Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the Senate?


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Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

Editor’s note: This is an updated version on an article that was published in 2016 when the new Senate voting rules were first introduced.


The voting system for the Australian Senate combines both preferential voting and proportional representation counting.

This system produces an upper house comprised of eight electorates (six states and two territories), each represented by multiple senators. As a group, these senators much more fairly represent the diversity of opinions in their electorates than the system in the lower house, where each of 151 electorates is represented by only a single member.

The election for the Senate on May 18 will be the world’s largest-ever election using this system, known technically as “proportional representation using the single transferable vote”. We will elect six senators in each of the states, and two senators in each territory.




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The key features of Senate voting

  • you have one vote

  • you can express preferences for candidates in the order you prefer them, writing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on

  • if the candidate for whom you vote “1” is elected with more first preference votes than the quota needed for election, the surplus votes received are transferred to the next chosen candidate at a value that ensures as much as possible of your voting power of one vote counts towards electing a senator

  • a quota is the number of votes a candidate requires to be elected. In each of the states, in this half Senate election, the quota is 1/7 of all the formal votes plus 1

  • if the candidate for whom you vote “1” fails to be elected, the full value of your vote passes to the candidate to whom you gave your “2”. And if that candidate fails to be elected, to your “3” and so on

  • the number of candidates elected for each party is, as closely as possible, directly proportional to the support that party’s candidates receive after preferences

  • a big majority of voters will be represented by either a senator they voted “1” for, or a senator they gave an early preference to.




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So, what do Australians need to know when they go to vote to choose their senators in this year’s federal election?

The ballot paper requires you to choose from one of two ways of marking it. Voting above-the-line means that you let your vote support parties’ candidates in the order on the ballot paper, whereas voting below-the-line means that you decide the order in which you support candidates.

The order is important because the chance of a candidate being elected decreases the later his or her name appears in that order of priority.

Voting above-the-line

The instructions on the ballot papers will tell you that a valid above-the-line ballot will show at least six party boxes, numbered 1 to 6, for at least six party groupings. However, your vote will have potentially more effect if you number more boxes.

In the example below, if you put a “1” in the Liberal box, the first Liberal to gain from your vote will be Malcolm Turnbull, then secondly Alexander Downer, then Tony Abbott, and so on. If you are a Liberal voter that wants to put Tony Abbott first, you can do this, but you have to vote below-the-line (read on for how to do that).

The example we show here is a formal (valid) vote that places the major parties last. This voter supported first the “Climate Sceptics”, but then ranked other minor parties and then the larger parties in the order: Liberal, Labor, Green.

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It could happen that when this voter’s preferences are finally transferred, all the candidates for the first six parties chosen had been elected or excluded. Their vote is then used to help decide the final contest, between Labor and the Greens – in this case favouring Labor. But if the voter had not numbered all the boxes, their vote would have become exhausted: in other words, not further counted towards the election of a candidate.

An above-the-line “vote savings provision” means that even if you mark only one box, your ballot will still be counted. But (for example) if you had marked “1” in the square for Climate Sceptics – and only that square – and the Climate Sceptics candidates had failed to get enough votes to remain in the count, your ballot would have become exhausted, meaning your vote did not count towards electing a senator.

That is why it is best to number as many squares as possible.

Voting below-the-line

Below-the-line voters rank individual candidates in the order such voters prefer. You will be instructed to number at least 12 boxes below-the-line.

Suppose you are a Liberal voter, but you don’t like the order of the Liberal candidates on the ballot paper. You may number the boxes of the six Liberal candidates in any order – provided the numbers are sequential and each numeral is different.

If you then want to preference the Shooters and Fishers candidates (numbering 7 to 12), then Palmer United candidates (numbering 13 to 18), but dislike the remaining parties, you may leave their candidates’ squares blank. Your ballot is still formal and will be counted – as in the mock voting paper below.

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Suppose you want to support particular candidates from different parties – and want to rank Penny Wong, Sarah Hanson-Young and Jacqui Lambie ahead of all the other candidates. You may certainly do that – again provided your ballot includes 1 to 12 and those preferences are sequential.

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You might want to rank everyone except the main parties first. Let’s say that you also prefer the Hemp Party and Socialist Alternative first, but then want to vote for the Shooters and Fishers. If you then think Labor is the least bad of the main parties, the best way to use your ballot is to preference all of the small parties’ candidates and then Labor’s. That way, even if all the smaller parties’ candidates are excluded from the count, your next choice gains the value of your vote.

Note that you can rank the candidates of a particular party in any order. In the example below, the voter prefers Donald Trump to the other Shooters and Fishers candidates.

The more genuine preferences you express, the more likely a candidate you favour will be elected rather than one you disfavour.

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The rules allow a vote to be counted provided that the first six consecutive numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If you omit or repeat a number, the ballot will still be counted. So a ballot that has the preferences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 would be formal – but only preferences one to nine would count.

Your vote is most effective when you express as many preferences as you can or want to – either below or above the line.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the House of Representatives?


Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

At the May 18 federal election, voters in every electorate of Australia’s House of Representatives will have a choice of multiple candidates. Preferential voting means that we rank candidates in the order that we prefer them.

