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Vote with your Spleen

By James Moylan

This is a brand new dawn for voting in the Senate. We are using a whole new voting system with such huge ‘savings provisions’ written into the act, we are now entering a brand new wild west of voting where every voter can be a rugged individual and yet still have their vote counted.

Ain’t democracy grand!

Don’t take my word for it – just consider what Anthony Green had to say about the new voting rules in a recent column:

‘To avoid increasing informal voting, a generous ‘savings’ provision has been included in the act. Any ballot paper with a valid first preference above the line will be ‘saved’ from being informal. Such a vote will count for the candidates of the chosen party and for no other candidate or party on the ballot paper. A ballot with a valid first preference will be valid for every further preference completed, so a 1,2 is also formal, a 1,2,3 is formal, as is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and so on.’

In other words, as long as you attempt to count to at a predetermined number somewhere between 1 and 50 you will likely do all right.

But still it is essential that you take some time out before getting to the ballot box and focus on the way in which you are going to fill in the Senate Ticket. For years the Party Officials were the ones who were in control: now it is all down to you. So you need to know what you are doing or the new system will diddle you out of having a say on all the candidates being elected.

The AEC says you have to number at least 6 boxes above the line and 12 below for it to be a valid vote. The trick in this sentence is the term ‘at least’. Yes 6 or less preferences will make for a valid ballot but you also need to know that just voting for 6 parties above the line does not also mean that your vote will necessarily be counted towards electing anyone.

If you just put a 1 in a single box above the line then your vote will only be counted towards electing the candidates in that list. If they already have enough votes then your ballot is thrown away. If you number only 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 parties the same applies. These candidates might not be in the running or already have enough votes to get elected aside from yours, in which case your vote is then excluded. So numbering more rather than less boxes is best if you really want to ensure your vote is counted.

Numbering every box above the line also gives you an opportunity of proportioning blame and indicating displeasure (which is the best thing about voting conscientiously). If you number every box above the line then you are provided the opportunity to put the particular parties you dislike the most right at the end of your ballot. It is always a difficult matter to weigh up which particular party is most disliked, however it is also a strangely pleasurable experience. I call it ‘Voting with my Spleen’.


  • So be prepared for your voting experience and know the new rules.
  • Make sure you have a good breakfast or lunch and dress warmly as it will likely be a long wait in line.
  • Number all the boxes on the House of Reps ballot.
  • Number at least 6 boxes above the line in the Senate (but preferably a lot more) and 12 or more below the line.
  • If you want to ensure your vote will be counted then number every box above or below the line.
  • Do not go box-happy and number boxes both above and below the line.
  • Don’t despair.
  • Vote with your Spleen

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  1. Matters Not

    as it will likely be a long wait in line

    Not if you vote early as I will tomorrow. This isn’t a bad link if you want to look at the candidates in each HoR electorate as well as in the Senate for each State and Territory.

    Re the Senate (QLD) my prediction is 4 ALP, 6 LNP, 1 Green and Pauline to grab the final vacancy, given the ‘chatter’ round the traps. I know that my preferences will exhaust before Pauline or any LNP candidate gets a benefit, to use but two examples.

    As an aside, James, at some point, my preference flow will assist you (early in the process). Best of luck.


  2. Kaye Lee

    I just received a recorded phone call with “important information about the upcoming federal election”. It instructed me to fill in all boxes on the HoR ballot paper and six boxes above the line on the Senate paper. Message ended, There was NO mention of voting below the line.

  3. JohnB

    “..Number at least 6 boxes above the line in the Senate (but preferably a lot more) and 12 or more below the line.”
    The above statement is poorly worded – one does not need to number boxes both above the line and below the line – if one does, only the votes below the line are counted; as stated later “..Do not go box-happy and number boxes both above and below the line.”.
    One should either vote 1-6 (or more if desired) above the line, or 1-12 (or more if desired) below the line.

