Monday, 2 September 2013

I have just downloaded

the Senate ballot paper for my state. No, it is not the one I will use on the day but the guide I will take in with me.
For those of you who live Elsewhere, Senate papers in Australia tend to be large and complex. There are two ways of voting. You can mark one box "above the line" or you can mark all the boxes in numerical order "below the line".
If you mark one box "above the line" your vote will be processed according to the preferences of your first choice of party.  If you vote "below the line" then you can make up your own mind where your preferences go.
Needless to say in this part of Downunder we cats make up our own minds. I have never voted "above the line" and I doubt the Senior Cat has. My mother might have but I know my siblings don't. We all have our own ideas about what is best for us and our fellow citizens.  Arrogant? Perhaps. At least we think about what we are doing.
I had to explain the process to a woman at the library yesterday. She was telling me who she intended to vote for and then said she would "just vote above the line". When I pointed out that the preferences for her intended vote would flow to a party I know she vehemently opposes she was, to put it mildly, shocked and outraged. At first she did not believe me but we looked it up on 'net when a computer was free and she went off muttering. Will she change her voting intentions? I think she might. 
The incident reminded me, yet again, that many people simply do not understand the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate and even fewer understand the voting process for either house, but particularly for the Senate. Those who advocate preferential voting say it is "fairer" or "more democratic" but the complexities of the system can have unintended consequences - such as when a minor party member was elected with a very small number of votes but a large preference flow. Steve Fielding ended up being one of the most powerful people in parliament but he was not the first choice of most people and many would not even have been aware that their preferences were flowing to him.
The other thing which has been forgotten by voters (and often by the politicians) is that the Senate is the house of state representation. If you win a Senate seat you are there to represent the state you come from, the party is (supposedly) secondary. Of course it does not work that way and minor parties or independents often have power which greatly exceeds the numbers who voted for them. They can change the political landscape and prevent the House of Representatives doing what it was elected to do. Of course they argue they have been elected to make sure that the lower house is accountable - to them.
I am a firm believer in having both a lower and an upper house in parliament. Review is essential.
It is therefore also essential that we vote in an informed manner. It is why I will vote "below" rather than "above" the line.


jeanfromcornwall said...

First past the post, as we do it here, may be somewhat undemocratic n many ways, but it does have the virtue of being easy to understand. I don't know how I woould cope with a system as complex as yours. I think I can say that what we do is probably the least worst way!

Anonymous said...

Have just printed mine out too ... now to sit down and concentrate on what numbers I want where!

Old Kitty said...

I am so used to first past the post type of voting - this "preferential voting" is totally fascinating! Good luck Australia! Take care

Anonymous said...

First past the post is no less democratic than our system. Ours is unnecessarily complex and the arguments used in favour of it can be rebutted. It suits the major parties to have preferential voting in the House of Reps.
I think there may be considerable discussion after the election about the way in which voting is conducted for the Senate. There is a plethora of small parties who are confusing the issue. Some of them are a front for bigger parties and preferences will flow to them. But, as Cat points out, someone can get in on a very small primary plus compulsory preferences and that is highly undemocratic. Chris

catdownunder said...

It probably is the least worst way Jean. Judy and I have to go through more than 70 names which is ridiculous.
Glad you find it fascinating Old Kitty! Chris will be glad when it is over I suspect.