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Four rules for voting

By Dr Tahnya Donaghy

The Federal election is coming and that magical time to vote is almost upon us. I discovered during a past election that while many cared about the electio#electionn outcome, they didn’t always completely understand the preferential voting process - or why they should resist any urge to take a “how to vote card”.

So, I wrote this short article for LinkedIn. Here it is- it's a brief explanation on how a Federal House of Representative member (local MP) gets elected - and why your “1” vote really matters, but who gets your second or last vote (preference) can matter just as much!


Rule 1: You must put a number next to each candidate on your green ballot paper (which is how you vote for your local MP).

Preferential voting is designed to elect the candidate who is most preferred by an electorate. For this to be achieved, a ballot paper must be marked with a number next to every name.

If your green ballot it is only partially completed - say 1, 2 3 put next to three of five names on the ballot, or there are any ticks or crosses, the whole vote will be considered “spoiled” and not be counted - your vote completely wasted.  You can practice how to correctly complete your ballot here.


Rule 2: The person from the party you like the best should get your number 1 vote.

Not surprisingly, who gets the first vote is the most important - because the first counting that occurs is all the number “1” votes. These are assigned to each of the candidates and if one person gets more than half of the votes (50% + 1) they get elected.

If someone doesn’t get the majority of votes after the number “1” votes are counted, then votes go to preferences.

Candidates want to get as many number “1” votes as possible for lots of reasons, it can help get them elected, but also can give them negotiating power and funding from the government if they get 4% or more of first preference votes. So it is important the party or candidate who best represents your views gets your number “1”.


Rule 3: It is a two party race

Quite often people feel just as strongly as to who they DON’T want to win, as who they hope wins. So, the next most important thing to do is work out who you really don’t want to win and give them the your lowest preference/s.

Why? Because if there is no clear winner from first preferences, officials then conduct a two-candidate preferred count. Usually the two front runners come from the major parties (Labor, Liberal or Nationals) as traditionally they get the most votes. There are exceptions to this, but for the majority of seats (and to keep this explanation simple) we will stick with the two front runners being from one of the major parties.

This means if you have voted for a major party, your vote will most likely stay with this candidate and count towards their final tally.

If your “1” vote isn’t against one of the two front runners, then it will travel down your ballot preferences until it is allocated to one of them. For example a voter may preference candidates as follows:


Name (Greens) 3

Name (One Nation) 2

Name (Independent) 1

Name (Liberal) 5

Name (Labor) 4


The vote in the first count will go to the Independent candidate (and count towards their 4% threshold for funding).

If vote counting then moves to preferences, in this scenario the vote travels to support the Labor candidate (4th preference) over the Liberal candidate (5th preference). It doesn’t matter how low the preference rank is - the vote still travels until it settles with one of the two front runners.

This is why ”how to vote cards” should not be followed- your preferences matter and if you don’t decide yourself, you are just letting someone else vote for you - especially if you aren’t giving your number “1” vote to a major party.

If you do take a how to vote card, take a good look to see which of the major parties is put the lowest and realise your vote will most likely end up supporting their main opposition.


Rule 4: Don’t take the How to Vote Card

On voting day decide who you want to win, and who you don’t want to win and chose where you place your own numbers. Embrace democracy and work out yourself how your vote will ultimately get counted.

If you take a how to vote card and follow it remember -  should your first preference not make it to the final two you are effectively letting someone else decide how your vote travels and who it ends up with it.