The way that parties allocate their preferences on their How-to-vote cards may not necessarily bind their supporters to following those preferences. But that preference allocation often provides a valuable insight into the political values of the party.
Politics is about doing what you need to do to get elected. But sometimes, allocating preferences to parties or individuals who represent the very worst aspects of Australian society is going beyond the pale.
I have applauded when the Greens began showing signs of political realism in their development of policies. Certainly, Di Natale was a step in the right direction.
One of the reasons I stopped voting for the Labor Party was that it allocated preferences to Family First, a party with whom it had no political or policy commonalities.
Fred Nile represents the very worst of the reactionary right Christian parties in Australia.
The Greens have given preference to the Christian Democratic Party of Reverend Fred Nile, who believes homosexuality is a “mental disorder”, over the Liberal Party candidate for Sydney, an indigenous gay man who is pushing for same-sex marriage
It is an important principle in democracy that any significant demographic or set of political views in society should have representation in parliament, no matter how repugnant those views may be to the majority of people. This means we are often going to have people like Fred Nile and Pauline Hansen in Parliament.
What is important is that the parliament should be a representation of the broad views of the community, rather than the narrow views of the two major parties. An indiscriminate allocation of preferences (or mindlessly following a How-to-vote card) may mean that these views and their adherents may receive electoral support that they not entitled to.
Every voter needs to think very carefully about the allocation of preferences, particularly in the Senate where the fate of much government legislation will be decided.
There are vagaries in our voting system.
David Leyonhjelm was probably elected to the Senate because of his position on the voting paper and because people mistook him for a mainstream Liberal candidate. This election is likely to be a more realistic test of his political pulling power.
We run the risk that Derryn Hinch, who has first position on the ballot paper, will be elected as a Victorian senator for much same reason.
The same applies in Tasmania, where the Family First Party, has first position on the Senate ballot.
This election will be important because it will be the first under the new electoral laws. It will give an indication of the impact that these laws have had on the way the preference votes are allocated, particularly in the Senate. We may be heading towards a time with a relatively small group of people, albeit elected rather more democratically than in the past, may exercise considerable influence on legislation passed through Parliament.
We will all need to think carefully before we vote.
And we also need to be careful how we vote.
Voters will have to wrestle with the a metre long Senate paper.
In a space this big.
Do we know anything about how people will respond to this particular problem?
It is highly likely to increase the donkey vote, a vote for those candidates or parties whose position on the ballot paper does not mean that they flow up the wall of the voting cubicle into the next one.
Is this how our democracy should function?