Telling People How to Vote

Yesterday I handed out how to vote (HTV) cards for the Australian Greens. The experience was very different to the one I had when I handed out cards for the Greens in the Victorian state election in 2006 [1]. The Labor party (ALP) hadn’t spread any gross lies about the Greens and there were no representatives from the insane parties (Family First and Citizens Electoral Council/Commission (CEC)). So we didn’t have any arguments among the people handing out the HTV cards.

The atmosphere among the volunteers that were present was a good match for some ideals of a sporting contest. Everyone wanted their own team to win but acted in a sporting manner. When no voters were around we had some friendly conversations.

One thing that was interesting to note was the significant number of families where the parents in their 40s deliberately snubbed me while their children in the 18-22 age range took the Greens cards. It seemed that for families with adult children there were two likely voting patterns, one was children voting Green and parents not liking it, and the other was when the entire family voted informal (when someone refuses all offers of HTV cards it’s a safe bet that they will cast an informal vote). In Australia submitting a vote card is mandatory but making it legible and formal is optional.

The last report I heard suggested that about 5% of the total votes were informal. This seems to be strong evidence showing that civics lessons are needed in high school. Also there were a disturbing number of people who stated that they didn’t know which party to vote for when they were collecting the HTV cards. A HTV card has one or two sentences about the party and there are almost no requirements for truth in such statements. Anyone who votes according to such brief summaries of the parties is quiet unlikely to end up casting a vote that gives the result that they desire.

The result of the election is a significant swing to the Greens, more senators and the first Green MP! For the lower house it seems that Labor will have great difficulty in forming government even when in a coalition with the Greens and some independents. It seems unlikely that the Liberal party could ever make a deal with the Greens, the Liberal position on almost every significant issue contradicts that of the Green policy, but there is a chance of a Liberal coalition with independent MPs. In any case it seems that the Greens will have the balance of power in the senate so the excesses of the Howard government can’t be repeated.

If you like the nail-biting drama of watching several columns of figures slowly changing over the course of several days then you would love watching the analysis of this election! Whatever coalition government is created is not likely to be stable and we can probably expect another election in a year or two.

10 comments to Telling People How to Vote

  • Tom

    I was handing out cards in Denison and there was quite a lot of conviction on display. At least half of the voters refused how-to-vote cards entirely, and many of those said adamantly that they know for whom they’re voting already. That was really good to see. Many others simply took one of each to maintain their secrecy. I reckon that the less influence we are able to wield by handing out pieces of paper in the last few metres the better.

    It’s my first year being involved volunteering and the camaraderie between the volunteers was surprisingly pleasant. I heard that by 4:30PM at a different booth all the volunteers for different candidates had combined into a single team, handing out all the cards together. :P

  • Not sure I’d agree that not taking a HTV card would result in an informal vote. They could be people who either don’t need to be told how to allocate their preferences, or people who don’t want anyone to know who they’re voting for and don’t want to waste paper by taking all the HTV cards.

    The high informal count is likely be due to Mark Latham going on 60 Minutes and recommending an informal vote.

    As for forming a government … the independents have said that they’re looking for stability. This is something that Labor and the Greens can guarantee, given that they have the balance of power in the Senate from next July. The Liberals can’t guarantee this at all.

  • Rob

    +1 for not taking a HTV card does not equal informal vote. I refused all HTV cards – I already knew who I was voting for before the day (a responsible voter that reviewed a number of parties policies) and if I were to take them, they’d just be thrown away unread – what a waste…

    Informal votes have also been ascribed to the plethora of voting schemes in Australia confusing some voters…

  • Jaymz Julian

    I have to also strongly disagree with the view that people not taking HTV cards results in an informal vote – there is few enough candidates in the lower house that people can generally have an opinion on, and rank, all of them, and there is the above the line option for the senate (not that I recommend above the line, but you know… i get that the ballot is intimidating to people) – neither of which require specific party instructution.

    Honestly, I think a lot of the informal vote was disillusioned people who would normally vote liberal, but who could not stomach either FF or Green, and didn’t want to vote Labour – it was a lot easier on the left, where there is an obvious non-evil third party to choose (i.e. green) if one is disaffected.

    Dissaffected being the word which describes pretty much everyone I know this cycle… this had to be the most uninspiring election campaign during my lifetime. I think the chaser had it right when declaring that every single candidate is fucked…

  • Chris

    I’m also one who disagrees that not taking HTV cards means the person will do an informal vote. I never take the HTV cards but do lodge a formal vote. And put the preferences how I want them, not how some party hack wants them – that gets people like Fielding elected.

  • Capn

    > Yesterday I handed out how to vote (HTV) cards for the Australian Greens.

