about the exchange of preferences.
Such a move would save a great deal of money, trees and paper. There would be no need to have volunteers manning the polling stations and making the voting experience even more uncomfortable for many people. It would also reduce the potential for dubious tactics, of which there are many. (As this election is looking very tight at present there may be even more.) 
Yes of course people should know how they intend to vote before they reach the polling station. The reality however is that around twenty per cent of people still have not made up their minds. They don't know who the candidates are or what they stand for. Somewhere in the back of their minds they may hear a voice from the past, often their father, telling them to vote for "X" or "Y" party. Or they might know one of the volunteers and like or dislike them. My maternal grandmother once voted for a candidate because she thought he had "a nice smile". She had no idea who or what she was voting for. My paternal grandmother on the other hand, a woman with just three years of formal education, would ask, "What do they think about...?" and then vote accordingly. 
Some people just mark the ballot paper at random believing it makes no difference. 
Whatever people do however they should not be harassed at the last moment by people handing out "How to Vote" cards. If you have not made up your mind by then it might be better to accept the ballot papers and not mark them at all. It is quite legal not to mark them. It goes in the statistics as an informal vote. If you still want to vote then a list of the candidates and their preferences in each booth should be enough.
Let's save paper and people.


Jan said...

I was just considering preferences and my vote when your post appeared in my RSS feed.

I do not take the cards . Like you, I have decided to vote before I arrive at the polling booth, although I do know some who still do not know before they to whom their vote will go. The booth I usually attend has several large boxes for rubbish at the exit door for rubbish. Mostly the How to Vote cards go there. What does get dropped is the wrapping from the cakes sold at the stall run by the local kindergarten as that is near the entry door.

I also vote below the line in the Senate election and again, have decided on my preferences in the most part.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I hand back the cards afterwards. As for the Senate, you do realise this year's sheet will be a metre long? I usually vote below the line, but it's going to take ages!

Anonymous said...

They may need to extend voting hours if too many of us decide to vote below the line! Chris