Explainer: The Federal Election
Alex DarlingPrime Minister Kevin Rudd today ended weeks of speculation, nominating September 7 as the date of the 2013 federal election. Officially, the campaigning process begins now for the Labor government and the Coalition in opposition, though in truth their efforts to win people’s votes have been continuous over the past 3 years.For many people under 25, this will be their first election as voters.Or at least it should be. In mid-July, Ed Killesteyn from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) noted that “approximately half a million 18-24 year old voters [are] missing from the electoral roll,” comprising more than a third of all missing voters in Australia.Mr Killesteyn’s Western Australian counterpart Warwick Gately has an explanation for young people’s under-representation on the electoral roll: In February, after it was revealed that 50 per cent of people aged 18-25 weren’t enrolled in parts of WA, he told the ABC “Maybe the process is too complicated for them, in that you have to fill out forms and [on top of that] turn up to vote.”That being the case, SYN News is pleased to present an explanatory guide to Federal Elections.Dan Doherty of the AEC in Victoria has also provided some extra tips for young voters, as he hopes “all eligible Australians meet their legal obligations to enrol to vote and excercise their democratic right.”What is a Federal Election?The federal election is the process by which the voting population (i.e. people over 18 years old enrolled to vote) elects the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. From a range of candidates, voters choose an individual to hold office as their representative in Parliament. Candidates usually represent political parties, but there are also some independent candidates.At this election, voters will decide all 150 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 of the 76 seats in the Senate. The party which wins a majority in the lower house forms government, and its leader becomes Prime Minister.Where do you go to enrol, or to check if you’re not sure?You can check your enrolment status at https://oevf.aec.gov.au/. If you aren’t enrolled, enrollment forms are available online. You can also update your enrollment details and learn about your federal electorate at this site.DD: I encourage young people to enrol using the AEC’s Facebook app: “Youth Votes Matter”. The app lets you enrol and also update your enrolment details (e.g. name, address) online, and you can then share this with your friends and family on Facebook.Where do you go to vote?The most common means of voting is to go to a polling place within your electorate on election day and fill out the appropriate ballot forms. If you’re not in your electorate on election day, but still within your state or territory, you can cast a vote at any polling place. This is referred to as an “Absent vote”. If you’re unable to attend a polling place due to work, travel, health problems, religious beliefs or have a reasonable fear for your safety, you can cast an “Early vote”, either by post (up to 2 days before the election day), or in person by attending an AEC divisional office.What is the House of Representatives and how do I vote for it correctly?The House of Reps is the house in which Government and Opposition are formed, where laws are passed and issues of national importance are debated.Ballot papers for the House of Reps are colored light Green. To vote, number every box in order of your preferred candidates.There will being polling officials there to assist you.A ballot paper is considered an “Informal vote” if you hand it in blank, use ticks or crosses or repeat a number. Your vote won’t be counted if it’s Informal.DD: It doesn’t hurt to find out more about the candidates in your electorate. An informed decision is always better than an uninformed decision.What is the Senate and how do I vote for it correctly?The Senate is the house by which all bills passed by the House of Reps must be accepted before they become laws.On the Senate ballot, you can choose from 5 different candidates marked A to E. You can fill it out in one of two ways: Above the Line: Put the number ‘1’ in one – and only one – of the boxes. Below the Line: Number all the boxes (1, 2, 3…) in your preferred order.What if you make a mistake?DD: If you make a mistake on your ballot paper, you should return it to the polling official who gave it to you originally and ask for a new ballot paper. They’ll give you a fresh ballot paper after you hand back the one you made a mistake on.So there are the nuts and bolts of it. We can’t help you decide who to vote for, but hopefully you’re more confident now about voting if you weren’t sure exactly what is involved.Remember, your vote counts. If you’re disinterested in the political landscape, as many young people are, you can let the pollies know at the election.The bottom line is that, as a voter, you get to decide whether they stay in office or are shown the door.Alex Darling is a first-year journalism student at RMIT. He is a reporter for SYN News and a contributor to Catalyst, RMIT’s student magazine.