Australian electoral system is unique compared to the rest of the world. Australia has a compulsory voting system for its citizens.
Compulsory Voting system in Australia
Since 1924 Voting is compulsory for Australian Citizens in state and Territory legislatures. Voting in local elections is not compulsory in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. Those who don’t vote in an election receive a letter to explain the reasons for not voting or pay a fine of $20. If the reasons provided are not satisfactory, it will incur a fine and failure to pay the fine will result in a court hearing. If the matter is dealt with in court and the person is found guilty, he or she may be fined up to $170 plus court costs. Canvassing on polling day is prohibited within 6 metres of the entrance to a polling booth: maximum penalty $500. A person who holds a power of attorney for a voter is not permitted to vote for an elector, as there is no provision for proxy voting in federal elections in Australia.
The Australian Parliament has two houses. It has a House of Representatives and a Senate.
The Australian Senate
Australian Upper house has 76 Senators, twelve for each state and two for each territory. The State senators are elected for a six year term. Senators for the territory are elected for a term equivalent to the duration of the House of Representatives. Senators are elected by a preferential voting system known as proportional representation. The four senators who represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are elected concurrently with members of the House of Representatives and the duration of their terms of office coincide with those for that House (a maximum of three years). When a Double Dissolution is declared, all 76 Senate positions are made vacant.
The Australian House of Representatives
Australian House of Representative has 150 members, elected for three years. The house of representatives is the house in which the Government is formed. The Functions of the House of Representatives includes forming the Government , representing people, making laws, scrutinising the functioning of the Government and controlling the Government expenditure.
Types of Voting in Australia
Australia follows a preferential system of voting for both federal and state Parliaments. Under this system, voters ,number the candidates on the ballot paper in the order of preference.
There are two variants of preferential system of Voting in Australia.
Full preferential system of voting is used for the House of Representatives at the federal level and the lower houses in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory.
An optional preferential system of voting is used for the lower houses in New South Wales and Queensland,. A partial optional preferential system of voting is used for Tasmania’s Legislative Council.
How the Full Preferential System of Voting Works
Under this system each candidate must be given a preference by the voter in the order of 1,2,3, etc. During the counting Process all the votes are counted for candidates with number ‘1’ marked. As per the Australian law a candidate should get absolute majority to win a seat that is more than 50% of the votes casted. If a candidate gets more than 50% , he or she is immediately elected. If no candidate has absolute majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded. These votes are then transferred to the other candidates according to the second preference shown on the ballot papers. If no candidate manage to get absolute majority after this step, again the remaining candidate with fewest votes are excluded and the votes are transferred. The process will continue until a winner emerges.
Proportional representation (single transferable vote)
Proportional representation systems were devised to produce ‘proportional’ election results—parties should win parliamentary seats roughly in proportion to the size of their vote. Ideally, 50 per cent of the vote should win about 50 per cent of the seats. Proportional representation is not a single method of election, for there are a number of variations in use, including the single transferable vote, which is a preferential voting system designed to ensure that votes are for individual candidates rather than for party lists. The two variants of this used in Australia: the ‘Senate’ model and the Hare-Clark system.
The ‘Senate’ model elections increases the chances of minor parties and independents winning seats compared to the single member constituency system used for the House of Representatives. It produces closer results in the struggle between the major parties and makes it difficult for a major party to gain control of the Senate and in the upper houses of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia where it is used.
The Hare-Clark version of proportional representation is used for elections for the Tasmanian House of Assembly and the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. This system ensures that no seat is safe, creates an electoral system where party members fight each other as much as their external opponents and operates in such a way that minority governments are more common than when preferential voting is used. ( Courtesy: http://www.dfat.gov.au )
Voting for Australian Senate
Senators are elected by a preferential voting system known as proportional representation. The order of candidates in the ballot paper are decided by a random draw conducted by the electoral officer for that territory. Senate ballot papers are white in colour.
The ballot paper has two sections, giving voters two methods of voting for the senate, ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ .
Above the line voting
A voter can vote for a political party or group by putting the number ‘1’ in one box only above the black line. The rest of the ballot paper must be left blank. By voting this way the voters are allowing the order of their preferences decided by the party or the group they are voting for.
A Senate group may lodge a written statement setting out preference order of all candidates in the election. AEC will automatically allocate preferences in the pre-determined order outlined by the particular party.
Below the line voting
A voter can chose to give preference to each voter by marking 1,2,3 in the boxes . The top part of the ballot paper must be left vacant.