So, how does preferential voting work?

Voters must number every box on the ballot paper. You can number them in any order, but you must number each of them. So if there are eight candidates, you must number one to eight inclusive.




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You don’t have to follow how-to-vote cards

Supporters of political parties hand out “how-to-vote” cards that advise voters how to fill out their preferences, but you certainly don’t have to follow them. You can still vote “1” for that party’s candidate, but change the order of your later preferences.

For example, suppose you want to vote for the candidate of the Liberal Party, and it recommends that you vote “1” Liberal and “2” for the candidate of the United Australia Party (UAP), led by Clive Palmer. If you don’t like the UAP, you can still vote Liberal “1”, and mark your other preferences in any order you choose.

As long as each candidate receives a different preference, your vote is formal (valid). And as long as you vote “1” for the Liberal party candidate, your vote is still a full vote for the Liberals.

What a valid vote looks like

Let’s take an imaginary electorate that has the following candidates.

Below are a number of possible ballots:

  • in column A we show a ballot for the Liberal Party candidate that next preferences the National Party, then the United Australia (Clive Palmer’s party), and then the Christian Democrats. Note that all eight boxes must be marked

  • in Column B we show a ballot for the ALP candidate

  • in Column C a ballot for the Greens candidate that next preferences the Animal Justice candidate, and then the Liberal candidate.

All those ballots are formal, because they mark all the numbers on the ballot paper in sequence.

If a ballot paper repeats a number or does not number each of the boxes, then it is informal and cannot be counted. So all voters are advised to be careful, and number each of the boxes on the ballot.




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Key mistakes to avoid

Here are some examples of informal ballot papers that cannot be counted.

  • in Column D, the numeral “5” is repeated, so the ballot is informal

  • in Column E, two boxes are unmarked, so that ballot is also informal

  • in Column F, there is gap in what should be a sequence of consecutive numerals, so that ballot is also informal.

Why do we have preferential voting?

The basis for preferential voting is that the winning candidate must receive at least 50%, plus one vote, to be elected. In other words, the winning candidate is supported by at least half the voters.

The candidate who has the highest number of votes at the first stage of the count (first preferences) does not necessarily win. It can happen that a candidate with fewer first preferences, nevertheless goes on to win. The most notable case was at the 1972 election in the federal division of McMillan, in rural Victoria:

Although the Labor candidate had received the highest number of first preference votes, he did not reach 50% and was not elected.

Because of that, the candidate with the smallest number of votes, Buchanan, was excluded from the count, and the second preference of each of his ballot papers was transferred, with the same effect as first preferences, to the candidate marked “2”.

This left four candidates in the count. If, at this point in the count, the cumulative total of one of the candidates continuing in the count had exceeded 50% of all ballots, that candidate would be declared elected.

That did not happen, so the continuing candidate with the fewest votes, Houlihan, was excluded. That led to the transfer of Houlihan’s ballots to the candidates marked as the next available preference.




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When both Buchanan and Houlihan had been excluded and their ballots transferred, the third count was as follows:

Because Barrie Armitage was now the lowest-polling candidate, he was excluded from the count, and his ballots were transferred to the two continuing candidates, according to the next available preference on each ballot. The final result was:

Note that the winning candidate is not necessarily the same as the candidate that received the most first preference votes. The preferential system ensures that the candidate elected is the one preferred by the majority in each electorate.

In the case of McMillan in 1972, Henry Hewson was the candidate preferred by the majority. The full details of this count can be found on the excellent Psephos website

In Australia, thanks to preferential voting, our House of Representatives members are each elected by an absolute majority of the voters in the electorate they represent.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Threat of Return to Hindu State in Nepal Looms


With deadline for new constitution approaching, Christians fear end of secular government.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 30 (CDN) — Four years after Nepal became officially secular, fear is growing that the country could revert to the Hindu state it was till 2006, when proclaiming Christ was a punishable offense and many churches functioned clandestinely to avoid being shut down.

Concerns were heightened after Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra Shah, once regarded as a Hindu god, broke the silence he has observed since Nepal abolished monarchy in 2008. During his visit to a Hindu festival this month, the former king said that monarchy was not dead and could make a comeback if people so desired.

Soon after that, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, a former prime minister and respected leader of the largest ruling party, said that instead of getting a new constitution, Nepal should revive an earlier one. The 1990 constitution declared Nepal a Hindu kingdom with a constitutional monarch.

There is now growing doubt that the ruling parties will not be able to fashion the new constitution they promised by May.

“We feel betrayed,” said Dr. K.B. Rokaya, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Nepal. “The Constituent Assembly we elected to give us a new constitution that would strengthen democracy and secularism has frittered away the time and opportunity given to it.”

The clamor for a Hindu state has been growing as the May 28 deadline for the new constitution draws near. When a Hindu preacher, Kalidas Dahal, held a nine-day prayer ritual in Kathmandu this month seeking reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, thousands of people flocked to him. The throng included three former prime ministers and top leaders of the ruling parties.