    My vitriol will be expressed by voting below the line, but in reverse order to that recommended by the party faction bosses.
    The faction leaders thumb their nose at proper internal party democratic process and treat rank and file members expressed wishes with contempt – well it’s time for loyal party members to show party factions the same contempt.
    If enough party voters followed that example the factional leaders would lose much of their ‘party ticket position’ bargaining power over our elected parliamentarians.

  4. corvus boreus

    I will be another voter only filling in my senate paper below the line, not above.
    That way it will be absolutely clear who I endorse, and who I don’t.

  5. Garth

    @JohnB, you got in before me. I thought the rule still applied of either, above the line OR below the line. We just now have the opportunity to direct our own preferences ABL (with a minimum of 6 choices) or vote BTL with now only having to number at least 12 (rather than the previous where all boxes BTL needed to be numbered).
    My understanding was it’s still ABL or BTL, not both.

  6. corvus boreus

    So states the instructions on the ballot paper, and supporting AEC literature. Either/or.
    Anthony Green (an ‘election expert’) has previously stated that voters can fill out their forms both ATL and BTL, with priority given to below the line numbering, but I’ll only be taking the BTL option, just to be on the safe side.

  7. wam

    the senate count is not as the rep. So it is dangerous to be cute and give one to an independent who may not be precluded so your vote will not be counted. Check exclude and especially exhaust???
    The safest is to vote labor 1 – 6 then 7 – 12 for independents leaving out the minor parties.
    My guess is huge numbers of exhausted and not excluded votes will skew results.

  8. Matters Not

    Garth, as cb correctly points out you have the option of doing one or both with the BTL reigning supreme provided it’s technically correct. I do both. With the expectation that my BTL will be the ‘vote’ that is counted. (It’s an insurance policy of sorts).

  9. corvus boreus

    You can fill in more than 12 numbers BTL on the senate paper.
    All will count towards the candidates marked, and will not exhaust, nor exclude other candidates, until the state quota is filled..

  10. Arthur Plottier

    In the case of Franklin in Tasmania, there are only 5 candidates for the HoR
    Are there any options to not put the liberals at all or the only option it is to put them last?

  11. Garth

    CV & MN, I received a pamphlet from the AEC today that said for senate voting it’s either 6 ABL or 12 BTL. They used the words either/or. In any case, this year I’m much more politically engaged than I have been in the past and I’m voting BTL and numbering every box. I want the pleasure of putting these LNP bastards last.

  12. Matters Not

    Arthur for the House of Representative you MUST number every box (to keep it very simple). Otherwise there is the real danger you won’t cast a vote that is valid (will be counted). Yes put the liberals last if you like but each and every box should have a number (in your case 1 to 5). Play it safe.

    Yes Garth I know what the AEC would ‘like’ you to do but to do otherwise doesn’t make your vote invalid.

  13. paul walter

    I get a perverse kick out of filling in all slots on a Senate vote ballot paper, where I can extract some fondly imagined vengeance on various folk I identify as miscreants and relegating them to number eighty on the sheet, or whatever.

  14. corvus boreus

    Garth (and paul walter),
    I would definitely not recommend you doing that.
    By process of elimination, you would probably end up casting several votes for Lib-Nat candidates by default.
    Marking a square below the line is counted as a vote for that candidate, regardless of how high the number.

    Forgo indulging in ‘perverse pleasures’, they tend to backfire badly.

  15. Arthur Plottier

    Ok, thanks for the inputs, the Libs will be last.
    I love my options in the senate,

  16. Garth

    Thanks both CV and MN.

