Pissed off with LibLab? Don’t make them happy by voting informal


By Margo Kingston

29 August 2013

I’ve had several Twitter discussions with people who don’t think either big party deserves their vote and reckon voting informal is the way to stick it up both of them.

It’s not.

In fact, if the big two can’t get your first preference their next best option is for you to vote informal. Don’t make them happier than you have to!

Your vote has the power of money, and money talks. This election your House of Representatives vote is worth $2.48 to whoever gets your first preference and $2.48 to whoever gets your first preference in the Senate. So you have $4.96 in your pocket on Saturday September 7 to give to whoever you wish.

This is how the public – you – funds political parties.

So what the big two DON’T WANT, if you reckon that neither deserves to govern us, is for you to cast a valid vote giving your first preference to a minor party or an independent, because then they don’t score your cash and someone else does.

Your investment gives small political participants financial help to even the playing field just a little. Now that’s a REAL protest vote.

And your voting power doesn’t stop there. Sure, you’ll have to decide to put one big party ahead of the other in the end, but your non-cash protest will take a vote off the primary vote of the incumbent or his or her successor if your seat changes hands. A lower primary vote shows the majors that they are on the nose. In a safe seat, if you put the big party who owns it below the biggie who doesn’t you can help make it more marginal, safe, and we all know what that means for getting results in the seat where you live.

Yet another message you can send the biggies is by choosing your number 1 strategically. The more votes a minor party or independent candidate scores, the louder the message to the biggies that they need to listen to the policies or beliefs of that candidate or party.

So you’ve got cash, power to help put your seat’s needs in play for the big two, and the power to tell them what issues you think are important.

You can check out how your lower house how to vote card will look at Below the Line and decide your strategy to fully empower your protest vote before you visit your polling booth. Print it out and take your own how-to-vote card to your polling booth!

If you are hazy about exactly how the preference system works to let you ‘vote for the partial bastards before the total bastards and still VOTE 1 for a minor party’ have a look at chicken-nation.

There you go, that’s my argument for why a strategic valid vote is way better than an informal one to make your point and play your part in our democracy without endorsing the big parties.

Discussion very welcome.





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  1. Hi guys please look at all the party’s out there you do have a say do not just give it away
    This site is one of the only sites that will give us all a fare go
    Thank You
    Blair Brewster

  2. Bloody brilliant Margo, I’m sending this on to my first time informal friends.

  3. As much as I want to vote informal, you make some good points. I’ll lodge a valid vote and will vote below the line – I’ll decide my preference flow, not a party machine. However, it is a sad comment on the caliber of the candidates that my vote will be determined backwards – the one that pisses me off least.

    • margokingston says

      Really chuffed I convinced someone! We have so little power, a shame to waste what we do have.

  4. I too was going to vote informal as a protest but you make a valid point

  5. Agree wholeheartedly with margo, but on a technical note, you CAN vote formally in the senate and guarantee neither of liblab gets your vote: double a single number below the line where you want your vote to stop counting, then keep going to the end (e.g. 1,2,3,4,5,5,6,7,8… ) for the senate, this is a formal vote, but it is counted only until the doubled number.

    • Moz in a State of Confusion says

      That’s still an invalid vote. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langer_vote Anthony Green describes it thus “The so-called ‘Langer’ vote saving provision, where ballot papers with duplicated numbers were permitted to stay in the count, was removed from the electoral act when activist Albert Langer started to publicise it as a form of de-facto optional preferential votng.”

  6. margokingston says

    Well Guinevere, you have interviewed your candidates – who will get your number one? A oiece on who and why?

  7. @Margo

    Take a look at the election result in Qld. and figure out how any party is going to win 40 seats needed to get the LNP out of power …. in the next 6 years.

    All you are doing is endorsing a win for “Slick” Abbott.

    And I don’t think that is very Slick.

  8. so my comment didn’t pass moderation? OK, I won’t bother commenting in future then. It was on-topic, relevant, and (I thought) informative and conversation-starting.

  9. I agree.. informal voting is for the birds, so many saying its the way to protest gives me the creeps, all that indecision worked so well in 2010 didn’t it..

    Vote smart, be heard if only in a tiny way. B

    But as Abbott says, dont waste you’re precious gift…

    Gawd that sounds awful doesn’t it..but its true, one vote every three years, why throw it away.

  10. John Englart says

    I’ve been there, done that. During the 80s i voted informal for ethical and political reasons. On some occasions I ripped my ballot paper up into pieces in the polling booth. On other occasions I walked away with my ballot papers and substituted a short essay and longer essay on why I didn’t vote. I am sure the returning officer had fun with the ballot mismatch at counting. If the election was ever really really close, my missing ballot paper might be grounds for a new election.

    I managed to get off the electoral role during the 90s.

