Holly’s beginner’s guide to voting.



Voting can be daunting.

May 18 2019 will be the first time anyone born after May 17 2001 will be voting in a state or federal election. Because politics can feel overwhelming and sometimes go over young heads, this article will outline (in the most basic of ways) how Australia functions because (trust me on this) it gets messy.

As a fan of musicals, I truly wish there was a hip hop tune-fest like Hamilton to explain how Australia’s government runs, but sadly “A man in Budgie Smugglers: Tony Abbott the musical” hasn’t been written just yet. So here goes nothing.

Firstly, Australia is a part of the Commonwealth, meaning technically we are run by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2. However, because Australia is one of 53 countries included in the Commonwealth, the Queen has an appointed right hand man, the Governor-General, who makes decisions on her behalf. That man is currently Peter Cosgrove. In regards to your vote in the upcoming election, none of this really matters. Your votes don’t affect the Queen (duh) or the Governor-General.

But Pete does help make up the parliamentary democracy, along with the two other branches of federal government that are chosen by elections: The Senate and the House of Representatives.

Now let’s try and flesh this out.

The Senate or upper house is made up of 76 senators, 12 for each state (WA, SA, VIC, NSW, QLD & TAS) and two for each territory (ACT & NT). State senators are elected for six years while senators from the territories are elected for three.  As we have elections every three years it means that each election, half of the state senators and all of the territory senators are up for re-election.

The House of Representatives or lower house has 150 members. Each member represents a separate electoral division across Australia and is elected for up to three years. Unlike the Senate, where each state has equal representation, the House of Reps does not, as electorates are designed to have roughly the same number of people in them and so their density reflects the spread of Australia’s population.

When you vote in a Federal election you are voting for both the House of Reps and the Senate.

There are a multitude of ways to vote – many are pointless, result in a spoilt ballot and leave your vote invalid, however, you will avoid the nasty fine. If you do want to vote properly, you can take surface level advice from friends, family and the internet (which would leave your vote reflective of the opinions of others) OR you can choose to let your vote reflect your views and opinions and try to make differences you want.

Side note: You never really vote for who will be Prime Minister, you vote for the candidate in your own electorate who is a member of a party that will chose its own leader. This, as we have seen in recent years, can change. A LOT.

The next most important thing to know is that we use the preferential voting system. On the House of Reps ballot paper this is fairly simple,  You will probably have between five and ten candidates to chose from and you must number EVERY box for your vote to count.

For example, if there are six candidates you will number one to six. If you haven’t been tempted already, watch the video above for a very basic and yes, very old explanation of how that system works. The bottom line, however, is that the first candidate to get more than half of the vote (during the redistribution of preferences) wins the seat.

It gets a bit more confusing when you vote for the Senate as there are two routes you can take and this system has recently changed, which means people may give you conflicting advice if they are not across the changes.

On this long ballot paper the parties are listed above the line and the candidates are listed below. Your first (and quickest) option is to number at least six party-boxes above the line. The second option is to number at least 12 people-boxes below the line. Either way the electoral commission will sort out your preferences if your first choice doesn’t get enough votes.

The way this vote is counted is a little trickier too. In order to get elected as one of the six state senators up for election, a candidate needs to get just over one seventh of the vote. That’s about 14.3% and it’s called a quota. During the count each time a quota is reached a senator is elected, and the counting continues. This process can take weeks and be an exciting race to watch when it comes down to just a few possibilities for the last seat.

This is a lot to take in, especially if it is all new information but hopefully (for once) the Australian political system hasn’t overwhelmed you and now seems more manageable.

The most important thing is though that you vote, because it’s about choosing the world you want to live in.