  17. kerri

    At the last election you used to be able to access a page on the AEC website that linked you to the candidates in your electorate and then allowed you to click through to their websites, policies and bios!
    After that you could manufacure and print your own personalised “HOW TO VOTE” card, take it into the polling place and vote according to the research you had done in the comfort of your own domicile!
    This year not so!
    An LNP plot? Am I cynical? I don’t think so!
    You can, however, view a list of the candidates in your given elcetorate!
    (I will provide the link below for my electorate Kooyong in Victoria)
    After this you will need to google the name of anyone you are unsure of and their party and you will easily find a link to their webpage where their details are readily available!
    After a bit of research you can easily print off the candidate list and number it accordingly, (in pencil in case you change your mind) then take it into your polling place on July 2nd (or before if you wish to early vote) and make your vote count.
    Consider this? Do “they” want your vote to count? Have “they” made it deliberately difficult for you to vote them out?? I think so!!
    Here is the link!

  18. The Written Word

    Could you please correct this point so there’s no confusion?“
    “..Number at least 6 boxes above the line in the Senate (but preferably a lot more) and 12 or more below the line.”

  19. wam

    thanks corvus my understanding was preclusion doesn’t occur until all quotas are filled so 1s in excess of the quota are processed and passed on at a reduced value. This suggests only at the 11/12 position will exclusion occur and minor party votes are vital because they are distributed at 100%
    So if the libs preference lab before the greens and vice versa either the libs or the labor get the extra seat.
    I fear the donkey vote with the libs 6 and the reverse donkey vote with the loonies 48.
    That should generate 6li 4la 2lo????

  20. corvus boreus

    wam (formerly elines),
    It would seem by your reply that you misunderstand much of how the new senate voting system operates.
    I was referring to BTL voting, where no preferences get passed on at all.

  21. Chris

    For the first time in this election, the voting rules are not what we’ve been used to. For the senate, we can vote below the line, endorse 12 or more ‘progressives’, and then stop. We can decline our endorsement for those whose parties (or individual moral compass, in the case of independents) would perpetuate the inhumane persecution of fellow humans in ‘offshore detention’.

    Incidental contributions to a late-in-the-count quota for a despicable option are no longer inevitable.

    Vote with your conscience!

  22. Matters Not

    so 1s in excess of the quota are processed and passed on at a reduced value.

    Not at all. A vote for a candidate who has already reached a quota will be passed on (according to your preference) at exactly the same value as a vote that was included in the quota. There is no reduction in its value. Such a vote will have the same ‘counting’ value. No reduction. No discount.

  23. Matters Not

    cb re your comment:

    referring to BTL voting, where no preferences get passed on at all.

    Wrong! ‘Preferences’ do get allocated after a ‘quota’ is reached.

    An example. Imagine if a quota is 7% (to keep it simple) and the number 1 candidate on the ALP ticket gets 30% of the total of first preferences. Thus there’s 23% of votes that would be wasted if no preferences were transferred. The truth is that 7% of those preferences will be used up (according to your choice) by the next candidate. Imagine it’s the Number 2 ALP candidate. That number 2 candidate will also get a quota of 7% leaving and unused 16% which will then be allocated to the next candidate of your choice. Let’s imagine it’s the number 3 candidate for the ALP who will use 7% of that 16% to also get a quota. That leaves 9% which will ensure the election of a fourth ALP candidate.

    What is left is this hypothetical vote is 2%. How those figures are allocated becomes crucial. It may be enough for that (preferred) candidate to avoid early elimination or it may mean that candidate is eliminated and those ‘residual’ votes will again be reallocated, provided of course a ‘preference’ for another ‘still alive’ candidate.

    Simple really.

  24. paul walter

    Corvus, should I thank you for dispelling my illusions? Just have to shut down Xbox for a few minutes and figure out if I can do damage with the new system.

  25. corvus boreus

    Matters Not,
    As I understand that, even voting below-the-line, there is still allowance for preference flow to be allocated, but they must be confined within the party/bloc column of the candidate you voted for?
    If so, that is useful to know.
    Ps, if you have a quick link to the details of this provision, could you please post it?

  26. Kaye Lee


    Try this


    “Any surplus votes from elected candidates (votes in excess of the quota they need), are transferred to the candidates who were the second choice of voters on those ballot papers. Because it is not possible to determine which votes actually elected the candidate and which votes are surplus, all the elected candidate’s ballot papers are transferred at a reduced rate.”