    So what were my reasons? By participating in the electoral system I was condoning and validating it as the relevant way to hand power to a select group of men and somewhat less women, every 3 years. I refused to participate in such a system. 3 minutes of illusory power. I was being ethically pure according to a political tradition of abstention from electoral politics.

    Then a funny thing happened. In 1998 I started realizing we should not give away the little power we have. We should use it wisely, strategically. Just don’t be under any illusions that this should be the limit to democracy. Democracy is much more. Getting active in your community on local issues, pressing whoever gets elected to keep their promises, show leadership for the whole community. It is something that continues past elections, in talking and being part of a community. The more people the merrier.

    I’d like to see our Town Halls, community halls, opening their doors for free at election time holding candidate forums. They ARE the peoples halls. I’d like to see all candidates attending such meetings. Any that consistently refuse to meet electors, like quite a few Liberal candidates this election, should not claim a mandate if elected. Electors should have the opportunity of questioning candidates to help decide who to vote for and their preferences.

    So I have met 7 of the 8 candidates in my electorate of Wills, interviewed 6 of them, 5 of them in depth. I respect my Labor MP – he is hard working and dedicated. But I will probably vote for a minor party just to make the seat more marginal and to redirect a little bit of funding their way, or at least not to the major parties.

    I would urge others to consider this tactic as well.

    • Thank you John
      Blair Brewster
      Palmer united party
      Read up well

    • joy cooper says

      Here I was agreeing with most of what you said, John, until I came to the penultimate paragraph where you said “I respect my Labor MP – he is hard working and dedicated. But I will probably vote for a minor party just to make the seat more marginal and to redirect a little bit of funding their way, or at least not to the major parties.” What the…?!?!?

      To deny a vote for someone, whom you believe to be the best candidate, just to make a point is childish in the extreme. It is as bad as all those who are doing a selfish dummy spit & thinking of voting informal or for one of the many far right conservative fringe group minor parties. All because they feel put upon by the “major” parties making them unworthy of “their” vote. All this will achieve is that the minor parties will preference one of the major parties meaning your vote goes there anyway.

      So much for clear intelligent thought.

      • Moz in a State of Confusion says

        Joy, how is it a dummy spit? We all know that eventually our vote will flow through to Lib/Lab/Nat/Grn. The point is that by voting for a minor party we can signal which direction we think politics should move in, and we direct our $2.50/vote to the minor party. If the seat does become marginal then it will get more attention, both funding and media. Why do you think there’s so much attention on the marginal seats in Western Sydney?

        The “vote major parties only” is an argument against preferential voting. Which, if you’re going to make it, at least be honest. I’m sick of major parties and their fans pushing this, or the related “it doesn’t matter” myth. It does matter, and it’s not foolish.

        For the record, I respect all sorts of people that I wouldn’t vote for. Australia First, for example, because they have the guts to stand up and say “we’re fascists and we want to run Australia”, where most authoritarian extremist try to pretend otherwise. Does respecting that at least they’re honest mean I would or should vote 1 fascism? No. Not even slightly.

      • Joy,
        thanks for your comment. As I said, my Labor MP is hard working and dedicated, and I respect him. It doesn’t mean I agree with him politically, or that I have found him to be the “best” candidate. In fact I think the Greens candidate, and the race in Wills is really between Labor and the Greens, is equally capable and dedicated and would work hard for the people of Wills.

        But I will probably cast my first preference vote on policy alone. I am a climate activist / science journalist and I have been reporting on the climate issue since 2004. It is one helluva big complex problem. On that issue alone I will probably vote first for the Save the Planet guy in Wills, just for the message it sends to the big parties. Next preference will probably go to the Greens, because Tim Read has shown to me and to the electorate that he is a worthy challenger with commitment and compassion across many policy areas.

        If anything my investigation has increased my personal respect for Kelvin Thomson. In fact, a few times in this campaign I have rebutted negative comments on his Facebook wall. I would do the same for any candidate being wrongfully mocked with incorrect facts. As individuals we need to step up and say when something isn’t right. But respect does not necessarily mean I agree with Kelvin or will give him my 1st preference.

        There should be more respect across party lines in politics – highlighting compassion and dedication above ideology. We would get more done rather than the negativity and divisiveness we have seen predominantly coming from the right in the Liberal Party, and to a lesser extent from the Labor right. There has been too much focus on achieving and wielding power instead of governing for us all.

      • Have to agree with Joy. If candidate is hard working, respected and best, and you are basically satisfied with policy statements, it is nonsensical 2 vote differently. Protest voting happened in QLD re Bligh ALP & look what a mess that has left us with? Gee, that sure ‘learned ’em good!’ How can making a seat more marginal (and possibly losing it altogether for that party) by voting against a candidate you actually feel positively about be sensible? Particularly when the election could be far closer than MSM would have public believe.This limits their ability to actually do what you want…effectively represent voters. If you are dissatisfied with party/candidate’s position then continue to work at grassroots as you have been: speak with candidates, go to meetings, contact members and use public forums…but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face because the same can happen in the Senate…and then you truly will have the Newmania situation across the country.

