Who wants you to make an informed vote?

Posted on August 21, 2010 by


Pictured above: how-to-vote cards distributed in the seat of Melbourne by the Greens, Liberal and Labor (left to right).

Notice anything?

The Greens example lists each candidate on the ballot by name and by party. The Liberal and Labor examples show only the names and not the party of each candidate, aside from their own.

So who wants you to make an informed decision? It seems Labor and Liberal don’t want you to think about your vote. Their cards don’t give you any more information than you need to vote exactly the way they want you to. And on closer inspection, one of the cards appears to be even more problematic.

Of the three, the Liberal card contains little information on how to vote beyond the example ballots, but the Greens and Labor cards both contain some telling, and apparently contradictory, advice.

The Greens card briefly explains that a vote under their example would flow to Labor if Greens preferences were distributed, but clarifies:

“However, as long as you number every box, you can allocate your preferences to whichever party you choose.”

In stark contrast, the Labor card gives some very ambiguous advice indeed. Directly above the example ballots, under the heading “How to Vote for Cath Bowtell and Labor in Melbourne”, it reads:

“1. You will receive 2 ballot papers.

2. Follow the instructions on this leaflet to complete the ballot papers correctly.

3. If you make a mistake, ask for a new ballot paper.”

(Emphasis added.)

“The instructions on this leaflet” include the order in which to vote for each candidate (“You must number every box as shown”). The headline clarifies that it refers to a vote for the Labor candidate, but by one strictly literal reading, the instructions imply that anyone who does not follow the exact order of votes suggested will have voted incorrectly. This implication is supported by the following line’s instructions on how to correct a mistake.

Perhaps we can trust that nobody would be misled by this ambiguity. But not everyone is familiar with the intricacies of the Australian ballot.

My area is home to many new migrants to Australia. On the way to the polling station today, I passed two women conversing in the street. One of the women had evidently only recently arrived in Australia, judging by her Muslim headscarf and strong African accent. She had stopped the second woman to ask her to explain how to fill out the ballots.

I don’t doubt that this woman, or any Australian voter, would understand that they have the freedom to vote for the candidates in the order they prefer. But they should not have to interpret such ambiguous instructions. Our political parties should encourage voters to make an informed choice, not try to coerce them into giving their votes away without careful thought.