  27. Kaye Lee

    Example of transferring the surplus
    Candidate A gains 1 000 000 votes. If the required quota was 600 000 the surplus would be 400 000.

    The transfer value for candidate A’s votes would be:

    400 000 / 1 000 000 = 0.4 (Surplus / Number of votes for candidate = Transfer value)

    Candidate A’s ballot papers (1 000 000) are then re-examined in order to determine the number of votes for second choice candidates.

    If candidate A’s ballot papers gave 900 000 second preferences to candidate B, then candidate B would receive 360 000 votes (900 000 multiplied by the transfer value of 0.4). These votes would be added to the votes candidate B received in the first count.

    If, on receipt of candidate A’s surplus votes, candidate B has then reached the quota, they are elected. If candidate B has any surplus votes, a transfer value would be calculated and votes would be transferred in the same way.

  28. Matters Not

    Apologies cb. I was trying to keep it simple. And in so doing I probably misled about the ‘maths’ involved.

    But do understand that ‘preferences’ are very important.

  29. Garth

    This is worrying me. If the intelligent, engaged people that participate on AIMN are having difficulties discerning the new Senate voting system (i’m not suggesting all are, but this discussion seems to show some confusion, myself included), how are we to have confidence that the general electorate know what the hell they are doing? Is this a cunning plan for mass exhausted votes?

  30. Kaye Lee

    Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that you are only voting for one person in the Senate (or none if your vote gets exhausted ie none of the people you numbered get enough votes to make the cut).

    You are not choosing the twelve Senators that you would prefer. You only have one vote and it will be allocated to one candidate.

  31. corvus boreus

    Thanks Kaye Lee.
    That reads a little unclearly on differentiation between ATL and BTL preference flows.
    As best I could tell, if the number 1 candidate on a ballot paper has reached their quota, the vote is passed on to the voter’s next numbered candidate who hasn’t yet obtained their quota (rather than being redistributed within no 1’s party/bloc), but at the lowered value rate (40%).

  32. cornlegend

    People who are on the streets in Brisbane and Melbourne handing out HTVS are astounded at the number who say the won’t vote in the Senate , just HOR .They have given up tryingto encourage people for below the line and at best hope to encourage 6 above . Even that isn’t gaining much interest.
    Locals in my area are telling me the same, people find it to confusing, not interested so will just vote HOR and deposit a blank Senate vote.
    New tactics as of tomorrow I guess

  33. PK1765

    I’m not voting for the LNP at all they will be LEFT OFF my Senate vote, the white ballot… unfortunately I will have to vote for them on the green ballot sheet the House of Representatives, but there they will be LAST!!

    oh and I work in aged care and IF those oldies can work out the NEW senate voting (with some glee I might add, as they love having the option to choose once again, they used to vote 1 above the line, as voting below the line was just to much having to number all those square) then younger more able brains should NOT have a problem…

  34. cornlegend

    After reading comments and hearing from people you have a right to be worried

  35. totaram

    It follows from Kaye Lee’s explanation that your vote cannot be transferred to a person whose box you did not number below the line. i.e. it will exhaust rather than go to him/her. It makes sense to number boxes below the line for any candidates you consider worthwhile beyond the minimum 12. However, by leaving the boxes of “undesirables” blank you ensure your vote will never go there, even if it means it is never counted in someone’s favour. I might call that “the scorched earth approach” – if my vote can’t go to persons I favour let it not count at all. That is one way to vote with your spleen and I recommend it wholeheartedly for people like Family First, Rise up Australia, Liberals and Nationals and similar. It also saves on filling in boxes, and reduces the chances of making a mistake.

    I stand to be corrected if that explanation is wrong.

  36. Random

    Hypothetical spanner in the works – how likely is this scenario: LNP get thoroughly trounced and then turn around and blame the loss on all the confusion about the new voting system, and demand something along the lines of a do-over?

    I know it’s highly unlikely, but is it possible?

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