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Friday, March 25, 2011

Casting a Valid Vote in NSW, 2011

It is not my intention to tell anyone how to vote. I am reluctant to stick my toe into the sordid mess of politics, but voting is indeed part of the legitimate sphere of interest of "The Nature of Robertson". It is indeed an obligation (but not always a pleasure), for local residents.

Regular readers know I am an active environmentalist and that I have strong opinions on the lack of environmental protection offered by the current Government and by the Labor Party current local Member Matt Brown. You all know I am an active campaigner to protect the precious rivers and groundwater resources of the Southern Highlands. This first arose as an issue for me with the threat to the Kangaloon Aquifer as originally posed by the Sydney Catchment Authority, and more recently by the Government-approved Coal Mining Exploration by Cockatoo Coal, under Exeter and Sutton Forest.

Need I say more?
The current Member for Kiama, Matt Brown, as I like to imagine him.
My purpose in today's Blog post is to simply urge readers (in NSW) to make sure that whatever vote they wish to cast tomorrow is cast validly, so that it counts. There has been considerable reform to the voting system in NSW in recent years, including "Smart Roll" changes to the registration system. One can even register on the day, apparently, provided you have a valid Driver's Licence showing your current address (in NSW).

The NSW Electoral Commission has a helpful "idiots guide" to filling out the voting card.

I learned something, and that is that for the Upper House, if one wishes to vote "below the line" (so as to determine your own preference distribution) you need only fill in 15 boxes, not each and every box for each candidate. That's what I shall do, in the Upper House.

My reason for wanting to check that is that I was concerned that the Greens had made a decision to not "distribute preferences" for voters who opt to fill out a singe vote 1 "above the line" for their party.

Preferences are important.

If you are a person inclined to vote for other than one of the two major Parties, then your vote may well "expire" unless you direct your own preferences down the line. What's the point of having the right to vote if your vote is not effective?

I certainly do not wish to see my vote vanish in thin air. I want it to count.

That's why I shall be voting by putting in all the preferences available - in the Lower House ballot paper, and at least 15 preferences in the Upper House ballot paper - below the line. That way it is MY VOTE, not the vote determined by some back-room party hacks who think they know best what I want my vote to do. *** DJW EDIT Please see the comments below. My observation is challenged as not quite accurate.

Anthony Green advises that the voting above the line allows for some degree of preference indication, but surely this applies only after all the first party candidate votes have been exhausted?
He says:
  • "In the Legislative Council, a single '1' will only count for the selected party and there are no between-party preferences.
  • "If a voter wants to in the NSW Legislative Council, they may number the boxes above the line in order of preferred party, and these will be implied as being preferences for individual candidates." Source
For those interested to find out more about tomorrow's NSW election, I recommend spending a few minutes over on Anthony Green's Electoral Blog, on the ABC site.


Howard R Jones said...

Dennis, your comment: "That way it is MY VOTE, not the vote determined by some back-room party hacks who think they know best what I want my vote to do" is not really accurate for the NSW State Elections.

In the Federal Elections, preference flows are registered by the party so that a vote 1 above the lines becomes a vote with preference flow determined by the "party hacks" as you call them.

In the State elections, being optional preferential, there are no preference flows registered for the Upper House (except for situations relating to the death of a candidate). i.e. all voters determine their own preferences at all times. It is possible to indicate a preference flow above the line by numbering more than one box. Your preferences then flow to your second choice of party/group when your own candidate is eliminated.

If your vote above the line is in support of a group which has a member elected then your vote has certainly "counted". It is in those circumstances where no one in the group is elected that the preferencing option is so important as you point out.

I personally have some problems with the Greens Upper House HTV not recommending preferences in the upper house. There are obviously some very worthy candidates who would have policies akin to those of the Greens and who share common values with the Greens. As you rightly say that can be remedied by placing other preferences above the line or by voting selectively for at least 15 people below the line.

There are however some practical reasons why preferencing may not be of any use including the fact (needs confirmation) that very few if any members of the upper house in NSW have been elected as a result of receiving preferences in the count since optional preferential voting was introduced (1999?). More often that not the final candidates are elected with far less than a quota because so many votes are exhausted as you describe. This means that instead of needing over 4% of the vote to be elected they can be elected with as little as say 2%.

That only proves that a lot of work has to be done to inform the community about the power of preferences in an "optional" scheme.

I think parties are also lazy in not looking for ways of recommending other candidates through their HTV cards when the ballot paper is so long.

I have been involved in elections for many years and I am amazed at the lack of understanding about the way that preferences work in elections and the level of understanding has not improved over the years. This is a failure of the system, that it does not help the community maximise their opportunities to influence the outcome of elections.

Getup has an online campaign to redress this which can be found at:

Howard R Jones,
Co-ordinator of the Greens 2011 Campaign in the seat of Kiama

Flabmeister said...

Thanks for the post Denis.

I think that neither the '15 below the line' nor the 'preferential above the line' options are clearly spelt out on the voting papers.

Wouldn't it be nice if we just had one system of voting across Australia? Unfortunately that isn't going to happen since the Party hacks in each State/Territory have tried to jimmy the system to benefit themselves.

It would also be nice if we had electronic voting rather than massacring a tree per elector by printing a bit of paper the size of a bed sheet.


Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Howard.
Your comments do not quite address my concerns. I like to vote for individuals, not necessarily for whole Party "lists". So the "Preference Above the line" system does not suit my need.
Not all Party Members are equal.
I might like a particular Party but dislike a particular candidate - with whom I might have had "dealings" (for example, many candidates are local Councillors).
Under that system, I cannot choose between candidates of a particular Party, preferenced above the line.
Thanks for your comment.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Martin.
Thanks for your comment.
The changes to the voting system certainly have not been well publicised.
One reason why I decided to spread the word.