We're still a few weeks from the July 2 election day, but pre-polling has already commenced and you may have received your ballot papers in the mail. Postal voters will be receiving their papers to vote in the Senate (for their state) and the House of Representatives (in their local electorate), and you can send them in at any point, so it's important to know how to fill them in.
How to vote
Previously, you only had to number one box "above the line" (to vote for a specific party) or number all the boxes "below the line" (to vote for specific politicians within specific parties). That has changed. Now, you can either:
- vote above the line by "numbering at least 6 of the boxes in the order of your choice"
- vote below the line by "numbering at least 12 of the boxes in the order of your choice"
You can no longer just put a "1" in the box next to the Liberals, or Labor, or the Greens, or the Sex Party, or the Pirate Party, or the Secular Party, or any of the other parties you may never have heard of -- to vote above the line, you need to number at least six boxes.
On the flipside, if you want to vote for just a few specific Senators, rather than their entire party, you no longer have to number more than 100 boxes -- to vote below the line, you can number just 12.
Confused? There are instructions on the ballot itself, and if you're voting in person at a polling place, workers there will be able to help you.
The ballot paper
As always, the Senate ballot paper will be MASSIVE. In NSW, it is more than five A4 pages wide -- that's almost a metre -- with 150 candidates listed.
Really, it's huge. Here's the NSW Senate paper.
Mistakes to avoid
Like we said above, things have changed so there are mistakes you need to avoid in terms of numbering the right amount of boxes, but there are also basic mistakes that hundreds of thousands of people make every election. For instance, you need to NUMBER the boxes -- putting a tick, or a cross, or any other mark instead of a number, means your vote probably won't count.
On the House of Representatives paper (the small one), you need to put a number beside every candidate. If there's eight people running in your seat, you need to number them all in preference from one to eight. For more info, click here.
A spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission told The Huffington Post Australia that at the 2013 election, 811,000 votes were found to be invalid as voters did not follow instructions on the ballot paper, either by putting ticks or crosses in the boxes, by not numbering every square, by making a mistake in their numbering (putting the same number twice, or missing a number), or it was left unmarked. That came out to 5.9 percent of all votes cast.
"In every instance, the AEC tries to go with the voter's intention, but it is quite simple. You need to consecutively number the boxes. Make your intention clear," the spokesperson said.
"Anybody who makes an error, you can ask a polling official for a new ballot paper. Don't cross it out, you should get a fresh new one, start again."
The AEC even has a way you can practice voting before you actually put pen to paper.Try it out here.
Want to vote early? Can't make it on election day?
As we said, pre-polling is open. Most Australians simply line up at their local polling station on election day, cast their vote, maybe have a sausage sizzle; but, as outlined by the Australian Electoral Commission, you may be eligible to send your vote in early or post it in on election day itself if you:
- are outside the electoral division where you are enrolled to vote
- are more than 8km from a polling place
- are travelling
- are unable to leave your workplace to vote
- are seriously ill, infirm or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is)
- are a patient in hospital and can't vote at the hospital
- have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
- are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained
- are a silent elector
- have a reasonable fear for your safety.
Get out and get amongst it. Your vote counts, this election will likely be quite close and if 811,000 people make informal votes again, that could swing things. As we said, you can practice voting on the AEC's website; but on election day, follow the instructions, check your ballot paper carefully before you submit it, and if you've made a mistake or are confused, ask someone for help. Good luck!