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Fri, Aug. 23rd, 2013, 08:16 pm
Voting joins the electronic age--kind of

No, you still can't vote online in Australia (or any other democracy to the best of my knowledge--there are serious identity issues that would need to be overcome first), but at least I've worked out how to make it easier to number below the line on the unwieldy Senate ballot paper. I'm a big fan of numbering below the line because I'm not happy with any party's preference allocations and it's due to back-room preference deals by the major parties that we get anomalous results like Family First winning a Senate seat in Victoria on 1.8% of the primary vote. The problem is, Senate ballot papers are becoming harder to number below the line. For example, Queensland has 82 candidates and 36 groups. Most people don't do it because it's so hard, and so easy to get it wrong and invalidate your vote. What we really need is voting reform where we can number the groups above the line and just have that count as allocating our preferences in order down the group, but that will be a long time coming. In the meantime, you can get a spreadsheet program to help you get it right, but be warned this is not for the faint of heart. If you're unsure, you're better off just numbering "1" above the line in the box corresponding to your preferred party so you don't waste your vote.

EDIT: Antony Green provides some useful websites for automating this process and points out that you only have to 90% of the squares and still be valid. You can also put a "1" above the line as insurance in case you get your below the line voting wrong.)


  1. You start by going to this page on the Australian Electoral Commission website and scrolling down to Senate Group Voting Tickets and downloading the CSV file for your State or Territory.

  2. Open it in your preferred spreadsheet program. Unfortunately, it runs all the voting tickets for the parties together, so you have to find the party who's voting ticket most closely matches your voting intentions. (If one does match your intentions closely enough, then why are you doing this? Just put a "1" above the line in the box corresponding to your party.) This page will help you--click on the Senate candidates listing for your State or Territory and then click the link entitled "Group Voting Tickets". This will show you the letter associated with your preferred party's ticket which you can then search for in your CSV file.

  3. Copy all of your party's group voting tickets (ie, all of your party's letter in column B) and paste into a new sheet. (This won't work if your party is doing a split voting ticket, which has always struck me as indicative of a lack of ticker. You will need to filter out the non-preferred ticket by number, which is listed in column C.)

  4. Sort the list in ascending order according to column G (preference allocation). Make a note of the highest number in this column because it will tell you how many candidates you have running in your State or Territory--in Queensland it's 82.

  5. Now just shuffle the parties around in the order you prefer. (The reason I suggest you start with your preferred party's voting ticket rather than the first cab off the rank is so hopefully you won't have to do as much shuffling.)

  6. When you've got the parties (or you can do it right down at the candidate level if you prefer) in the order you want to vote for them, clear column G and start it off with 1, 2, 3 in the first three rows. Select these numbers and then drag a corner of your selection down to the end of the group voting ticket. If you have a spreadsheet program worth its salt, it will auto-populate that column in ascending order from 1 to the number of candidates running in your State or Territory. You will know you've done it right without having accidentally deleted or inserted rows when the final number agrees with the number you made a note of earlier in step 4.

  7. Print out columns D to G or save them to your preferred mobile device and then transcribe the numbers in your list to the official ballot paper when you're in the voting booth. Bonus points if you can think of an easy way to sort it back in its original order which will reflect the order on your ballot paper, making it easier to transcribe.