The real power of your vote

UNDER the Hare-Clark electoral system it is possible for the electorate to maintain a Labor government and dismiss all of the incumbent ministers. 

It is possible to punish one minister. Similarly, the whole of the current Liberals or Greens could be removed and replaced.

Before the election in 2008, I made some suggestions on how people might vote strategically using this electoral system and with an election imminent, it is worth reiterating some of those ideas.

Hare-Clark is a powerful electoral system in the hands of even a goodly proportion of tactical voters.

The more voters understand the possibilities and use the system, the more accountable our elected representatives become. Here are 10 hints to assist strategic voting in the ACT election.

1. NUMBERING: this is the same as for any election! Number your votes against those individuals you most want elected!

2. THOSE YOU DON’T WANT ELECTED: do not put any number against someone that you do not want to be elected. If there is no mark next to someone who you do not want in the Assembly, your vote cannot possibly provide assistance to them.

3. PARTY COLUMNS: do not be contained by party columns. In the ACT, it is important to have a good government, a strong opposition and an effective cross-bench. Therefore, do not be lulled into the sense that you must remain within party columns. Work right across the ballot paper to put your numbers in order of preference for the best people.

4. PARTY VOTERS: if you really want to support a particular party, but cannot stand individual incumbents, place a vote against the members of that party who are not already in the Assembly. Leave one or more of the current MLAs out. Every time a number is put against a hopeless candidate, it improves their chances in the election. Use your vote to punish laziness or bleak prospects.

5. PUNISHING MINISTERS: if you want to punish the Labor Government but do not want a Liberal outcome, punish the incumbents by leaving the boxes next to them as blanks. Look for alternatives. A clear message is sent to future governments when a poorly performing minister loses a seat.

6. PUNISHING MLAs: the same can be applied to all incumbent MLAs. Other than the leaders, all MLAs understand that they are vulnerable. You can keep it that way by not even giving poor performers a preference.

7. DECIDING HOW MANY PREFERENCES: the ballot paper will recommend a minimum number of preferences – at least seven in Molonglo and at least five in Brindabella and Ginninderra. Although a voter who puts only three preferences will have those preferences recognised, the fewer the preferences the higher the risk of the vote being wasted.

8. MAJOR PARTIES: do not believe the advertising and the media that the election is about only the major parties. Therefore, vote across the ballot paper and do not hesitate to leave the major parties last. Minor parties and independents have played a significant role throughout most of the existence of the ACT Assembly.

9. THE LEADERS: the election is not about party leaders. Chances are two to one against the leaders being in your electorate anyway. Under the Westminster system of government they are simply the “first amongst equals”. If the leaders have not delivered in your opinion – do not put a mark next to their name.

10. A PLAGUE ON ALL YOUR HOUSES: if you really cannot find anyone on the ballot paper that you could possibly support, it is not illegal to place a blank ballot paper in the box. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not have compulsory voting – that cannot be enforced in a secret ballot system. We do have compulsory attendance.

The ACT electoral system places real power in the hands of the voters. Use your ability to flex your electoral muscle on October 20.

Michael Moore is a former independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and minister for health.

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