The Victorian State election is tomorrow (Saturday). It’s been so bloody dull this far most people will forget it’s on until they try to walk down the street and get accosted by wild-eyed fanatics handing out How to Vote cards.
Anyhow: non-Victorian readers who are not total election luvvies can turn off now.
For the rest of us, the only real interest in this election, given that it looks very likely than “Dan the Man” Andrews and his Labor Party will win, (although the very latest polls are showing a tightening), is what happens in the Upper House.
This house is like the Senate in Canberra – it’s elected in regions by proportional representation. Which means, of course, that it’s virtually impossible to know what will happen because preferences flow every which way, and we could well end up with an Upper House with all sorts of odd bods in it, making life tricky for any incoming government.
It also means that most voters don’t have a bloody clue how to actually vote formally in the upper house election. For all of you, here’s the facts courtesy of Anthony Green of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, edited judiciously by us.
What is your Upper House vote?
The Victorian Legislative Council, or upper house, is like the Senate in Canberra. It is a ‘house of review’ with five members elected by proportional representation from each of eight regions.
Unlike the Senate in Canberra, the Legislative Council does not have staggered terms for its members. All 40 members of the Council face election every four years at the same time as the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, Victoria’s “House of Reps”.
Each of the eight regions consists of 11 of the state’s lower house electorates. When you turn up to vote you will be given the lower house ballot paper for your local electorate, (Melbourne, Richmond, Bulleen, etc) and the ballot paper for the corresponding Legislative Council or upper house region. Got that? Two ballot papers. On we go.
What do I see on my ballot paper?
Along with your small lower house ballot paper, (which you number “1” to however many candidates there are – you MUST number all the boxes) you will also be given a large upper house ballot paper. Your upper house ballot paper is divided across the middle by a thick horizontal black line.
Candidates and their parties are organised into columns running across the ballot paper. Each column has a single box above the line by which you can vote for a party, OR multiple boxes next to candidate names below the line by which you can indicate numbered preferences for their candidates.
Unless, of course, you’re in the North.
Sadly, the Northern Metropolitan Region ballot paper is even more complex. It has two rows of party voting boxes above the line, and two rows of party candidates below the line.
The first row of boxes above the line is for the first row of candidates below the line, and the second row of boxes above the line is for the second row of candidate boxes.
As Green remarks, it is truly horrible, but the alternative to doing this was the reduced font size and magnifying glasses issued at last year’s Senate election. Basically, good luck working out what the fuck is going on.
If you vote in Northern Metropolitan Region and get this ugly ballot paper, just double check with the Polling Officers that you have voted for the party you think you are voting for. A few extra moments checking avoids you voting for someone you didn’t mean to.
Don’t Confuse Party Names
Premier Denis Napthine leads the Liberal Party. His party appears on the ballot paper with the column heading ‘Liberal’ in the metropolitan area, and ‘Liberal/The Nationals’ in the country regions.
There is another party appearing on the ballot paper in all regions as the ‘Liberal Democrats’. Be warned that the Liberal Democrats ARE NOT the Liberal Party and have nothing to do with Premier Denis Napthine. So if you are intending to vote for Denis Napthine and the Liberal Party, don’t vote for the Liberal Democrats by mistake. Of course, if you like the Liberal Democrats best, vote for them first.
Daniel “Call me Dan” Andrews is the leader of the Australian Labor Party. They are not the same as the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). If you intend to vote for Daniel Andrews and the Labor Party, don’t give your first vote for the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) ARE NOT the Australian Labor Party. Of course, if you want to vote DLP, go right ahead.
Remember, when you vote above the line for a party, THEY decide where your voting preferences go. So if you vote for any party above the line on the ballot paper, which is quick and easy, it is always possible your ballot paper will end up with another party through preference distribution.
And never start off by giving your first preference to the wrong party by accident.
How do I vote?
You have two options when you vote, voting either above the line or below the line.
You can place a single ‘1’ in one of the boxes above the line to simply vote for a party.
Or, you can vote for candidates from 1 to 5 below the line. You can then stop, or go on numbering below the line beyond five for as many candidates as you like right up to numbering the whole ballot paper.
Hang on, is this different from the Senate?
Yes it is, in a very important way. At last year’s Senate election, when you voted below the line you had to number every square. In Victoria you are only required to number from 1 to 5 below the line for a formal vote. All preferences beyond 5 are optional. Put one preference, five, ten, twenty, or the whole lot. Up to you.
What happens if I vote for a party above the line?
