tales from urban dilettantia

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Election How-To #1

Are you an Australian citizen?
Know nothing about politics?
Care nothing about politics?
Usually vote for the guy your Mum and Dad always voted for?
I wrote this for you.

2010 Election FAQ For The Non-Political

I have to vote, right?

Technically, not quite. Yes, you have to turn up to a polling station on election day and have your name ticked off. However, you have every right to put a blank ballot paper into the box and refuse to exercise your right to vote. (Personally, I’d like you to remember that the vote was a hard-won right – and ladies, many women served jail sentences and even died to secure women’s suffrage – before you decide not to exercise your vote. However, it is an option.)

What if I don’t like any of the candidates?

I’ve heard this said a lot, but almost always by people who haven’t actually bothered to inform themselves about any of the candidates. Sure, there might not be some perfect candidate running in your electorate who stands for everything you believe in and is your perfect political match. Every person in every seat over there in Canberra is a human being and unless you run for election yourself, none of them is going to be…well, you. However, I’ll bet you if you start looking around you’ll find that there are candidates in your electorate who stand for things that you abhor and would never vote for. If you can’t get motivated to vote because you’ve found someone great to vote for, at least get motivated to vote to keep the rabble out! (A little cynical, I know, but I’ve often numbered a ballot paper backwards from most-despised to most-tolerated. Perhaps it’s just easier to get passionate about what you don’t want?)

Aren’t all the parties pretty much the same now?

This has been said quite a lot in recent years, and perhaps to some extent there is a convergence. However, if you do your homework, you’ll see that even the two major parties have different policies on many issues – economic, social and environmental – and the minor parties offer some very different alternatives. Don’t believe they’re the same just because someone told you so, or because it’s chic to be cynical. Make up your own mind.

But what’s the point in voting for a minor party? Isn’t it a waste of a vote?

I’m amazed by often I hear this in Australia. It’s a myth and utterly incorrect. We are very fortunate to have a preferential voting system in place here, which means that we not only vote for who we like best, but also for how much we like every single candidate in our electorate. Look at it this way – say James, Sarah and Amanda are running in the election. You vote for Sarah, whom you like best, but she gets the least number of votes of the three. So the election officials take all the voting cards where Sarah is number one and distribute them to whomever was numbered two on each card. Even if Amanda received less number one votes than James, she can still win the seat by receiving enough number two votes to tip her over the line. It’s a little more complicated than that, but fundamentally, the system averages out how much voters like every candidate and the candidate who is preferred on average wins. The beauty of this system? You can vote for anyone you want and if they don’t get elected it won’t be wasted, but will trickle down to the person you prefer next after your first choice.  (Also, it’s inherently democratic because it allows you to express an opinion on every candidate, even if the one you like best is a from a small party.)
2010 edit: Each first preference vote in the House of Reps goes pro rata to determine public funding for the party / candidate of choice, provided they receive more than 4% of the vote.  So even in a safe seat you are helping to finance your preferred candidate’s political activities by backing them as #1.

I live in a safe seat; my vote makes no difference anyway, right?

I know how you feel; I live in one of the safest seats in the country. However, the idea that your vote makes no difference is a myth. Certainly your vote for the House of Representatives (the lower house) might be a tiny drop in the ocean. However seats in the Senate (the upper house) aren’t divided by electorate but by State and Territory, and your Senate vote has the power to make a big difference to the legislation that will be passed, rejected or modified by the Senate over the next four years.

Why is the Senate important? Isn’t it the party who wins the most seats in the House of Reps that forms a Government?

The Senate is great; the Senate is our sanity-check! While legislation can be introduced in either house, it’s generally introduced in the House of Reps and then moved through to the Senate where it is debated and amended. This can make a massive difference to the law that comes out the other end of the process, and is often something people forget about. It’s quite normal for one or a group of the smaller parties to hold the balance of power in the Senate over the four year term, meaning that the bigger parties have to negotiate with minor party Senators to get new legislation through, amending the legislation until enough people are happy with it for it to be passed.

