Preferential Voting Systems

In Australia, preferential voting systems are majority systems where candidates must receive an absolute majority, more than 50% of the total formal votes cast, to be elected. If the absolute majority is not gained on the first count, then preferences are distributed until an absolute majority is obtained.

The term "preferential voting" means voters can indicate an order of preferences for candidates on the ballot paper, i.e. who they want as their 1st choice, 2nd choice and so on.

Full Preferential Voting

The elector must show a preference for all candidates listed on the ballot paper. In some electoral systems which use full preferential voting, the voter can leave one box empty if the voter's intention with regard to the other preferences is clear. The empty box is treated as the voter's last preference, e.g. voting for the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

Optional Preferential Voting

The number "1" preference must be shown and other preferences may be indicated, e.g. voting for the NSW and Queensland Legislative Assemblies.

Partial Preferential

The elector must show a minimum number of preferences as set out on the ballot paper. e.g. voting for the Tasmanian Legislative Council.

The Full Preferential Count

Count ballot papers

Polling officials sort and count formal and informal votes. Informal votes are set aside and do not take further part in the count.

The formal votes are counted according to the 1st preferences given by voters. This is the primary count and the results are made available.

Not all votes are counted immediately as absent, postal and pre-poll votes including declarations received by post after the close of polling need to be processed and checked before they can be admitted to the count.

If no candidate receives an absolute majority (more than 50% of the total 1st preference votes) after all valid votes have been admitted to the count, then subsequent preferences have to be distributed.

Distributing preferences

First (Primary) Count

Formal votes received by each candidate are counted according to where the voter placed number "1" for each candidate.

In this example there are 100 000 formal votes. The absolute majority is more than 50% of the total formal votes cast, i.e. 50 001 votes.

Example of First (Primary) Count
sample ballot paper, votes: Sally 1, Lee 2, Jo 3, Paul 4 Sally 33 000 sample ballot paper, votes: Jo 1, Paul 2, Sally 3, Lee 4 Jo 21 000
sample ballot paper, votes: Lee 1, Paul 2, Jo 3, Sally 4 Lee 16 000
Lee with the lowest number of 1st preference votes is excluded.
sample ballot paper, votes: Paul 1, Sally 2, Lee 3, Jo 4 Paul 30 000

Second Count

No candidate received an absolute majority in the first count, so the candidate with the lowest number of 1st preference votes is excluded. In this case Lee has the lowest number of votes, 16 000. Those votes are distributed to the remaining candidates according to the next available preference. In this case, this is where voters placed their number "2" preference.

Example of Second Count
sample ballot paper, votes: Lee 1, Sally 2, Jo 3, Paul 4 Sally 33 000
       +  7 000 from Lee
         40 000
sample ballot paper, votes: Lee 1, Jo 2, Sally 3, Paul 4 Jo 21 000
   +  4 000 from Lee
     25 000
Jo with the lowest number of votes is excluded.
image of sample ballot paper Paul 30 000
      +  5 000 from Lee
        35 000

Third Count

Still no candidate has an absolute majority so the counting procedure continues.

Again the candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded.

In this case Jo has the lowest number of votes, 25 000. Those votes are distributed to the remaining candidates according to where voters placed the next available preference for the candidates remaining in the count.

Example of Third Count
sample ballot paper, votes: Lee 1, Jo 2, Sally 3, Paul 4 Sally 40 000
      +  6 000 from Jo
        46 000
(these will include ballot papers from voters who originally voted "1" for Lee).
sample ballot paper, votes: Jo 1, Paul 2, Lee 3, Sally 4 Paul 35 000
     19 000 from Jo
        54 000
(these will include ballot papers from voters who originally voted "1" for Jo).

Result

Paul is declared elected as he has a majority of votes, 54 000.

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