26 March 2007

What's a vote worth?

Saturday was election day here in Australia. There are a few interesting things about elections in Australia that are worth mentioning here.

First is compulsory voting. Australia is one of only a handful of countries that has compulsory voting, and even fewer actually enforce it. If you don't vote in Australia, it'll likely cost you twenty dollars. A minor sum to be sure, but I'd rather vote and catch a movie than hand over twenty bones for nothing. Ninety-five percent of voting-eligible Australians agree.

Australia also employs a system of preferential voting. There are two main parties, Labor and Liberal, but there are several other smaller parties that are very active and do garner respectable attention. Because of this, voters are required to number the candidates according to their preference. A winner is declared if they have over 50% of the votes. If no one is in the majority, the last candidate's votes are redistributed to their second selection. This process continues until someone has won a majority of the votes. An example of this can be seen here, including a real case where a candidate eventually won an election in which they held only 27% of the popular vote, compared to 41% by the leader, in the first count. Also, voting order is randomised—once upon a time, a lot of candidates with last names beginning with A and B were elected.

Because this can be a complex process, political parties here distribute 'how to vote' cards at poll sites, which voters take with them into the voting booth. These cards instruct a voter how to fill out their ballot to provide the greatest benefit to their party. How to vote cards also played a role in the case mentioned above—if more Independent voters had followed their party's card, redistribution would have been different and the Independent candidate, originally in third place, would have won.

So if you are apathetic but don't want a fine, what do you do? Answer: donkey vote—simply number your ballot 1 to x and drop it in the box. Donkey votes account for roughly 2% of all votes in any given election. Subtracting those, about 93% of eligible Australians make an honest attempt to vote.


Anonymous said...

I think that I like the idea of Preferential voting. It should save some money and time on run-offs, as well as having to listen to all those political ads all over again!

Anonymous said...

...and i forgot - Don't go UCLA!!!!


patrick said...

You've talked before of Australia's wide diversity. Do all the foreigners who live in Austrailia get to vote? What are the qualifications to being a voter?

Chris said...

Got to be a citizen to vote, so I didn't. Citizenship requirements include: residency for at least two of the past five years, including at least twelve months in the last two years; basic English language skills; good character; and an intent to remain in Australia or maintain a 'close and continuing association' with the country.