My Australian cousin writes on electoral reform and the Australian system

My cousin LARRY, today’s Guest Blogger, was born in Canada where he lived for about 50 years. On retirement in 1990, he and his wife left Canada on a 10-year sailing voyage to Mexico, several South Pacific Island countries, New Zealand and Australia, with the goal of sailing past the Sydney Opera House. After 10 years of fun and adventure, they sold their 37-foot yacht to an Aussie couple. He is now an Aussie citizen and lives in winterless Australia.

Here’s Larry…

I have lived here in wonderful Australia for 16+ years. During that time, I have done some research into the Australian electoral system. The complication of the whole process boggles the mind and they keep tweaking the rules. So confusing is it, that in the lead-up to the last federal election in 2016, the Federal Electoral Commission even published wrong information regarding the rules of voting, causing much confusion at the polls which caused ballots to be ruled informal (not counted) when they shouldn’t have been. There is a rule that once a ballot has been ruled as informal, it cannot be changed to formal for any reason, so these ballots were never counted.

Australia has elections every 3 years for the Lower House and ½ the senate, (Senators are elected to 6 year terms). However, if the government of the day calls for a double dissolution, all seats become vacant including all senate seats. This is what happened in 2016 so ½ the elected senators only got 3 year terms.

Australia has compulsory, preferential, manually counted voting. It may sound like a good idea to force every citizen to vote but in my opinion, it isn’t

Preferential voting here means each person on the ballot must have a number beside it in the order of your preference or your ballot is ruled informal and discarded. The Political Parties will get together and make deals for preferences before the elections. The various parties will publish “how to vote” cards which are passed out to voters at the polls, to try to influence the voter to vote their preferences to benefit them, as per pre-election deals made with the other parties. Many people just grab the card from the party they support and vote like sheep as per instructed on the card. Others get boggled with all the ‘how to vote cards’ thrust at them as they line up to vote. We call the walk from the footpath to the voting room entrance, ‘walking the gauntlet’ and do not accept any cards.

No one needs ANY ID to vote! Many cases came to light after the election, where on Election Day; people were told their name was already crossed off so they couldn’t vote again, when in fact they hadn’t voted at all. Obviously someone else voted and used their name. Anyone could visit different voting locations and give any name out of the phone book if they desired and some reportedly do just that. The far Left Labor Party has the reputation of telling their members to “vote early and vote often”. True or not – depends on who you talk to. This needs changing immediately, in my opinion.

People, who think seriously about their vote, will vote intelligently, and would have voted even if they weren’t forced to. However the people who don’t care and normally wouldn’t vote if not threatened by a big fine, don’t want to be there, and are angry they have to stand in a queue for hours to vote. Many of these people will just number their ballots 1, 2, 3, etc. from the top down to get the process over as soon as possible. It is such a problem that before printing the ballots, the names of the people contesting the seat are drawn out of a hat, to set the order their names will be placed on the ballot paper. Usually, the name at the top gets so many 1’s and has a very good chance of being elected. The poor guy at the bottom of the list is disadvantaged and rarely gets elected. The result is decided by voters who could care less! It is not a good system and why I prefer the ‘first past the post’ system.

The Senate – A senator is a member of the Australian Senate, elected to represent a state or territory. There are 76 senators, 12 from each state and two each from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Our Queensland senate ballot had 122 candidates listed alphabetically by Party, running for the 12 seats available. I made a computer print-out, listing them in the order I wanted to vote for them, which took several hours to research and put together at home. It took about 20 minutes to fill out the 4 page ballot, putting a number from 1 to 122 beside each name. Very few people would have taken the trouble to do this and many just put a number beside the 2 or 3 people they are familiar with and put any sequential number randomly after all the other names. Not good – bogus outcome! The results of the Senate vote in 2016 took over 2 weeks to compile and publish the final list of elected.

Assuming that Canada is about the same as Australia, I would guess that no more than 35% of the population actually give a damn about who their government is. In Canada, the 65% don’t vote, here they do vote and badly skew the results. Forced voting is not good. Preferential voting is not good. Be careful what you wish for!

I find it interesting that Trudeau would be tinkering with the electoral process. Usually when any ‘politician in power’ starts tinkering with the electoral processes, they are trying to tweak the system to their party’s advantage for future elections. I personally would be very leery of someone who wanted to do this.

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2 comments

  1. Marlene

    A powerful argument against preferential balloting when all candidates must be ranked. Are you going to share your cousin’s message with our PM? Now, Marion, do you by any chance have a cousin living in New Zealand, who might like to share insight into their proportional representation system?! Trust your readers are all famiiar with the proportional representation material on the Fair Vote Canada website: http://www.fairvote.ca/proportional-representation/ .

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