Suffragari!

I have voted!* I like voting, exercising my democratic rights, performing my duty as a citizen of a liberal democracy. As has become our custom, I took our daughters along with me when I went to vote, so that they understand that this is what we do, this is how we live, this is part of what it means to be a citizen.

It was an interesting experience, quite different from voting in New Zealand.

The similarities were obvious. There was a buzz of democracy in the air as we joined the people heading towards the local high school gym. Outside the door, there was a sign for the polling booth, and the Sallies had set up a stall selling preserves. But then the differences started became obvious. People from the various political parties stood outside the door, handing out “how to vote” cards. South Australia has a preferential voting system, so each party strikes deals with other parties about how the preferences should fall, and then tells its supporters how to vote in accordance with those deals. But it’s complicated. Hence the “how to vote” cards.

Inside the gym things looked familiar again. A election worker met me, and directed me to the clerks marking off the roll. I handed over my Easy Vote card (just a card recording my name and address and electoral roll number). The clerk crossed my name off, and then, the second difference: he initialed two ballot papers, and handed them to me. In New Zealand, the ballot papers are numbered, and the number is recorded against your name on the electoral roll. Here, obviously, he didn’t record the ballot paper number against my name.

Then it was over to the cubicles to cast my vote, in PENCIL! I found that… shocking. On the other hand, I guess that the idea that anyone would link my name to a particular ballot paper per the NZ system would be equally shocking to Australians. It’s a moment of trust in both systems – in NZ, that the Electoral Office will not look at my papers unless it seems that I’ve voted twice, and in Australia, that no one is going to erase or change my vote.

I enjoyed casting preference votes. I like the concept of preference voting, that you think about who is your first and second and third choices. I also liked being able to put the parties I despise at the bottom of the list. In my electorate, that meant Family First. The ballot paper for the upper house was daunting. I could choose to vote above the line, choosing one party, and then allowing them to distribute my preferences, or numbering all the candidates myself, from 1 to 74. I chose the latter. With the help of Cluey Voter, I had worked out a voting schedule which had One Nation, Family First, and the odious (dis)Trevor Grace right at the bottom. I top-numbered the Greens, Dignity for the Disabled and Labor (no, you may not read an order into those names, which in any case should be unsurprising to you given that you almost certainly already know that I’m a pinko-leftie). Importantly, I was able to give a high ranking (13) to the chap standing for Gamers4Croyden, who have been trying and trying and trying to persuade Michael Atkinson, the Labor Attorney-General, that he should not be imposing his own regressive morality on the state. I don’t think the Gamers4Croyden candidate will get in, but I wanted to take the opportunity to send a message to Michael Atkinson.

What astonished me (aside from the PENCIL), was that all the election advertising was still in full swing today. The major parties had ads in the local paper, candidates’ posters were still up on stobie polls, people were still out canvassing. No Australian blog seemed to be concerned about closing comments off for the day, or taking posts down (temporarily). Quite a contrast from New Zealand where by law, all goes quiet on election day.

And now we wait for the results. There have been about 98,000 postal votes, and it could take as much as a week before they are counted, and a final result known. Given how close this election is expected to be, the overall result could take a long time to come in.

Time to pour myself a nice glass of wine, get out my knitting, and settle in for a night in front of the TV.

*No doubt one of my Latinate friends (that would be you, Nick, or you, Tony) will tell me that I have used the wrong form of the wrong verb in the headline. I blame google. And Sister Rose.

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9 responses to “Suffragari!

  1. suffragata sum

    *crawls back into hole until next Latin emergency”

  2. People de-lurk for all sorts of reasons! Lovely to hear from you, suthfor, and to know that you are reading.

    (Note to self: consider trying some Greek next time.)

  3. It is fascinating to hear about the differences between here and NZ. Silly me assumed it would be the same…

  4. I wrote a beginner’s guide to MMP (the NZ voting system) for Larvatus Prodeo in 2008. It’s complicated in different ways from the Australian preferential voting system. But it seems to function effectively i.e. like the Aussie system, it seems to deliver a result that more-or-less reflects the mood of the electorate (c/f say the UK system, where one party can get more votes than another, but end up with less seats).

  5. Either way, I certainly hope Labour (and the Neanderthal wing of the Liberals) are going to treat “Mrs” Isobel Redmond with a lot more respect. Turns out the little housewife wasn’t so far out of her depth after all…

  6. I think you’re confused as to the effect your ranking has. In two ways – your ordering stops mattering further at the point where a vote is cast, and thst your first preference is unimportant. What matters is a: your first preference, which determines state funding and headline percentages; and the first major party in your list, which determines where your vote goes.

    So if you want to “send a message” it’s critical that your message party is first on your ballot. Putting the gamers there would work, and your preference would flow on down to Laboutr eventually. So all the monkeys who think putting The Greens second tells Labour something useful… it tells them that they’ve sucessfully confused another voter, and that’s all it tells them. To send the traditional “I want a greener Labour” message it’s necessary to put The Greens first, then Labour somewhere down the list from there.

    The state funding question is also much more important to smaller parties, for whom it makes up a much greater portion of their income. Think of it as a $10 donation to the party.

    I’m still astonished at how poorly informed people are about their voting system. (of course, maybe that’s brecause I have it all wrong).

  7. What an interesting post. I was shocked the first time I walked up the road with my late partner on polling day for all the reasons you list – yes, the pencil! And the parties trying to talk to people as they went in to vote! And the aggro I encountered when I politely refused the ‘how to vote’ cards because I was not a citizen and therefore couldn’t vote. I’d been here about six months, then, from memory, and wouldn’t have been eligible to have applied for citizenship even if I wanted to.

    My other shock came as I discovered I was able to accompany Narelle into the booth. That’s something else that wouldn’t have happened in NZ. If you need assistance a polling booth worker helps you; here you can take someone, anyone, into the booth with you.

    So many differences!

  8. I’ve always found Australian elections a ‘great carnival of democracy’, in part because they’re compulsory and held on Saturdays, which means you get an impressive critical mass of people. I find UK elections so anodyne by contrast, and really miss the schools/Salvos running their food stalls.

    I’ve also told UK friends that Australians often have an incentive to get down to the polling booth early so they can get first dibs on the cakes and preserves! Needless to say, they are stunned.

  9. A very interesting account. I think we can in general by very proud of our electoral systems, although I am not all the keen on the Hare-Clark system, and advocate optional rather than full preferential voting. Election days are like a truly civic festival. I am a great supporter of compulsory voting. It helps make people own the processes and the results.