With a federal election looming here in Australia there is one thing you’re guaranteed to hear more and more about and that is the words “preference deal”.  All the big and little parties get together and decide who will get their preferences – problem is – they are actually your preferences and EFTM is here to help you understand why.

Listen to the radio or watch the TV news and you’d be forgiven for thinking that once a particular party has done a preference deal with another party or individual on the ballot sheet then you can assume any votes required to get one or the other over the line are set in stone.  Not so.  After all, it’s you who does the voting, not the party goons.

So what are they on about?

Preference Deals

The deals that are being done by the candidates relate directly to the “how to vote” cards and pamphlets that are handed out at every polling booth.  Over the years we the voter have been trained to pick a candidate, then look for their pamphlet or “how to vote” card at the gate being forced upon us by one of the enthusiastic volunteers for the candidate we may well choose.

On that pamphlet you will find an image of the ballot paper you’re about to see when you walk into the polling booth.  They will have placed on that image the 1,2,3,4 etc in each box next to the respective candidates.  These are the preferences according to how the candidate in question would like you to vote.  So if Joe Bloggs has done a deal to give his “first preferences” to Jane Smith, and his second preference to Graham Irvine, they will show a 1 in the box next to Jo, a 2 next to Jane and a 3 next to Graham.  If Joe has an arch rival in the electorate (read: the “other party”) he will put them stone motherless last.

This is an indication of how they would like you to vote.

The idea is that if you support the candidate, you will support their choice of preferences against the other candidates.  The funny thing is, no candidate can tell you how to vote.  You can put Labor first and the Liberal candidate second or vice versa if you choose – it’s unlikely you’ll find too many  “how to vote” cards with that preferential order of voting.

Your Vote

So it’s important to cast your own vote.  Vote for who you want.  Render the “preference deals” useless if you so desire.  However many people are rusted onto one party or another so can and will be guided by that party’s candidates suggestion on how to vote.

The key is, you should take is as just that – a suggestion.  You can vote however you choose.  If you hear in the media that a certain party has done a preference that does not mean your vote will go the way they have agreed – that only happens if you follow their “how to vote” pamphlet.

How it’s counted

Preferential voting is the system that exists in federal elections – the Australian Electoral Commission has an excellent website detailing how it all works if you want to take a look.

The key part of this is understanding that it’s the numbers you as the voter puts onto that sheet of paper which matters in the counting – nothing at all to do with any deals the party politicians made before you walked into that cardboard box to vote.

Every single vote is counted.  Every single sheet is placed against the candidate who got the Number 1 next to their name.  If no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of the ballot papers with a 1 against their name are re-allocated.  Wherever a candidate got the number 2 vote they get that ballot paper and therefore that vote.  Again if there is no majority they look for the lowest number of votes and take the ballot papers and get the next level of preferences and so on until there is a majority.

Here’s a handy chart from the AEC to demonstrate it.



Make it your vote

So there you have it.  You own your vote, not the candidates.  If you don’t like a “preference deal” that’s been done – then ignore it, ignore that “how to vote” pamphlet and vote how you want.