Preferences Schmeferences

How do I know who gets my preferences?  Who are the Liberal party are preferencing? What about Labor? Did the Greens really do a preference deal? Is Nick Xenophon still a thing? Does anybody really care about this crap?
Here are the facts:

PREFERENCE DEALS NO LONGER MATTER

Preferential voting (also known as alternative voting or instant-runoff voting) is the voting system used in Australia. Often politicians will mention preferences as though they’re a bad thing, something used by smaller parties to cheat the system. The reality is, preferential voting helps your vote go further than it would if you simply numbered one box. You can number the parties or candidates in the order you would prefer they be elected. If your chosen party or candidate doesn’t get enough votes, perhaps your second choice will, and so on.

Following the Senate voting reforms earlier this year, preferences are no longer the headache they used to be. Never again will a Senator be elected with just 0.51% of the vote because micro-preferencing is ostensibly a thing of the past.
Now, the only deals that exist are on paper, laid out in the how-to-vote cards handed out at polling booths.
Unless you’re literally Christopher Pyne, ready to fall in behind whoever the party leader is, you will likely have some disagreement with the one or more policies of any given party. As such, the how-to-vote cards are more nuisance than necessity on election day, with the preference “deals” counting for little as the majority of voters don’t actually follow how-to-vote cards.

Though, if you paid any measure of attention to the news media over the last 7 weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking that preference deals are more important than ever. According to most news sources, the evil Greens made a deplorable preference deal with the virtuous Liberal Party. Or with the occasionally shifty ALP. Or with the criminally insane Christian Democratic Party. The media knew these stories to be either outright falsehoods or thoroughly misleading even as they went to print, but then, factless reporting is a staple for election coverage. The more misinformation and confusion spread, the harder it is for voters to make informed choices.
The truth of the matter is that it was the Liberal Party cutting how-to-vote deals with the CDP and ALP, not the Greens. The Liberal Party deals went so far that Senator David Leyonhjelm of the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party felt the need to write about their conflicts of interest for HuffPo; doubtless Leyonhjelm felt entitled to the Liberal preferences, but his point is valid, the Liberal Party are cutting conservative Christian deals rather than conservative economic ones.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or barely paying attention to this post, you would have heard that Senate voting process has changed. As a voter, you now have far more control over where your preferences go. If you’re voting above the line, rather than numbering one box and letting the parties decide where your vote flows, you are now able to number as little as one box and as many as all boxes above the line, allocating the preferences where you choose. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) encourages voters to number at least six boxes above the line, because your vote will exhaust after the final box you number. If you only number one box, your vote won’t have as much impact as the person who numbers at least six boxes, essentially wasting your vote.
If you choose to vote below the line, you no longer have to number all of the boxes, the AEC only requires you to number twelve boxes. Your vote will still be valid if you number at least six boxes, though, again, the more boxes you number, the further your vote can go. That said, if the thrill of messing with the polling officials working through the night appeals to you as much as it appeals to me, then it’s your patriotic duty to number every box below the line.

Voting in the House of Representatives is unchanged, you must number all the boxes on the green Lower House form, though you are still allocating your preferences to whomever you decide, in the order you choose. Preference deals will not impact your vote if you don’t rely on the how-to-vote cards.
That said, the how-to-vote cards are excellent “cheat sheet” explainers when it comes to the values of your local candidate. If they’re encouraging you to give second preference to neo-Nazis or various other hate groups *cough* One Nation *cough cough*, it’s probably best to number that candidate lower in your preferences.

If you feel the urge to add a box to your voting form, just so you can ‘Vote 1 Megatron’ or whatever else the kids are doing these days, DON’T.
The vote you waste could make all the difference.
Clive Palmer was elected to the House of Representatives in the 2013 election by a margin of just 53 votes. Scores of remorseful Brexit voters have come forward since electing to Leave the EU, saying that they never believed their vote would count, as they expected the Remain campaign to be successful.
Taking your right to vote seriously, voting for what you want for the future is paramount to maintaining the integrity of the nation. If you don’t believe this to be true, have a look at the #Bregret tweets. The regret felt by the Brexit voters and the economic meltdown that came from their actions is testament to the power of a voting public.

Your vote is one of the most important tools you have in a democratic state. Understanding how your vote works is matter of utmost importance. Knowing that you and you alone control your preference flow will help you to make an informed choice at the polling station.

For more information on Senate preferences, contact the AEC directly or visit their website here.

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