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June 16, 2021

Mungo MacCallum’s how-to-vote guide

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You Can Close Your Eyes

There is a beautiful James Taylor song (‘You Can Close Your Eyes’) that commences with the words; Oh, the sun is surely sinking down, But the moon is slowly rising. 

General info about voting – DO IT! For starters it’s compulsory and more importantly it will have a very big impact on your life – and those of everyone else in the shire. And it isn’t really much of a price to pay for what we still call democracy.

There are two pieces of paper in the polling booth – one to vote for mayor* and one to vote for councillors.

A. Voting for mayor

MUNGO’S ADVICE: Number each square in the vote for mayor – don’t just vote ‘1’.

*In Tweed there is just one piece of paper – for councillors. Councillors elect the mayor in Tweed.

In Ballina, Lismore and Byron you get a chance to vote for the mayor. This is important as, apart from anything else, the mayor may have a casting (ie extra) vote if the other councillors are tied. But it’s not just a matter of picking your favourite.

You must put a number 1 in the box next to your first choice. If you want you can show more choices starting with the number 2. This is generally known as the optional preferential voting system, and what it means is that if your first choice misses out, you have another go. The point of the system is to elect not the most-loved candidate, but the least-loathed.

It is quite possible that no candidate will get the ‘absolute majority’ needed just from number ‘1’ (first preference) votes. But they might be elected from the second (or third) preferences of the least-popular candidates, when those are excluded. If your candidate is excluded, and you have not put a second (and third) preference, your vote will be ‘exhausted’ and someone you loathe may become mayor.

The process of exclusion goes on until a mayoral candidate reaches the absolute majority. So use the system – don’t let your vote run out at number one, which is known as ‘exhausting your preference’. This is even more important in the election for councillors, as we shall see.

B. Voting for councillors


1. ABOVE THE LINE (easy way):
Number every square above the line – don’t just vote ‘1’ for the group you like**


2. BELOW THE LINE (hard core):
If there are 50 candidates, put a 50 next to the one you really hate and work backwards, putting number 1 next to your top choice.

DON’T VOTE ABOVE AND BELOW the line – if you do your vote will not count at all.

The candidates who have organised themselves into groups have the advantage of a voting square ‘above the line’ and voters may choose to number just the square rather than number individual candidates ‘below the line’.

A number ‘1’ for a group records a first preference vote for the first candidate in the group with preferences going to the other candidates in the group in the order in which they are listed. Preferences then go to the next group, if indicated – and it should be, right down the line.

**If you just put a ‘1’ and don’t give more preferences, then your vote exhausts itself as soon as your first choice is excluded and you may be stuck with the ones you wouldn’t vote for in a fit. This happened a few years ago in Tweed – a lot of people were bewildered to find that although they thought that had voted firmly for a Green (or greenish) group, they did not indicate preferences while their more disciplined opponents did. Don’t let this happen to you.

Voting ‘below the line’

The more comprehensive and effective alternative is marking squares ‘below the line’ in order of preference for individual candidates You can stop after nominating the number required to fill the council but it is far better to go the whole way and fill in every square. This may be time consuming, but it allows you to cherry-pick individuals from different groups and, more importantly, to leave out the ones you really hate.

The way it works is that each councillor is elected after receiving a quota from first preferences, or subsequent preferences distributed after counting surplus votes from those already elected and preferences from those excluded. For what it’s worth, the quota is calculated as the total number of votes received divided by the number of councillors to be elected plus one, with an extra vote required to get them over the line. There is more kerfuffle we don’t need to go into.

The important bit is to make your vote count – right down to the wire. A tried and true method is to start not with those you really want on the council but with those you really don’t want. If there are, say, 50 candidates, put the number 50 against the one you can’t stand at any price and work your way backwards towards number 1, your top choice.

Okay, it’s a bit of a chore, but it only happens once every four years and it matters – to you and to everyone else in the shire. And remember, if you don’t vote, you really can’t complain if things don’t turn out the way you want. At least allow yourself the right to whinge.


For those really keen on the election system, you can read:

Schedule 5 – Local Government (General) Regulation 2005

Handbook for Parties, Groups, Candidates and Scrutineers – LG.200 (PDF)

Based on information from the NSW Electoral Commission.

See more at www.votensw.info

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  1. Thanks for taking the time to explain this utterly baffling system…. not one of the things our British cousins can be said to be responsible for as their voting system is considerably less bewildering!

    I love the way you talked about starting with the ones you really DON’T want and work backwards.. great advice and also to make sure we actually DO exercise our right to vote and making every single bit of that right count. I was thinking of defacing my ballot paper ( mea culpa) but you made me realize how very important it is to vote so I can’t complain (well I can and probably will!) when those I don’t like get elected. At least I’ll have done my bit!

    Thanks again ~ one of your more sober pieces of writing, if I might say LOL

  2. Thanks, Mungo for your clear explanation of voting.
    much clearer than any Government explanation I have seen – you cannot beat private enterprise for innovation.

  3. Thanks for that Mungo.

    I can’t believe that we need instructions on how to vote.

    Quite funny really.

    If we all need these instructions it doesn’t say much about the ability of our candidates does it? 🙂


  4. Thanks for the info Mungo. I reckon i can take on the “vote below the line” tomorrow. I hope more people understand the process this time.


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