  11. Hi Margo,

    Funny you should say that, I made a video to demonstrate this very point… . http://youtu.be/f7KiBYg9_DU.

    Joy Cooper: The point is to deny the majors the money, which only goes with the Number 1 vote. Yes, votes will usually end up with one of the majors, but that’s because preferencing is compulsory. If we had optional preferential voting it would be a whole new ball game, which is why the majors run a mile from it. And don’t forget, it’s the voter’s decision about where their preference goes – any how-to-vote is just a suggestion, not an order.

  12. Malcolm Scott says

    Yup, don’t understand the deliberate informal vote strategy, and especially in the Senate where every taste is catered for.

    Having done lots of HTV card rosters at pre-polling, mobile polling booths, and election days, I’ve always been frustrated by those who openly express an ambivalent don’t care attitude as they enter the polling booth.

    Having also done a scrutineers role, I can attest to how powerful each vote is, and especially your preference choice. The level of real time observation, analysis, reporting back to HQ of likely preference flows as the votes are counted by electoral staff is an untold story. If the difference between candidates is only a few hundred votes throughout the count, each non mainstream vote and preference is closely observed, for what it is, and its validity (ie, contested as not informal if favourable, and contested informal if not favourable).

    Preference votes are noticed on the day. I would think that they are also noticed leading up to the next campaign. It’s not as though a mainstream candidate in taking preferences from say a #1 Sex Party voter would not be more nuanced at the next election for that electorate. And when they get to the Caucus or Party Room they just might advocate for your issues.

    Anyhow, I live in hope. In my electorate, the candidate for a mainstream party trying to unseat a long time MP is definitely not from the party mould. The preferential voting system I think has a lot to do with how this has come about.

  13. joy cooper says

    Tony & Moz, still do not see how “cutting one’s nose off” will achieve anything.constructive. 90% of the minor parties, as I mentioned are far right wing extremist parties & to deny a good-for-the-electorate, hard-working candidate a vote just to send a message is foolish in my humble opinion.

    Having been around for quite a while, I have seen many weird fringe parties surface under various pretexts, many mainly to try & obtain some this funding. Even Independents can have their drawbacks as, despite what they say, their political beliefs & philosophy will tend towards a certain direction which may not be the one you choose to prefer.

    Still, this is just my opinion.

  14. david lennon says

    “I’d like to make the case for an informal vote or more precisely for “a positive non vote”.

    The positive non vote was first identified by a Dr Chapman lecturer in politics at Auckland University in the late 60’s early 70’s.

    His research found a group who didn’t vote, in NZ and beyond, that did not vote not because they couldn’t be shagged getting off the couch but because they could find no party they believed deserved their vote at any given election.

    Australia has the choice of one major party leader who was effectively campaigning for the other major party at the last election, another leader with a past that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and a raft of quotes that would sink most other politicians and then following them, Christine Milne and Warren Truss aside, are the circus acts.

    The vast majority of the minor parties in this election are not trying to win the thing and there is the rub.

    What they are hoping for is to fluke the balance of power in the Lower House while accepting their best chance of achieving that lies with the Senate.

    They would use that position to hold the parliament to ransom on their particular pet issue.

    In other words genuine minority government on some issues as opposed to what we have effectively had for the past 3 years a working albeit loose coalition.

    At least the Greens for example represent a sizable minority Family First do not.

    The Greens who I would assume people might believe are in it to win it aren’t, as any one familiar with the party’s internal debates will know.

    There is a clear divide between those who want to achieve government and those who think the balance of power is OK.

    The Greens anyway have failed to do the hard work to build a core voting group with about half of voters in any election voting Green as a protest and then taking their vote elsewhere at the next poll.

    Research shows voters see little difference between the Liberal and the Nationals and perhaps what has happened in Queensland is the future

    The rest of the minor parties are no more than a ragtag of vanity parties, single issue non starters and a demonic cesspool of right wing nutters.

    None of them deserve to receive a cent of public money to finance their “crusades” into the future.

    That is until the moment their leader can credibly stand before the electorate and say we are about replacing one or both of the current major parties and here’s how we are going to do it and all these people standing behind me are as committed as I am.

    So when you vote I’d suggest writing “positive non vote” on your ballot papers.

    If enough people do it it will send the following messages.

    To the major parties. We won’t swallow your bullshit policies and your sub standard leaders anymore.

    To the minor parties. Convince us you’re serious about winning government or at least being the a contributing member of any future cobbled together coalition government and here is a vote you can have.

