What is preferential voting?

It’s a ranked voting system used in Australia during elections. Voters indicate an order of preferences, using numbers, for candidates on the ballot paper, with the first preference being the most preferred. 

Why do all (or a certain number of) boxes need to be numbered on the ballot? 

It’s how the system works. If there is no candidate that secures an absolute majority of primary votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is then eliminated from the count. This is where the second preference of the voter’s ballots comes in. If the voter’s first preference is eliminated (as there was no absolute majority), the votes are redistributed to the voter’s second preference on the ballot. The process continues until there is a clear majority. 

One of the strengths of the preferential system is that it ensures the voter still nonetheless has a say in the election, even if their first preference candidate is eliminated. 

What is the benefit of using a preferential voting system? 

There are other systems of voting, including the ‘first-past-the-post’ system. First-past-the-post involves a simple majority, meaning the candidate that receives the most votes, wins the election. That is regardless of whether or not the number of votes for the successful candidate represents a majority of the total number of votes. For example, if a candidate wins with 30 percent of the votes, that means only 30 percent of the population actually want that candidate, meaning 70 percent did not want that specific candidate. 

Preferential voting aims to have a winning candidate that is the most preferred or least disliked.

Is there a difference between the House of Representatives and Senate voting systems? 

Yes, but both House of Representatives and Senate ballots still use preferential voting systems. 

House of Representatives voting is simple in the sense that the candidate names are in a list on the ballot with their respective parties and the voter simply must rank each candidate by preference.

The Senate ballot has an additional layer of complexity. There are two ways to vote, either ‘above the line, or ‘below the line’ and voters must choose one method. The difference between the two follows: 

  • Voting above the line: the voter ranks preferences by party (usually a less time-consuming process)
  • Voting below the line: voters rank by candidates, rather than simply by party. This requires a voter to rank every single candidate (very time consuming)

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