With no vote to waste, here's how to get your preference

The queue for a pre-poll polling booth at Exhibition Park in Canberra on Thursday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
The queue for a pre-poll polling booth at Exhibition Park in Canberra on Thursday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

With all the talk of preference deals and how-to-vote card hijinks, you'd be forgiven for getting a little bit confused about how your vote works in Saturday's federal election.

Preferential voting

Preferential voting ensures that a majority of people are represented by someone they have given an early preference to.

If no candidate gets an absolute majority of first preference votes, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is eliminated. Then their preferences are distributed, with the second preference on the eliminated candidate's ballot allocated.

This process of eliminating the least popular candidate from the count continues until a candidate with an absolute majority is elected.

This system means no vote can be wasted.

The House

In the House of Representatives, a candidate must secure either an absolute majority of the primary, first-preference vote, or an absolute majority after preferences are distributed.

For the House of Representatives, you'll be given a small, green ballot paper with the candidates for your electorate listed.

You must number every box in the order of your preference. Mark '1' in the box next to your most-favoured candidate, and then number 2 to 6 against the rest, so that 6 is marked next to the name of your least-preferred candidate.

The Senate

You've got two ways to vote in the Senate, on the large, white ballot paper.

You can either select six boxes above the line in the order of your choice, and have your preferences distributed to the party's candidates in the order they have chosen. That is the order they appear below the line.

Alternatively, you can distribute your preferences in any order you choose by voting entirely below the line.

You must either vote entirely above or below the line, which ever you prefer.

How-to-vote cards prepared by political parties encourage people to vote above the line so that preferences are distributed according to internal party agreements.

But you do not need to follow any how-to-vote cards handed out by party volunteers in order to vote for that party's candidates. You can order your preferences in any order you wish after putting 1 in the box next to your most preferred candidate below the line or group above the line.

Make it formal

If you don't follow all the instructions on the ballot paper, there's a good chance your vote will be classed as informal and won't be counted. The Commonwealth Electoral Act does set out vote-saving provisions for ballot papers that haven't been filled out completely.

The Australian Electoral Commission will count House of Representatives ballot papers with one box missed and the other boxes marked with consecutive numbers.

In the Senate, if one box has been marked above the line or six boxes have been numbered consecutively below the line, vote saving provisions in the electoral act will mean the vote gets counted.

By not allocating you preferences completely, there is a risk that your preferences will be exhausted.

The Canberra Times