When you vote for a single party above the line, your ballot paper is distributed as if you have expressed a preference vote, and the preferences used will be those pre-decided by the party you vote for.
There have been some very weird and controversial preference deals struck by both Labor and the Liberals at this election, especially to the detriment of the Green Party. If you want to check the preference tickets of each party before deciding who to vote for, which we recommend, you can examine them at the VEC website.
Then again, if you believe and trust your chosen first preference party, you probably do not care much about who your chosen party directs preferences to.
Checking preference deals can be very complex. Trying to understand how a party’s preferences will be distributed requires understand the very complex counting system, and also making assumptions on what percentage of first preferences each party will poll.
So if you do care about your preferences, it is probably quicker and easier for you to vote below the line for candidates and keep writing in numbers until you don’t care any more, or you’re sure you definitely don’t want your preference to end up with the Monster Raving Loony Party*, rather than try to understand the very complex preference tickets.
*Despite what you may think we don’t have one of those in Victoria, although they do in the UK.
What happens if I give more than one preference above the line?
You can, but it won’t make any difference. Only your first preference ever counts above the line. Any 2, 3, 4 and so on preferences above the line would simply be completely ignored. Only your first preference ‘1’ counts, and your ballot paper is also deemed to have the preference tickets of your first choice party.
How do I vote below the line?
A vote below the line must have the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in some clear order to be a formal vote. If you wish you can go on to number 6, 7, 8, and so on for as many candidates as you like on the ballot paper.
You can vote for any candidates in any group below the line. Some parties are standing 5 candidates, which means you can vote 1 to 5 in that group, but you don’t have to. You can vote 1 for a Labor candidate, 2 for a Greens, 3 for a Liberal, 4 for a Sexual Freedom For Fish* candidate, and so on.
*Nope, we don’t have any of those either
If there’s a group or party that have fewer than five candidates that you want to vote for first, then you have to go on and number candidates in more than one column. You must number from at least 1 to 5, so if you were to just number 1,2 in a single column and stop, then your vote will be informal and won’t count.
Don’t mix and match between above and below the line. You can either vote a single ‘1’ above the line, or the numbers 1 to 5 below the line. Mixing up numbering between the two options will make your vote informal.
Then again, if you correctly number at least 1 to 5 below the line, and a single 1 above the line, your vote is formal both above and below the line, and the counting rule is to always apply a formal below the line vote before a formal above the line vote. Simples, huh?
Can I go on beyond 5 preferences below the line?
Yes, and the more preferences you give, the greater chance that your vote will stay live in the count for longer. If you vote below the line, ensure you vote at least 1 to 5, and then go on giving preferences for as many candidates as you know or like or care about.
What is the best way to number my ballot below the line?
It’s this simple: number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected. Give your ‘1’ vote to the candidate you would most like to see elected, 2 to your second preferred candidate, and so on.
If you try and get really tricky-clever with so-called strategic voting you might end up outsmarting yourself. Strategic voting is only possible if you are able to estimate the vote each party will achieve. Even pointy-head experts have difficulty determining this, so the best strategy for everyone is simply to number candidates in the order you would like to see them elected and if you don’t care after a while, stop.
Can my ballot paper “run out” of preferences?
Yes. If you just number 1 to 5, and all five of your preferences are for candidates who have already been elected or excluded (“knocked out of”) the count, then your ballot paper will ‘exhaust’ its preferences. An “exhausted” ballot paper is one that has no preferences for a candidate remaining in the count, so the ballot paper is put aside as out of preferences and plays no further part in the count. It cannot be further used to determine the election of another candidate.
For this reason, it is always best to keep numbering beyond five candidates. If you think all the other candidates are a waste of space and want to stop at 5, you can do that, of course. But if you have views on other candidates on the ballot paper, and you want your vote to have the maximum impact, it is best to keep numbering for as many numbers as you see fit.
Exhausted ballot papers mean that it is possible for the final candidates in the Council to be elected with less than a full quota of votes, which isn’t desirable.
How can I work out what to do in advance, so I’m not standing in the booth for half an hour?
When you vote, you must fill in the official ballot paper handed to you in the polling place. Only a duly authorised ballot paper can be admitted to the count.
But if you want to vote below the line, there are sites where you can prepare your list of candidates, print them out and take them along to vote. Then just copy your sequence of numbers across to the actual ballot paper.
There. Now that was all clear as mud, eh? Good luck.
The Upper House election is likely to be crucial this year as regards the future governance of the State. Make sure you know what you’re doing!