How to (and why you should) vote "below the line" in this year's Senate election

How to (and why you should) vote "below the line" in this year's Senate election


We all know how the ballot paper works in the Senate – you can either vote “above” or “below the line”. Many of us choose to vote “above” because we don’t want to take the time to preference all of the candidates vying for one of six (or two, for the territories). I mean, it’s the start of the AFL Finals – and we want to be there in time for that.

But there is a case why you should vote “below” that line, despite the record number of Senate candidates in this year’s election – for instance, 110 in New South Wales alone, and 97 in Victoria – and the potential need to have magnifying glasses in the booths. And the Wikileaks Party preferences fiasco shows why you should vote below that line.

Voting above the line means that the party gets to decide where your votes go when that party is eliminated during the count – and this happens if that party reaches the quota and its “surplus” is transferred to the second preference (usually in the same party); or when the party has the lowest number of votes in the count.

But because your party gets to choose where your preferences go, then you could see your votes going to another party that you may not like. For example, the Greens in South Australia have preferenced the Palmer United Party before the Labor Party; and the Wikileaks Party preferencing the far-right Australia First party before the Greens in New South Wales, and the Nationals in Western Australia.

I could say that the preferences to minor parties don’t really matter – and I’m using the “minor party” definition that Wikileaks Party WA candidate Gerry Georgatos uses, which includes the WA Nationals (I disagree with that, but I digress) – but I would be lying. There have been cases where minor parties have managed to get in because of preferences. For instance, in 2004, Steve Fielding from Family First got in with just 1.88 percent of the Victorian Senate vote but he crossed the quota because of preferences from minor parties and Labor.

That said, many of the minor parties won’t get the necessary quota – but they can still influence who will get a seat in the Senate.

So, in order to avoid all the preference dealings and vote your way, then you really should consider voting below the line. It is time consuming, but we’re here to help to make it less time consuming and help you get your vote in before the AFL match kicks off.

How to do it? Make your own “How-To-Vote” card

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There are several websites that let you produce your own how-to-vote cards – but my pick is Senate.IO. Simply go to your state or territory, and use the editor to put in your preferences. The site lets you organise your preferences by party or individually, by dragging and dropping them in order or you adding your preferences from 1 to whatever in a ballot-esque form.

You can even take take the preferences of the party and modify them – say, if you plan to vote for the Wikileaks Party and want to put the Australia First party very low in the preference order, instead of above the Greens. Or, if you’re feeling a bit lazy, you can use the automatically generated ballot where parties are ordered based on how high or low they preferenced a particular candidate.

There is also an interesting option to perform a ‘donkey vote’ while having your ballot still valid. It’s an interesting feature, but I do wish you don’t use that.

Once you have done your preferences, simply hit the ‘Download PDF’ or ‘Download one-page PDF’ to print out your how-to-vote card. Then take it with you when you place your vote, transferring whatever is on the printed how-to-vote card to your actual ballot paper.

Despite what people may say (I’ve noticed some people who support the Wikileaks Party saying this) your vote is not wasted unless you choose to submit an informal vote. Choose to vote for whatever party you want, and every vote does count. You get to decide who gets in and who gets out – and voting below the line means that you have a greater say in that.

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