Above-the-line voting? Below-the-line voting? Group voting tickets? Preference-whispering? Abbey Saxon breaks it down.
It’s state election time in Victoria (woohoo), and it’s time to exercise your democratic rights!
As a state with two houses, voters preferentially elect a representative for their district in the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, and five representatives for their region in the upper house, the Legislative Council.
Check out our state election explainer here for more info on voting in general!
Today, I want to unpack voting for the Legislative Council, and a little thing called ‘Group Ticket Voting’. This type of ballot only exists in the Victorian upper house election, and it can have a big impact on where your vote goes and who is elected to represent your region!
Similar to voting in the Federal Senate, the ballot is split ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’. If you vote below the line, you can preference individual candidates from at least 1 to 5 for a valid vote. However, if you vote above the line, only your first preference is taken into account. This is different to the Federal election, where you can preference a minimum of six boxes above the line.
But wait, I hear you ask, does that mean my preferences won’t be taken into account if I vote above the line? You’re absolutely right!
It’s a bit like taking a “How to Vote” card from your first preference, or primary vote, and then having to fill out your ballot in exactly the same way.
The group voting ticket was first introduced in Australia in the 1980s in the Federal Senate, and several state elections as a way of maximising valid votes by simplifying the process. However, it was abolished federally in 2016, and has since been removed in every state except Victoria. But what’s wrong with simplifying the voting process? Surely more valid votes = more democracy?
Group voting tickets are actually pretty controversial, hence their removal everywhere else in Australia. Although you can find a party’s group ticket online and at polling stations, they’re quite complex to unpack, so voters typically don’t know where their preferences are going.
What’s more, the group ticket has led to a proliferation of minor parties, who can take advantage of group tickets by making preference deals. Small parties can make alliances to give each other higher preferences in their group tickets, giving parties with a very low primary vote the potential to win seats from preference flows.
The mysteriously named “preference whisperer”, Glenn Druery, brought infamy to the group ticket system by creating the federal ‘Minor Party Alliance’, and developing preference harvesting processes which catapulted several candidates with tiny primary votes into the Senate in 2013.
In 2021, the Western Australian upper house saw a candidate from the ‘Daylight Savings Party’ elected on 0.2% of the primary vote, or just 98 votes! Several minor parties and independents placed them second on their group tickets after deals were made, even though a majority of Western Australians are against Daylight Savings.
Glenn Druery and his advocates support group ticket voting because they say it increases the diversity of parties who can enter the upper house, but critics maintain that it is not an accurate representation of voter intention. Minor parties often preference each other highly regardless of ideological alignment or political aims, whereas voters tend to preference more major parties, or follow an ideological pattern.
In the 2022 Victorian election, the ‘Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers’ and ‘Angry Victorians’, minor parties in the Northern Metropolitan region, placed Liberal, Labor, and the Greens among their last preferences, with other minor parties capturing most of their preference flows.
Interestingly, the Liberal Party’s ticket preferences the United Australia Party candidates second, and One Nation Party candidates sixth. Would all Liberal party voters agree to this preference flow?
The Victorian Greens Party in Victoria has repeatedly called for the removal of group ticket voting, which has hurt them in the past due to their limited involvement in preference deals. In 2018, they collected nearly 10% of the vote but received only one seat in the upper house. However, no plans for reform in the future have been flagged.
So what can you do to make sure your preferences are accurately reflected?
The easiest way to make sure your vote ends up where you intend is to vote below the line! You only need to preference at least five candidates in whichever combination you choose.
If you want to vote above the line and avoid preferencing multiple individual candidates, you can find out where your preferences will go by looking at the publicly available group ticket for each party. The Victorian Electoral Commission has published every party’s group ticket for each district on their website, which you can check out here: https://www.vec.vic.gov.au/candidates-and-parties/become-a-state-election-candidate/groups-and-voting-tickets.
Election whiz Antony Green has also put together a more readable version in list format, which you can find here: https://antonygreen.com.au/group-voting-tickets-published-for-the-victorian-legislative-council-election/.
Happy voting, and beware those preference whispers!
Image Source: "Polling Day Imagery, Melbourne." by Australian Electoral Commission is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0