How voters fill out their preferences will be crucial in deciding who wins government this Saturday as opinion polls show a tight election race ahead.

The rise in votes for minor parties and independent candidates in particular is complicating the traditional two-party dominant power structure.

Of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives, only 46 were won by first preference in 2019, according to a report by the APH

Over 80 per cent of the Greens preferences went to Labor in the 2019 election while over 65 per cent of United Australia Party and One Nation votes went to the Coalition, according to electoral analyst Antony Green.

“Preferences are becoming more important as a smaller share of the electorate casts a primary vote for the major parties, and thus they are reliant on getting those votes back as preferences to win,” Ben Raue, electoral analyst for The Tally Room told Central News. 

“This is the third election that we’ve had since that reform took place… and the only influence parties have over you is giving you a piece of paper that’s advice and you are free to ignore it and control your preference yourself.

“Ultimately the most important thing is how you order those candidates.” 

In 2019, the coalition won the election by a margin of 1.53 per cent. So how careful are voters being when listing their preferences?

According to a survey conducted by the Australian Election Study, in 2019, just under 30 per cent of voters followed a ‘how-to-vote’ card. However, experts say voters should be aware that preferences listed on party ‘how to vote cards’ don’t always align with what voters would understand as party values. 

“I think voters should judge parties based on how they preference but parties don’t always follow their principles when they mark their preferences,” said Raue.

“The Animal Justice Party is preferencing Labor above the Greens in a bunch of places and… there’s certainly a lot of talk that they did that because they’ve received policy promises from the Labor Party… even though the Greens might agree with them on more policy.”

Raue believes the Australian Electoral Commission should encourage voters to mark all the required preferences but not informalise votes that don’t mark every number.

Don’t be one of those people that goes in not knowing how you’re going to vote.

“I would argue the primary purpose of a ‘how-to-vote’ card is to make sure your vote is formal because it’s actually quite easy to cast an informal ballot under our voting system…if you’re voting above the line (on the senate paper) you need to number at least six boxes, below the line at least 12.”

Some smaller parties and independent candidates are increasingly providing ‘how-to-vote’ cards that do not provide a specific order of candidates but rather encourage voters to fill out the ballot paper independently and just ask them to mark them as their first preference. The ballot in the House of Representatives requires all boxes to be filled out with candidate selections, and leaving an empty box invalidates the vote.

Alex Morris, a spokesperson from the Australian Electoral Commission, suggests that people who plan to follow ‘how-to-vote’ cards should do “research ahead of time so that you know exactly who that party is suggesting that you vote for”.

“Be an informed voter, don’t be one of those people that goes in not knowing how you’re going to vote, not knowing who you candidates are,” he said.

“Research those candidates… Google, DuckDuckGo, whatever is your friend, research candidates if you know they’re going to be speaking. If there’s a candidates’ forum near you pop in. If you’re passionate about an issue go in and talk to them.

“We would like to say that democracy doesn’t begin or end at the ballot box. If you want a candidate to stand for something you gotta tell them what you want them to stand for it.”

Image from Pixabay.