Voting and Preferences

Federal Senate Election (NSW) 2022

The Senate

While members of the House of Representatives are elected by voters in individual constituencies, members of the Senate are elected to represent each entire state. Each state has twelve senators, elected for 6-year terms. Six are elected every 3 years.

On the white Senate ballot paper, voters need to either:

· number at least six boxes above the line for the parties or groups of their choice, from 1 to 6 or

· number at least 12 boxes below the line for individual candidates in order of preference.

How the Senate Election works

Both Houses of Parliament use a preferential rather than a “first past the post” system but they have different means for registering voters’ preferences.

Preferential voting for the House of Representatives is designed to secure the election of a single candidate with a majority of votes. If no candidate receives more than 50% of first preference votes, the next preferences of the least successful candidates are distributed until one candidate emerges with a majority of votes.

Voting for the Senate uses a proportional representation system, aiming to return candidates from parties in proportion to those parties' support.

To be elected, a candidate has to obtain, at least, a required quota (or proportion of votes). For six candidates to be elected, the quota is one seventh of the total number of votes cast, plus one. (It's impossible for more than six candidates to exceed this number.)

After the first count, typically a couple of candidates will have exceeded the quota, and are elected. Their surplus votes are then transferred to the candidates who were the second choice of voters on those ballot papers. But each vote is transferred at a reduced rate (the number of surplus votes divided by the total number of votes gained by the candidate).

Voting above the line: the vote is initially allocated to the candidate at the top of that party’s list. Then if they reach the quota, their excess votes are distributed to successive candidates down the party list.

Smaller parties: if all the positions have not been filled by candidates obtaining the quota by this means, then the lowest-scoring candidates are eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to their second, then subsequent, preferences. Votes are redistributed again and again until six candidates have reached a quota, or (usually in the last count) have reached an unbeatable count.

This system supports voters whose preferred party may not poll well enough to be elected outright, as their preference vote may ultimately help elect a candidate who is not their first choice, but whom they prefer to other candidates.

However, if a vote is distributed through all the marked preferences without reaching a successful candidate, it is "exhausted" and the vote ultimately plays no part in selecting senators.

How to Vote cards and party preferences: since 2019, votes are only distributed to candidates or parties actually marked on each voter's ballot paper. Although some parties recommend preferences, these recommendations have no effect unless the voter actually follows them when voting.

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