“The large turnout signals that Hinduism is enshrined in the hearts of the people and can’t be abolished by the government,” said Hridayesh Tripathi, a former minister and Constituent Assembly member whose Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party is the fifth-largest in the ruling alliance. “It was a mistake to abolish Hinduism in a hurry.”

Another blow for a Hindu state was struck by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), the only party that fought the 2008 election in support of monarchy and a Hindu state. It is now calling for a referendum. As a pressure tactic, it paralyzed the capital and its two neighboring cities in February by calling a general strike.

“The election gave the Constituent Assembly the mandate of writing a new constitution, not deciding issues of national importance,” said Kamal Thapa, the RPP-N chief who also was home minister during the brief government headed by Gyanendra. “Most people in Nepal want a Hindu state and a constitutional king. If their demand is not heeded, they will feel excluded and refuse to follow the new constitution. We are asking the government to hold a referendum on the two issues before May 28.”

With only two months left, it is clear the demand can’t be met if the constitution is to come into effect within the stipulated time. Now the specter of anarchy and violence hangs over Nepal.

Nepal’s Maoists, who fought a 10-year war to make Nepal a secular republic and who remain the former king’s most bitter enemy, say attempts have begun to whip up riots in the name of a Hindu state. The former guerrillas also allege that the campaign for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion is backed by ministers, politicians from the ruling parties and militant religious groups from India.

Effectively Hindu

Even if a new, secular constitution is approved by the deadline, there is still no guarantee that the rights of religious minorities would be protected.

Nilambar Acharya, who heads the committee that is drafting the new constitution, said it would be merely a broad guideline for the government; compatible laws would have to be drafted to protect rights.

“The previous constitution abolished ‘untouchability’ [a practice among Hindus of treating those at the bottom of the social ladder as outcasts],” Acharya told Compass. “But untouchability still exists in Nepal. To achieve all that the constitution promises, the mindset of society has to be changed first. For that, you need political will.”

Though Nepal became secular in 2006, Hinduism still gets preferential treatment. The state allocates funds for institutions like the Kumari, the tradition of choosing prepubescent girls as protective deities of the state and worshipping them as “living goddesses.” The state also gave money to organizers of a controversial, five-yearly religious festival, the Gadhimai Fair, where tens of thousands of birds are slaughtered as offerings to Hindu gods despite international condemnation.

There is no support, predictably, for Christian festivals. When the Constituent Assembly was formed – partly though election and partly by nomination – no Christian name was proposed even though the prime minister was authorized to nominate members from unrepresented communities.

Christian leaders want such religious bias abolished. Rokaya of the National Council of Churches of Nepal said Christians have recommended full freedom of religion in the new constitution: allowing one to follow the religion of one’s choice, to change one’s religion if desired or have the right not to be associated with any religion.

The churches have also asked the state not to interfere in religious matters.

“We are asking the government not to fund any religious activity, not to be part of any religious appointments and not to allow public land for any religious event,” Rokaya said.

The recommendations, however, may not be heeded. During their brief stint in power, the Maoists tried to stop state assistance for the Kumari. It led to violence and a general strike in the capital, forcing the party to withdraw the decision.

In its 2009 report on religious freedom in Nepal, the U.S. Department of State notes that while the interim constitution officially declared the country secular, “the president, in his capacity as head of state, attended major Hindu religious ceremonies over which the king previously presided.”

It also notes that there were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

“Those who converted to a different religious group occasionally faced violence and were ostracized socially,” it states. “Those who chose to convert to other religious groups, in particular Hindu citizens who converted to Islam or Christianity, were sometimes ostracized. They occasionally faced isolated incidents of hostility or discrimination from Hindu extremist groups. Some reportedly were forced to leave their villages.”

Dr. Ramesh Khatri, executive director of Association for Theological Education in Nepal, has experienced such persecution first-hand. When he became a Christian in 1972, his father disowned him. Then in 1984 he was arrested for holding a Bible camp. Though the case against him was dropped in 1990 after a pro-democracy movement, Khatri said hatred of Christians still persists.

“Christians can never sleep peacefully at night,” he said wryly. “The new constitution will make Nepal another India, where Christians are persecuted in Orissa, Gujarat and Karnataka.” The Oxford University-educated Khatri, who writes a column in a Nepali daily, said violent responses to his articles show how Nepal still regards its Christians.

“I am attacked as a ‘Rice Christian,’” he said. “It is a derogatory term implying I converted for material benefits. The antagonistic feeling society has towards Christians will not subside with the new constitution, and we can’t expect an easy life. The Bible says that, and the Bible is true.”

Christians continue to face persecution and harassment. In March, missions resource organization Timeless Impact International (TII) noted that a church in northern Nepal, near the foothills of Mt. Everest, was attacked by a local mob.

The newly established church in Dolakha district was attacked during a fellowship meeting in January. An ethnic mob headed by religious leaders destroyed the church meeting place, assaulted participants and warned them not to speak about Christianity in the village, TII said.

The situation, even now, remained unchanged.

“None of the church members have been able to return to their homes,” TII stated. “They feel completely unsafe and at risk.”

Report from Compass Direct News