Having a say isn't easy

Issue 

Having a say isn't easy

By Lisa Macdonald

The lengths to which politicians will go to make it as difficult as possible for people to express their will at the polling booth was revealed in all its absurdity during the NSW state elections.

The system of markings allowed on ballot papers confused even the most literate and electorally well-informed voters — including many of the Electoral Commission's own staff on the day.

Voters were confronted with three pieces of paper to mark. On the ballot paper for the Legislative Assembly (lower house), valid votes included papers marked with the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc next to the names of the candidates in their preferred order. A vote for one candidate only was allowable, but only if the number 1 was used to indicate her or him. A tick or cross next to a candidate's name, even when no other candidate boxes were marked, was invalid. This was the case despite the fact that a tick or cross, if followed by the numbers 2, 3, etc for other candidates was accepted as a valid vote.

A different set of rules applied to the election of the Legislative Council (upper house). Voters were instructed to use the number 1 for their preferred party in a vote above the line, or the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc if voting below the line. If using the second option, voters were required to number from 1 to at least 15 (up to 99).

Despite these specific instructions on the ballot paper, however, the Electoral Commission admitted that in counting the votes it decided to accept as valid a tick or a cross instead of the number 1 in votes above the line.

Finally, the third voting paper, a two question referendum, allowed voters to use any one of a tick, a cross, the number 1 or the word "yes" to indicate their vote.

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