How to Vote: Understanding your Ballot

There are two ballot papers for federal and state elections, one for the lower house and one for the upper house. They both work slightly differently.

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES/THE LOWER HOUSE

This ballot is going to be much smaller than the other ballot you are given, and green.

(ID: Screenshot of a sample image of a lower house ballot paper. It is green, and shows 8 candidates. The header reads “House of Representatives Ballot Paper”, and has a spot for a polling official to initial. Under the header, it reads: “State”, then “Electoral Division of Division Name”. There is a heavy line, under which is the text: “Number the boxes from 1 to 8 in order of your choice”. Under this are a vertical line of 8 boxes, on the right of which are “SURNAME, Given Names” and then in smaller text “INDEPENDENT” or “PARTY”, and to the left of which are spaces for party logos. The boxes are numbered in random order, with every number from 1 through 8. There is another heavy line at the bottom of the ballot paper, under which is the text: “Remember… number every box to make your vote count”. This is partially obscured by a banner across the right corner of the paper which reads “SAMPLE”.)

When you get the ballot paper, verify that you have been given the correct ballot paper for your electorate - so make sure that it has the correct state and the correct electorate on it.

This paper is the easier one! You have to fill in every box, putting 1 next to the candidate you would most like to win, and continuing chronologically in this manner until the candidate you like the least has the highest number next to their name. For example, on the sample ballot shown, 1 is this person’s first preference, and 8 is this person’s last preference.

The important thing to remember for this paper is that every box must be numbered, and the numbers must be understandable, for your vote to be counted. What this means is that you couldn’t fill in an 8-candidate ballot by just putting a one next to your favoured candidate and leaving the rest blank, or skipping any numbers from 1 to 8, or putting in random numbers, and have your vote be counted.

You can practice voting for the house of representatives here.

If you make a mistake, don’t panic! Just erase it. If the mistake is visible and it could cause confusion about what your intentions are, ask for a new ballot paper.

On the lower house ballot, for any candidates listed who have since resigned from their parties or been disendorsed, you must still put a number in the box next to their name. These candidates can still be elected - they just won’t serve as members of those parties.

THE SENATE/THE UPPER HOUSE
This ballot paper is going to be white, and large. The sample ballot paper shows 8 sections - the ballot paper for this election will have 32 sections.

ID: Sample of a senate ballot paper. It’s wide, and has a white background. The page is divided horizontally by a heavy black line under the top third of the page, and vertically by thin grey vertical lines into 8 sections which are labeled at the top of the page with a letter (A, B, C, and so on, but the last section is unlabeled). The page header reads “Senate Ballot Paper”, then “ State  - Election of 6 Senators”. Directly across from this on the other end of the page is a spot for a polling official to initial. There are boxes both above and below the heavy line. The boxes above the line have only “PARTY” underneath the boxes, and pretend logos above them. Below the line, the sections are labeled by “PARTY”, with the exception of the last two sections - one is unlabelled, and the other is labelled “UNGROUPED”. Below the line, the boxes have “SURNAME, Given Names” to the right of them, and then underneath the name of the candidate in smaller text is “PARTY” or INDEPENDENT”. On the left of the page are bolded instructions. They read: “You may vote in one of two ways. Either: Above the line, by numbering at least  6  of these boxes in the order of your choice (with number 1 as your first choice). Or: Below the line, by numbering at least  12  of these boxes in the order of your choice (with number 1 as your first choice).” There’s a banner across the right corner of the paper which reads “SAMPLE”.

On the upper house ballot, any candidates listed who have since resigned from their parties or been disendorsed can still be elected, but you do not have to vote for anyone you do not wish to.

There are two ways to use this particular ballot paper. One of them gives you less freedom, and one of them gives you more freedom.

ABOVE THE LINE

The simpler way to vote is to vote above the line, because you have half as many boxes to fill out. You have to fill out at least 6 boxes with every number between 1 and 6 inclusive in order of your top 6 preferences, with 1 being your first preference. You can number more, you just absolutely cannot number fewer.

This is less precise because you’re selecting everyone in the party as listed on the ballot, in that order - which you may not necessarily agree with! So voting above the line gives you a little less freedom to express your preferences, but it is quicker and easier to do.

Do not put a number next to any of the parties that you least want to be elected.

A screenshot of a sample of a senate ballot paper. It’s wide, and has a white background. The page is divided horizontally by a heavy black line under the top third of the page, and vertically by thin grey vertical lines into 8 sections which are labeled at the top of the page with a letter (A, B, C, and so on, but the last section is unlabeled). The page header reads “Senate Ballot Paper”, then “ State  - Election of 6 Senators”. Directly across from this on the other end of the page is a spot for a polling official to initial. There are boxes both above and below the heavy line. The boxes above the line have only “PARTY” underneath the boxes, and pretend logos above them. Of the 8 sections, only the ones labelled with letters have boxes in them - the last section is blank. The seven boxes have been randomly numbered 1 to 6, with one box left blank. There’s a banner across the right corner of the paper which reads “SAMPLE”.

You can practice voting for the senate here.

BELOW THE LINE
Voting below the line is good because it’s more precise. Your preferences aren’t ordered by the party, so if you think one particular candidate in one party you otherwise like is dodge you can just not vote for them, or put them last in that group, or do whatever you like because you have the power!