    You can be sure scrutineers will be reporting back and by actually writing these words the message that will be received is unambiguous.”

  15. Did you know you can leave up to 10% of the boxes unnumbered and still have a valid vote?

    Have a look here http://www.aec.gov.au/elections/candidates/files/scrutineers-handbook.pdf starting I think around page 46
    I’m trying to find out how many one can leave blank. 2 things are obvious. The voters intent must be clear and there must be no gaps in your numbering. If I can number 75% of the boxes and leave off the major parties and still have a valid vote, that is the way I want to go. I spent 5hrs deciding how I was going to vote and really I only touched the surface.

    But thanks for the info about the 1st preference getting the money. I didn’t know this.

    • I’m pretty sure it is only in the senate that have to number 90% below the line, so yes, you could possibly leave the majors off (depending on what state you are in and how many actual candidates there are. In Vic I think there are 97 so you need to number 1 to 88…going from memory…don’t rely on my numbers exactly)

  16. Have been checking out the actual legislation today on http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Series/C1918A00027 if you open the first folder Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 currant and scroal down to section 270 you’le get the offical pollitical bit (it’s a mouth full, I’le attach it below). what I get is on the senate paper if your numbering below the line (I fully recomend) then you can make max. 3 mistakes and leave out the last 10% of boxes un filled and still have your vote counted. But in the spirit of littel trust in the political process this legislation seams open to some interpritation. Someone else recomends numbering as far as your willing to place prefferances, make a double mistake and continue numbering the rest. Eg. 55 56 57 57 58 59. claiming your vote will be counted and onley up to number 56. I will try to check this with the AEC. As for the House of Representatives Ballod anny mistake or blank box renders your vote informal (there was a legislation amendment)
    I wish to use the power of my legitimate vote and am torn by being forced to pass preferances on to people I dont want at all.
    PS. Take a black pen with you to vote, you can it’s in their rules.
    Hear’s the sennate legislation section 270, and peace and love on earth to you all.
    270 Certain votes with non-consecutive numbers to be formal
    (1) Where a ballot paper in a Senate election:
    (a) has the number 1 in the square opposite to the name of a
    candidate and does not have that number in the square
    opposite to the name of another candidate;
    (b) has:
    (i) in a case where there are more than 9 candidates in the
    election—in not less than 90% of the squares opposite
    to the names of candidates, numbers in a sequence of
    consecutive numbers commencing with the number 1 or
    numbers that with changes to no more than 3 of them
    would be in such a sequence; or
    (ii) in any other case—in all the squares opposite to the
    names of candidates or in all those squares except one
    square that is left blank, numbers in a sequence of
    consecutive numbers commencing with the number 1 or
    numbers that with changes to no more than 2 of them
    would be in such a sequence; and
    (c) but for this subsection, would be informal by virtue of
    paragraph 268(1)(b);
    (d) the ballot paper shall not be informal by virtue of that
    (e) the number 1 shall be taken to express the voter‘s first
    (f) where numbers in squares opposite to the names of
    candidates are in a sequence of consecutive numbers
    commencing with the number 1—the voter shall be taken to
    have expressed a preference by the other number, or to have
    expressed preferences by the other numbers, in that
    sequence; and
    (g) the voter shall not be taken to have expressed any other

  17. Follow your own conscience. Ignore all advice about how to vote, including this blog.

  18. I thought he said that in relation to virginity

  19. jonicomlately says

    If you make a “mistake” when voting like say doubling up on two numbers but still number all candidates below the line( ie if there are 90 but you accidently put a no` twice but don`t go over 90 ) your vote will be counted. But PREFERENCES STOP flowing at your mistake. say 1,2,3,4,4,6,7 they stop at no 3

  20. Where does the money go if you vote informal? This was not clear from your article. If the funds don’t go anywhere, then voting informal isn’t such a bad idea. Arguably we shouldn’t be funding any political parties or candidates with tax money, and if you want to support the smaller guys, there are plenty of crowd-source funding options online to start with.

  21. Only after 4000 (received) votes does that $2.48 per vote funding go to the party (you voted for) so this information is NOT ‘that’ informed.

    • Malcolm Scott says

      What is your reference Snook?

      “A candidate or Senate group is eligible for election funding if they obtain at least 4% of the first preference vote in the division or the state or territory they contested.”


      The power of this strategy is not what funding is provided to small parties often not getting 4%. It’s the deprivation of funding of mainstream parties that give them cause to consider the electorate wide implications of their policies and behaviour

      So with all the success of Clive’s PUP with a likely 1 seat and 2 senators, it will get only about $0.75m where it got over 4% of the vote.

      Given the strange Senate outcome this time, perhaps ‘not happy Jan’ should have created a party and stood in the Senate.