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The Sharp End: Nominations, Lotto And Preferences

Ari Sharp, Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong, reports from the campaign frontline.

SharpModern democracy contains a collection of quaint, but highly important, rituals.

One of the more unusual of these took place last Friday, at the Declaration of Nominations.

At 12 noon across the country, middle aged men and women across the country had their 15 minutes of fame in the draw to determine the order of the ballot paper in each House of Reps seat, and in the Senate.

In Kooyong, the draw took place in a small suburban office in Camberwell, coincidentally in the same office block as the local member. Three of the four candidates (and a few campaign hangers-on) squeezed into the office, as the Divisional Returning Officer took over his duties as the MC.

One would have thought that the process of deciding who was where on the ballot paper was a simple ‘names in a hat’ scenario, but alas the electoral laws state otherwise.

Instead, the candidates names are placed on a list in the order in which they nominated. Then, the same number of balls are put in a barrel (a la the Saturday Night Lotto) and drawn out one by one, allocating the numbers to the names of the candidates.

Then, all the balls are placed back in the barrel, and the first number drawn out is the ballot paper position of the candidate who drew the number ‘1’ in the first round. And so on, until all the positions on the ballot paper are filled.

Of course, throughout all this the ‘barrel girl’ is blindfolded, and during each stage the candidates are invited to spin the barrel (none in our case took up the offer, no doubt in fear of being seen as mocking such an ancient and important ritual…).

The most important question that needs to be asked is – does it all matter? There is evidence that the top position on the ballot paper can be worth as much as 2-3 percent, due to the donkey vote, whereby voters simply number the boxes from top to bottom.

Traditionally, the value of the top spot is worth more when there is a long list of candidates (usually in by-elections) and also in areas with a lesser understanding of the electoral process, generally working class and country areas.

Just to complicate things a little further, the reverse donkey vote (bottom to top voters) is said to be worth about 0.1%.

As for the nominations around the country, there are a few things that are of note. There seems to be fewer candidates this time than in 1998. This seems to be due to the lesser showing of One Nation, and hence the lesser showing of the anti-One Nation parties.

The big impact that Liberals for Forests were said to be having has been restricted to just Western Australia. Most fringe parties seem to be devoting their energies to the Senate, where the quota to be elected in much lower than in the lower house.

Once all the nominations have been lodged, the mad rush for preferences begins in earnest.

Whilst House of Representatives preferences are communicated directly by the parties to the voters (through how to vote cards) and hence do not need to be finalised until very late, preferences in the Senate need to be registered with the Australian Electoral Commission so that ‘above the line’ voters know where their preferences are going.

Despite nominations only being declared on Friday, the Senate statement of preferences had to be submitted by Saturday, giving parties under 24 hours to negotiate preferences with other parties. It is this 24 hour period that can seal the fate of Senators’ careers around the country, given that over 90% of voters vote above the line.

To complicate matters even more, parties can lodge up to three statements of preferences, with the above the line preferences being distributed equally though each set of preferences.

So now the nominations are in, the real fun starts. Pre-polling starts on Monday, and there’s three weeks to press the flesh.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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