I was in Stanmore this morning handing out flyers for The Greens and yet again I had to explain our preferential voting system to a number of people. These aren't stupid, uneducated people, just people who have never learnt how voting in Australia works.
Australia's lower house runs the voting system knows as instant
runoff, or more commonly in Australia known as preferential. It
works like this:
- The voter puts a number in every box, against every candidate, showing their preference from 1 (candidate the voter would most like) until all the boxes are filled in.
- When voting, the first preference (the ones) are sorted out for each candidate and counted.
- If any candidate has a clear majority (>50%) they are declared the winner, otherwise:
- The candidate with the least votes is removed from the running, and his second preferences (2) are sorted out and added to the other candidates' piles.
- This continues through all the preferences until there is a clear winner.
Now if you hear the nonsense that "a vote for a minor party is a wasted vote", what you're hearing about is other voting systems. In much of Europe and the US, they use a single box vote -- you tick one box and that's it. In that case, unless you vote for one of the top two candidates, your vote is indeed wasted. However in Australia, your vote continues until it ends up on one of the piles of the top two candidates.
So let's say you live in an ordinary electorate, you can register your true preference for the candidates of minor parties, but still ensure that your preference between Labor and Coalition candidates is expressed. So you can still vote for The Greens while still contributing to getting rid of Howard. The candidate you put as your first preference, assuming they get 4 percent of first preferences, will receive funding from the Electoral Commission, so it's worth giving the first vote to the party you really want.
Update: Raz writes in to point out that the rounds of preference distribution only continue until a candidate gets an absolute majority. That's correct, and I've amended my description.
Raz also argues that the reason I gave to give your "1" vote is a pretty bad reason. He suggests it puts voters' preferences on the table and therefore:
- allows major parties (those who have a shot of ending up in government) to adjust their policies to suit a wider range of Australians
- allows momentum to build behind a new party when there's a sea-change in voter sentiment.