So like any casual observer, I’m aware that there have been some pretty big changes to the way the Senate voting will work in the upcoming Federal Election.   With all the minor parties and cross benchers causing havoc, the Government and Opposition set about trying to make things a bit more interesting with a few less back-room deals.

The reason I write this is that not everyone is glued to Sky News, nor are they reading every bit of published political tripe.  So, when watching Paul Murray Live last night on Sky I was puzzled to hear that despite the advertising from the Australian Electoral Commission saying we had to number at least six boxes above the line in the senate, we can in fact just number one.

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Not that I don’t trust Paulie (he’s a mate, and knows his stuff) – but I wanted to dig into this myself.

So I called the AEC hotline this morning.  The kind chap frankly knew less than I did.  He was reading from the website.  And he repeated that six was required, then also confirmed that a single one was not an informal vote, but the page he was reading from was right in front of me too – he directed me there. This page is dated 11 September 2015.

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I asked him, due to his apparent confusion, to check with a supervisor – he came back much clearer in his stance:

“Basically, our website is out of date.  You have to vote exactly six above, or twelve below.  You have to put six preferences above the line”

I asked “So a 1 above the line is an informal vote”.  He replied “Yep”.

This was 100% the opposite of what Paul Murray had claimed the night before.  So I went to read the actual legislation.  This ain’t easy let me tell you.  The amendment that was passed doesn’t have a full updated Act, it’s just things that are changing.

But the proof was quickly in the pudding:

New paragraph 269(1)(b) will operate with the new subsection 239(2), which provides for voters to number at least six squares above the line. The Senate group ticket voting system has been in place since 1984, requiring that voters number only one square above the line. Since then, a very large majority of voters have followed the practice of numbering only one square above the line. It is important that voters who continue to number only one square above the line, even though contrary to the new subsection 239(2), should not have their votes treated as informal: they have expressed a clear choice albeit one that might not give their vote a long life in preference distribution.  Paragraph 269(1)(b) is designed to give effect to that choice.

And to go one step further still:

A new subsection 269(1A) provides that a voter who marks only a single tick or cross in a square above the line is taken as having written the number one in the square. It further provides for the saving of votes with repeated or missing numbers, in accordance with the following examples.

That’s right, above the line in this Senate election on July 2 – you can put a single number 1, or a single tick, or a single cross, next to the party you’re voting for.

If you put two 1’s in separate boxes, no go.  If you number 1 through 6, preferences are distributed that way.

Given the whole purpose of the amendment was to get rid of the back room deals which we the voters never had any idea about (called  Group Voting Tickets (GVTs))  then this is a big win for democracy. You vote 1 and your vote counts.  If a preference needs to be distributed you get the choice to do that – but if you only mark 1 your vote will be thrown away after the first round – your choice – not the parties – and that’s a good thing

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As for the AEC voting ads – well, they’re just plain wrong, but I’m all for encouraging preferences so we’ll let that slide.  Remember, it’s your vote, so ignore those bits of paper people are handing out; you choose where your vote goes.

Right now, the AEC need to get their heads, and website, around the new amendments to the legislation – they’re misleading callers.