Are you making this into some big moral thing?

I am, rather. Look at it this way; we have compulsory voting in this country. This means that every person has a right to vote. However, it also reinforces the idea that every person has a responsibility to vote. If you do one political thing in the next four years do this: devote even a few minutes towards taking this seriously and actually thinking about it. Even for five minutes, try being a responsible person who wants to make a considered, intelligent and informed call about what they want to see in the future. It’s a wonderful and by-no-means universal thing to be able to – simply by right of being an ordinary, Australian human being – have the power to personally say what you think should happen to yourself, your loved ones and all other Australians in the future. To have the power to define your own leaders and the decisions to come. It’s not a perfect world, nor a perfect system, but you’ve been blessed with something pretty damn special, so grab the opportunity with both hands and be thankful for it.

What do I have to do to be able to vote?

Firstly, you have to be enrolled (if you’re not already, you’ve missed the boat for 2010.)  Next you have to decide who you want to vote for; you can write it down on a piece of paper and take it into the voting booth with you if you need a reminder. (I always do this, because I would hate to throw my vote away just because I made a careless mistake!) Finally, you need to turn up to a polling booth on election day and cast your vote.

Where can I vote?

Why shouldn’t I just vote for the guy Mum and Dad always voted for?

It’s about being a grown-up and taking responsibility for yourself. Sure, you might do your homework and come around to the point of view that Mum and Dad were onto something good, but the world has changed a lot since the day that they first went out and voted the same way your grandparents did. Don’t be a sheep; make sure you know what you’re voting for.

But it’s too hard; how can I know who to vote for?

I’m planning to post as many useful links as I can in the weeks to come, to make the research easier on everyone. However, there may come a time in every person’s life when they have to suck it up, put their fingers to the Google and do a little research of their own. Be brave; it’s better to have tried your best and not be 100% certain than to have voted like a lemming!  (In fact, I have lingering suspicions that intelligent people don’t see things in black and white and will never be 100% certain.)

How do I fill out all the forms?

I’m going to post a separate FAQ covering all the nuances of filling out the forms closer to the election date; look out for it!

Can you tell me who to vote for?

Nope. In fact, nobody should make that decision but you. Not your parents, friends, teachers, churches, husbands or wives. People voting en masse for a particular candidate because they are blindly following instructions rather than using their own brain undermines democracy throughout the world. Don’t abdicate your vote to someone else; treasure it and do the best you can to make it count!

So, should I vote for someone who is good for me, or good for the majority of people?

I don’t think that the Philosophy 101 unit I took in 1997 adequately equipped me to deal with this question. Personally, I believe that a society where even the poorest of people are well fed, educated and cared for is going to be a safer and happier one for all citizens. However, there are arguments for and against altruism, so this is a call that comes down to your own belief system.

I’m still confused; can you help?

Absolutely. I’ll be posting election how-to information for beginners right up until Election Night. If you want to access any past posts, they will all be tagged with ‘election how-to’, and I’m going to do my best to help you find all the stuff you need to make an informed choice for yourself, your family and your fellow citizens.

Why are you doing this? Wouldn’t you rather promote the people you want to win?

Sure, I have my own opinions. But I happen to think that the democratic process is more important than my personal opinions, and it’s going to mean a hell of a lot more to me to know that my friends and family are out there making their own good choices than to hope people tick a box because I said it was the right one.

Category: politics

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3 Responses

  1. Grahame says:

    I think a better link for polling place search is:
    http://www.aec.gov.au/election/where-can-i-vote.htm

    The first link there takes you to:
    http://www.ehoundplatform.com/Services/Map/AEC
    Which is an interactive map-service-thingy that shows the polling places.

  2. Helen says:

    Thanks – updated! The link content has changed since 2007.

  3. […] my FAQ published for previous elections is still broadly […]

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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.

            
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