The voting system has changed (for the better in my opinion), so I want to give a quick post with my recommendations for voting. This post is about how to vote regardless of who you want to vote for, I plan to write another later with my thoughts on who to vote for. That said, I will declare here that I support the Greens so you’re free to decide on any potential bias in what follows.
Also, the electoral commission have lots of info on the election, you can find it here https://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/voting
House of Assembly (Green Paper)
Voting in the lower house is unchanged, you number all of the boxes in order of preference. Remember that when you do so you expressing preferences, so that means you would like 1 best, and then 2 you would prefer in a contest against anyone below 2, 3 against anyone below 3 and so on. It doesn’t matter that you are indicating preferences for candidates you don’t particularly like since your vote can only count for them against someone you like even less. If it comes down to this then it is because most of the other people in your electorate like these candidates, there is nothing you can do about that.
My recommendation is to find out as much as possible about all of the candidates in your electorate. There is some information on the ABC website and you can do further searching like party websites, or candidate facebook pages. You are an adult in a democracy, and regardless of what you do somebody is going to be elected to represent you in parliament, so you should take the small trouble of finding out about the candidates and putting some thought into your vote.
Due to preferential voting you do not have to decide who is likely to win or just choose one of the candidates you think is most popular. If you choose a candidate who is not popular and gets eliminated then your vote will move on to your next preference who is still in the contest and you still get a say.
Generally I recommend against strategic voting – voting in any way other than your genuine preference order to try and get a better outcome – since it usually doesn’t work. The reason it might work is that the preferential system can be sensitive to order of elimination of candidates, this doesn’t really happen in most single member electorate contests in Australian politics because there are two clear leading candidates but in a three cornered contest it becomes more of an issue. Consider a hypothetical seat with 100 voters where the A gets 40, B 32 and C 28. Then as long as 11 or more out of the C voters put A second, then A wins. Now suppose 3 B voters change to C, so we have A still on 40, C 31 and B 29. Now B is eliminated, but as long as 19 or more of them put C 2nd, then C wins.
What’s going on here is that if your priority is for a certain candidate to lose rather than another to win, you can potentially engineer this by not voting for your favourite candidate. The problem is, it required knowledge of how everyone will vote, so can just as easily backfire. Given that there are likely some three cornered contests in this election then people might try it, but given the general unpredictability (and unreliable nature of electorate level polling) then my advice is to vote for who you like in the order you like them.
One further comment is that you will have noticed some candidates more than others, for example they might have a lot more signs on Stobie poles. Yes this is a sign that they are putting in effort, but it is also usually a sign of who has the most money and possibly who cheated by putting up their signs early before the poll was declared, so I don’t think it is a good proxy for how good a candidate is (but I make the comment because I did see a number of comments about the recent Tasmanian election to this effect).
Legislative Council (white paper)
This is the one which has changed, but the changes are very similar to those for the last federal election so it shouldn’t be too complicated.
If you want to vote for parties then you can vote above the line. This means that your vote will count for candidates for each party in the order in which the party lists them (it’s right there on the ballot so you can see it). It also means that your vote counts for all the candidates for your first party, then all of those for your second and so on. This is a perfectly good way of voting for many people.
There are basically two situations where a below the line vote is better for you
- You disagree with the party order. For example you like Party A’s 4th candidate best and want to preference them ahead of the first three. Or you want to leave out one of them entirely, you like Party B except you can’t stand their 3rd candidate and don’t want to preference them.
- You want to vote across party lines. For example your first preference is from Party A and your second is from party B.
In these cases you can vote for individual candidates below the line, and you must vote for at least 12.
Either way, it is actually best to vote for as many candidates as possible. Above the line you can vote for just one party but I think this is bad because your vote is very likely to exhaust and you get no further say. I recommend not just putting preferences for the parties or candidates you like, but for every one which you prefer to another. Letting your vote exhaust when you still have a genuine preference can only lead to the same or a worse outcome for you – never better.
Suppose there is a party which you really don’t want to get elected. Then if your vote exhausts and it comes down to them or someone else, you are no longer in the count and your vote is not there to help stop them. I have written much more about that in regard to the last senate election and also generally about the benefits of full preferential voting.
A good example is the last senate election in Tasmania, there was only about 140 votes between the Greens and One Nation for the last spot (or at least there was before the count was completely changed by some candidates getting caught out on citizenship issues). I would bet that most voters would have a preference one way or the other for these very different candidates, but many did not get a say because they did not put enough preferences and let their votes exhaust.
There has been a bit of fuss about preference deals in the papers, this is all a bit silly and nothing to worry about because
only preferences you write on your ballot paper count
The only deals relate to what recommendations parties are putting on their how to vote cards. The only way these count for anything is if you copy down what is on a how to vote. Otherwise the parties have no control over your preferences. There used to be group voting tickets – meaning that if you voted above the line then your vote would count for preferences determined by parties (though even these were public and not secret), this is no longer the case. Even if you vote above the line your vote only counts for the parties you yourself vote for, but this is why it is important to put in as many preferences as possible above the line to make sure your vote does not exhaust.