Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Cherish Your Preferences

Back when I lived in Israel I knew there was a very severe threat to my democratic vote: was I to vote to a party receiving too few votes, below the minimum threshold required for getting into parliament, my vote would be wasted. This minimum threshold made sense in its ability to prevent the disproportional extortion power tiny parties had when it came to the formation of a governing coalition (in Australia this process is referred to as the formation of a minority government; in Israel it happens to be the norm). Recently, Israeli legislators increased the threshold to 4% in a bid to eliminate the existence of Arab parties in parliament, but the repercussions go even further. They basically mean it is much harder for new forces, new ideas, to grab political foothold.
Australia is on some other parallel plane of the rigged elections continuum. On one hand it offers preferential voting, but on the other its House of Representatives’ geographically based voting ensures it is extremely hard for anyone outside the two big parties to get elected.
Further enshrining the two party system is the procedure for senate voting. There we have legislation makes it intentionally hard to vote below the line. One is “urged” to do the actual voting at the polling booths, as opposed to vote by mail; however, at the booths it is virtually impossible to rank all 97 senate candidates in order and still manage to come up with a valid, error free, vote. The fact one can protect oneself by voting both above and below the line is a well kept secret. Clearly, the bigger parties want the voter to simply vote for them above the line and rely on their preference schemes.
We do not have to follow their agenda, though. We are not fools. Each of us needs to remember our vote is powerful, and an Australian vote is even more powerful: unlike other countries, such as the Israel I started the post with, we do not have to cast a single vote for a single party; we have the power to express our exact preference. This allows us to vote for smaller parties without having our vote “wasted”; this allows us to shape our vote to the exact form our political opinion inclines to. Allow me to explain through an example.

See this image? Can you tell me what is wrong with it?
First I’ll tell you what isn’t wrong. Scott Ludlom, running for a WA senate seat as a Greens representative, is certainly worth anyone’s vote. As his op-ed here explains, he is one of the few politicians to see through the cunning and work towards a better Australia in a better world.
I do not know whether the above image was meant to be serious or not, but I can clearly see its problem. There is no such thing as “I usually vote Pirate”!
I am a member of Pirate Party Australia and I can tell you I generally vote for the Greens. The reasons are simple: This one is the first ever elections where Pirate Party Australia ran candidates; at this point, the party is not running any Lower House candidates. The Greens, therefore, get my House of Representatives vote by default.
My claim goes further, though. I do not simply vote for the Pirate Party Australia for the senate either; I cast my personal set of preferences. That set can have Pirate candidates first, but it can also have Greens candidates immediately afterwards; in such a case, chances are my vote would actually count for the Greens candidates.
My point is simple. Australians have much more than the power of a single vote. Australians have the power to express their exact, detailed, voting preferences. Do not waste these powers by going for the quick and easy “win” of ticking one of the big parties above the line just so you can get back home from the polling booths as quickly as possible for another beer at the barbie.

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