    You too huh? (Me: Bruce/Chisholm combined polling place)

  • etbe

    Tom: Interesting point about the supporters of the various parties combining into a single team. It would probably be better however if the AEC people were to hand them out instead.

    Regarding the issue of not taking a card meaning an informal vote. Very few people would just silently not take a card, the ones who knew who they voted for usually said something positive to the supporters of the party that they wanted to vote for. When someone walks past most volunteers and says something nice to one of them (of gives them a thumbs-up signal or something) they clearly aren’t planning an informal vote. However when someone walks past and says “all politicians are bastards” then it seems most likely that they are going to cast an informal vote.

    It also seems unlikely that you would have an entire family who were all entirely confident in their ability to choose the best order for the upper house without a HTV card, while having an entire family who want to cast informal votes seems much more likely.

    Finally I don’t recall seeing a family who appeared to be well educated decline HTV cards, but families who didn’t appear to be well educated generally refused them. I think that there is a correlation between a lack of education and a lack of a desire to vote.

    Rob: We only have two systems, the one for the lower house and the one for the upper house. The system for the lower house is easy enough for a primary-school student to understand. Admittedly the upper house system is rather complex though, but that only requires writing the number 1 in a single box.

    Jaymz: Labor has lost seats while Liberal has gained them. I think that indicates that Liberal isn’t disillusioning the voters that much. As for Labor voters being disillusioned, Mark Latham deserves a lot of credit for that. I don’t think that people would vote informal because Mark told them to do so. But I think that some Labor voters would vote informal when they realised that Mark (who was endorsed by the majority of the people who are still senior in the ALP) is such a tool.

  • Chris

    > However when someone walks past and says “all politicians are bastards” then it seems most likely that they are going to cast an informal vote.

    I don’t say that, but then I don’t talk to any of them, even the party I’m going to give my first preference to. I try to find a path into the building which avoids as many spruikers as possible. I much prefer the ACT election policy of banning any advertising/HTV cards within a hundred metres or so of a polling place. Makes for a much more pleasant voting experience!

  • jaymzjulian

    To be fair, looks can be pretty deceiving. My family look pretty uneducated on a Saturday (and to be fair, myself and my two siblings all dropped out of highschool, so perhaps your assessment may be correct?), but actually discuss our various voting rankings and the various candidates amongst ourselves. But I do concede the point that we are outliers, I guess. But I do know a lot of people who are hostile towards how to vote cards, even from parties they wished to vote for – mostly due to the perception that they are an insult to our intelligence, as well as the secondary goal of not wanting to encourage powerbrokers to play preference games. (I’m a huge fan of preferential voting, but I don’t like the games the party powerbrokers play with them).

    I personally find it like running a gauntlet ala the “Can you spare any change” challenge outside flinders street station on a saturday night. By the time I hit a party I support, it’s already been…. pretty unpleasant. This year was actually okay for me, though not so for some of my friends who were physically stopped at gates by certain right win Christian parties.

    I mean, on the flip side, I do understand that they are _the way things are done_, and that a party that doesn’t hand them out is at significant risk of less votes. But I do wish it wasn’t that way…

    I think the theory that Mark Latham deserves credit for encouraging disillusioned voters to vote informal has merit, but I doubt that he made them any more disillusioned than they already were – honestly, literally everyone I talked to this year was of the view that, as the chaser put it, every single candidate is fucked – and this was well before the latham tv show. What’s more, although I actually oppose people voting informal, I am not actually convinced that Latham was incorrect in his assertions. And indeed, the high informal rate _has_ sent a message – otherwise, after all, we would not even be talking about it! This actually surprised me as much as anyone, because I assumed, before this week, that the people suggesting that a “none of the above” vote could send a useful message were talking crap.

    Also, to be fair, the statement “All politicians are bastards” really isn’t that far from my feeling most days :). I kind of look forward to a government which can’t do terribly much….

    Also: I think the senate voting form would be better if you had the option to number all of the top boxes in the senate, and I also think it makes sense to be able to do a single 1 and have it splay out in the house like you can in the senate. But that’s just me….and offtopic :)

  • Craig Ringer

    I refused all HTV cards because (a) I find it mildly offensive to be told how to vote, and (b) I knew exactly what I was doing already. Anyway, my preferred party wasn’t handing out cards at my polling place.

    Personally I wonder if the high rate of informal votes was strongly correlated to below the line voting or not. It’s hard for someone to reliably get below the line voting right even with pre-planned printouts of the intended result, as even *one* error or illegible glyph will potentially render your vote informal. I’d be interested to know how much of the informal vote was composed of apparent mistakes, and how much was blank or clearly intentionally spoiled ballots.