AEC Obfuscates on Voting Rules

Update: Antony has kindly clarified his reasoning in a comment on this article, and so I have now sent a follow up query to the AEC based on this.

Update 2: After much too-ing and fro-ing (see the comments) with Antony Green and the AEC it appears that the AEC would rather obfuscate on the whole issue than bring clarity to it, and Antony makes a very convincing case about why it is valid to do both. What I’d love to see is a comment from someone involved in the voting process with one of the OIC guides to confirm that it says that those votes are handled as Antony says. I somehow doubt anyone would dare though.. 🙁 After that enlightening discussion with Antony I’ve changed the title of this article from “Do Not Vote Both Above and Below the Line in the Senate! (Updated)” to “AEC Obfuscates on Voting Rules” as that seems to be fairer to both Antony and the AEC. 😉

Update 3: Just found this on the AEC website describing how voting works:

However, if the elector completes both sections formally, the below the line section takes precedence.

So it is really valid, despite what the AEC have been telling me! Thanks to “GetUp!” for providing the link to that AEC page on their voting page.

Last month I saw a blog article by the ABC’s election expert Antony Green on (literally) how to vote in an Australia election. For those who aren’t aware in the Australian Senate election you can vote either for a party ticket (i.e. a pre-lodged agreement on how preferences will be distributed) “above the line” or you can number every candidate in your order of preference “below the line”. Now given that there are many senate candidates (60 in our area) that’s a lot of work to do, and get right, especially as there are some right nutters out there.

But Antony seemed to offer a way to have the best of both worlds by voting both above and below the line:

A below the line takes precedence over an above the line vote. However, an advantage of voting above and below the line is that if your below the line vote works out to be informal, then your above the line vote will stand instead. If you are unsure of your ability to number dozens of preference in a correct sequence, you might find this a useful option to ensure your vote counts.

Great, I thought, and then this week I thought I’d check out the AEC’s own site to try and find more information to support this. I failed. I did find though that they had a neat Flash based tool to practice voting with, but that flagged my senate ballot as informal (invalid) if I voted both above and below the line. This perplexed me, so I emailed the AEC’s contact address. First of all I got a boilerplate reply, but I persisted and got the following advice from the AEC:

On the Senate ballot paper, you can either vote above the line or below the line, but not both.

Their response clarifies that by listing the general ways a ballot can be informal (their emphasis):

A Senate ballot paper is informal if:

  • it is unmarked
  • it has not received the official mark of the presiding officer and is not considered authentic
  • it has writing on it which identifies the voter
  • the voter’s intention is not clear

It appears this information from the AEC is wrong as it is contradicted by their own website, which says:

However, if the elector completes both sections formally, the below the line section takes precedence.

So sadly it appears that Antony Green’s advice is wrong, you must choose either to vote above or below the line, but not both.

If you would like to vote below the line but feel intimidated then I’d suggest looking at the “Below the Line” website which lets you select a parties ticket from your electorate and then rearrange the order and print it out (or save it as a PDF).