Voting In Australia
A Guide for International Foreigners
On December 4th, NSW held State and Council elections.
(Federal elections will be next year in May)
Voting in Australia, or at least the system we use, is one of the things that tends to confuse people, so I thought I'd explain it here.
In Australia, Voting is compulsory. The upside of voting being compulsory is that because you are required to vote, it is made as easy as possible to do so.
Voting takes place on Saturday, and there are voting stations in every other public school. There are at least four pre-poll voting venues per electorate, for those who can't make it on the actual day, as well as mail-in votes, and forms you can fill out to vote in absentia, allowing a trusted person to cast your vote for you. There is also online voting, but since it requires some very rigorous registration checks, most people just suck it up and vote in person.
Polling places also try to have at least one interpreter on hand, to assist those for whom English is a second or third language. Obviously, this is subject to said interpreter's availability on the day, but the effort is made.
Upon arrival at the polling location, you get your name checked off a list, get given the voting forms, and go to a booth to fill them out, which takes about a minute. Maybe five minutes, if you really agonize over which party to put dead last. (With One Nation and Clive Palmer - aka Trump Lite - running for Federal next year, it's going to be close...)
That done, you fold up your ballot, put it in the counting box, and follow your nose to wherever the school bake-sale and Democracy Sausage* stand are located.
*There is great debate about whether or not a sausage in a folded piece of bread, topped with optional onions and sauce, counts as a political bribe to get people to show up to vote. The outrage and days of grumbling when there isn't a Democracy Sausage in sight has not clarified matters...
What If I Don't Believe In Any Of The Candidates?
Then you have any number of ways to render your vote invalid.
You can deliberately fill it out wrong. You can draw a giant dick on the ballot. You can vote for a non-existent candidate, like Captain Jack Sparrow or Jon Snow, King of the North. You can even not fill it out at all, and submit a blank form.
Heck, you can write an entire essay on why you think the system is broken and how to fix it, and what that smirking scumbag in Canberra can do with the hose he doesn't hold...
The poor buggers up until the early hours of the morning doing the preliminary counts will get a chuckle out of it, at least, and it'll be good for a few likes or laugh-reacts on social media once the results are in.
What If I Don't Show Up?
Nothing drastic, just a notification of a $55 fine in the mail a week or so later.
Even this isn't so terrible, because you can apply for a financial hardship payment plan and pay it off over several weeks. If you had a genuine reason for not voting, like being horribly sick, or having to fly interstate or overseas for a family emergency, or maintaining citizenship but being a permanent resident of another country, you can fill out a Statutory Declaration and get the fine waived.
Why Bother, If My Vote Doesn't Even Count?
That's one of the true beauties of the Australian system.
We have what is known as "Preferential Voting", meaning that you can list candidates in order of preference. If your first choice doesn't get the minimum number of votes required, your vote goes to your second choice, and so on down the line.
But wait, it gets better!
For every '1' vote a party or candidate gets, they get political funding. Only a few dollars per vote, it's true, but this can make a big difference for grassroots parties and independent candidates, especially the ones who base their platform on taking a stand against mega-corporate interests.
It's literally impossible for your vote not to count, even if you invalidate it in protest.
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