Saturday, September 07, 2013

Half true. What the Electoral Commission says about Senate voting

“The rest of the ballot paper must be left blank”

Australian Electoral Commission, Senate voting instructions

The Australian Electoral Commission says we have “a choice of two methods” when voting for Senators today.

We can either vote “above the line” by putting the number '1' in one box only. That gives whoever we are voting for the right to allocate our preferences.

The AEC says “the rest of the ballot paper must be left blank.”

Or we can vote “below the line” by putting the number '1' in the box of our first choice, then '2' and so on until all the boxes have been numbered.
“If a voter chooses to vote below the line, they must number every box below the line for their vote to count,” its website says.

“The top part of the ballot paper must be left blank.”

If true, it could deprive some of us of our democratic rights.

There’s a record 110 Senate candidates in NSW this time. In Victoria there are a record 97 candidates. Flat magnifying glasses will be issued to help voters with poor eyesight. But mistakes will be inevitable for many people who attempt to vote below the line. Voting above the line instead, for safety, deprives those voters of the right to allocate preferences.

The AEC site makes it look as if there is no way out, but there is. It is technically illegal, and if you only read the words at the top of the AEC site you wouldn't know about it.

Does it stack up?

Drill down further and it becomes apparent that ballot papers filled in both above and below-the-line are counted. The above-the-line vote is used as a backup in case the below-the-line vote fails.

And in below-the-line voting, not every square has to be completed for the vote to count. Up to three errors are allowed so long as 90 per cent of squares are completed.


There is a way to both attempt to make every preference count and to ensure at least something counts. The ABC's Antony Green recommends it. It's to vote both above and below the line.

The Electoral Commission keeps it quiet because it is technically illegal. But it agrees it works.

Politifact rates its claims that you have “a choice of two methods” and that when using either “the rest of the ballot paper must be left blank” only half true. The Commission is describing the law. But the law also makes voting private and ensures people who disobey those parts it vote have their votes counted. Enjoy the day.

In Politifact and The Sydney Morning Herald

Related Reading

. Antony Green. Our above-the-line voting makes a mockery of a serious duty