To vote below the line, you must number a minimum of 12 boxes with every number between 1 and 12 inclusive in order of your top 12 preferences, with 1 being your first preference. You can number more, you just absolutely cannot number fewer.

Screenshot of a practice vote for the senate. The parties are, in order from group A, “MIST PARTY”, “RAIN PARTY”, “FOG/SUN PARTY”, “HUMID PARTY”, “BREEZE PARTY”, “CLOUD PARTY”, blank, and then “UNGROUPED”. The name of the Fog/Sun Party has been enclosed in pink, and the name of the Humid Party has been enclosed in blue. There is a big red cross in the bottom left corner of the image. The practice vote has been filled out, with preference going first to the Mist Party, then the Rain Party (though not in the order the party listed them), then the Breeze Party, then to two of the three candidates of the Cloud Party, one of the candidates in the blank section, and lastly the independent candidate in the UNGROUPED section

The only other thing to keep in mind when voting for the senate is how to avoid the most common pitfall: not accidentally contributing to the win of a party you hate.

HOW TO AVOID CONTRIBUTING TO THE WIN OF A PARTY YOU HATE
When you vote, you’ve already had to make a decision about the two major parties. Which one do you hate more/which one do you trust less. To ensure that you don’t accidentally effectively vote for that party, you will have to include the one you hate the least in your preferences somewhere.

This is because preferential voting is a numbers game. The way it works is that you vote in order of your preference, with no consideration for their likelihood of winning. Then when the votes are added up, if your first preference was for, like, ‘Queers 4 Cupcakes’, and they didn’t get enough votes overall to win anything, your vote is moved to your second preference. And so on until they find a candidate that wins something. If you don’t include preferences for one of the two major parties (and none of your preferences win) once they reach the end of your preference list that’s it, you haven’t given them anything else to count from you.

Screenshot of a practice vote for the senate. The parties are, in order from group A, “MIST PARTY”, “RAIN PARTY”, “FOG/SUN PARTY”, “HUMID PARTY”, “BREEZE PARTY”, “CLOUD PARTY”, blank, and then “UNGROUPED”. The name of the Fog/Sun Party has been enclosed in pink, and the name of the Humid Party has been enclosed in blue. There is a big red cross in the bottom left corner of the image. The practice vote has been filled out, with preference going first to the Mist Party, then the Rain Party (though not in the order the party listed them), then the Breeze Party, then to two of the three candidates of the Cloud Party, one of the candidates in the blank section, and lastly the independent candidate in the UNGROUPED section.

I’ve picked two of these parties - the Fog/Sun Party and the Humid Party - to be the major parties. I picked them because I don’t like humidity or the sun, and this is weather based. If the election comes down to the two major parties the above vote will run out of preferences before then, and won’t have a say in which party wins. Their vote still counts, and contributes towards getting more candidates from their preferred parties in the government.

Compare this to the following example.

Screenshot of a practice vote for the senate. The parties are, in order from group A, “MIST PARTY”, “RAIN PARTY”, “FOG/SUN PARTY”, “HUMID PARTY”, “BREEZE PARTY”, “CLOUD PARTY”, blank, and then “UNGROUPED”. The name of the Fog/Sun Party has been enclosed in pink, and the name of the Humid Party has been enclosed in blue. There is a big green tick in the bottom left corner of the image. The practice vote has been filled out, with preference going first to the Mist Party, then the Rain Party (though not in the order the party listed them), then the Breeze Party, then to two of the three candidates of the Cloud Party, one of the candidates in the blank section, the independent candidate in the UNGROUPED section, and then lastly the Fog Party candidate and then the Sun Party candidate (this is a coalition party) as votes 13 and 14. The votes for the Fog/Sun Party are circled in green

The original preferencing hasn’t changed - there’s just a safety mechanism built in now. Because this ballot now has a preference in it for the Fog/Sun Party at the very end, if none of the nicer weather conditions win, this is still a vote against the Humid Party.

Again, you can practice voting for the senate here.

VOTING INFORMATION IN EASY ENGLISH AND LANGUAGES OTHER THAN ENGLISH

For voting information in other languages, go here!

Written information is available in Arabic, Assyrian, Bosnian, Burmese, “Chinese”, Croatian, Dari, Dinka, Farsi, Filipino, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Macedonian, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Telephone interpreter services are available in Arabic, Cantonese, Croatian, Greek, Italian, Khmer, Korean, Macedonian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese. If you need an interpreter for another language, call the number at the end of the list.

There’s also an Auslan guide to enrolling and voting here.

There are also three easy English guides. One on how to enrol (PDF and Word), one on how to vote at a polling place (PDF and Word), and one on how to vote by post (PDF and Word).


This concludes our three part ‘how to vote’ series. Thanks for reading. If you’re like, ‘but Ygender, I’m really glad you told me all this, but I am extremely overwhelmed that I will be choosing between (approximately) between 4 and 13 candidates for the lower house and 81 candidates for the upper house, what do I do?’ we again have you covered. Here’s our guide to all of the parties and independent candidates and what they’ve said about queer rights: https://www.ygender.org.au/blog/2019/5/15/heres-what-every-party-in-the-federal-election-has-to-say-about-queer-rights