Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Voting is the best revenge
Last post about the election, I swear :-)

(In recent news: looks like Turnball might well be opposition leader. Interesting times! That should make us a republic before too long.)

Wanted to tell you all about the seemingly dull, yet secretive and interesting for a first timer, world of the Scrutineer.

After the polling booths close, each booth counts the votes which were cast there. Presumably the part timers who man the booth and then count the votes are, at least in part, old hands who are familiar with this work. And to keep an eye on them, to make sure everything is above board, and nothing screws up in a big way, each party is allowed to appoint a number of Scrutineers to each booth. At the booth in Thornbury East, one of them was me.

I had to sign up with the dude in charge of the booth beforehand, and he gave me an el-cheapo ID card with an el-cheapo lanyard.

There's another important roll for the scrutineer which I forgot to mention - getting a tally and phoning it in to the campaign office so they can get some idea how the voting has gone.

Here's a brief description of what goes on behind the closed doors of a polling booth (they lock the doors and no one is allowed in or out till counting is complete!)

The first rule of fight club is that you must... Wait... The first and most important rule for a scrutineer: YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH THE BALLOTS. This presumably to prevent the popping in of extra votes or indeed removing o' ballots!

First off, in the school hall of Pender Street Primary school, the entire contents of the lower house ballot box was upended on a couple of tables pushed together. The ballots are sorted into neat piles, the same way around and the same way up. There is also a preliminary check for informal or as they say "spoiled" ballots. You gots to number from one to six, folks!

Myself, the other ALP scrutineer and a middle aged lass from the Greens watched all this take place.

Next, they are roughly sorted into first preferences. There were six candidates in Batman - ALP (obviously), Liberal, Green, Family First, a Democrat and Citizen's Electoral Council! The people who come out from the wood work at election time!

The counters sorted them into two sets of six piles, on either side of the table. Seven in fact, one for each of the candidates and one for the "spoiled" ballots. Actually, in practice there was only six piles - the CEC character got so few votes he hardly got a pile :-)

Pretty soon it was clear who was going to come out ahead. Quite literally, the piles for each candidate dramatically reflected how popular each of them had been. I saw a number of donkey votes - ballots where the "voter" had simply numbered the boxes from top to bottom one to six. But didn't see any mistakes by the counters, they seemed to know what they were doing.

And now a brief interlude where we reflect on Stupid People.

Stupid people one: They found at least five ballot papers in the absentee ballot boxes. These were for people from out of the area, who had to pop their ballot papers in an envelope.

Stupid people two: They found at least five green lower house ballet papers in the senate ballet box. There was a HUGE sign explaining into which box each paper had to go.

Stupid people three: The number of informal ballets ("spoils") was high, about 120 of them! Some were blank. Some had a cross against the candidate in question. Some had repeated numbers. One had ticks in all the boxes... Make you wonder. The senate papers were bad too: people who'd put one number below the line. Ballots with numbers above and below the line. Clearly some of these folks couldn't care less, but some of them were clearly just thick.

Back to the counting. The votes grew into piles. It was clear who was ahead - the Martin Ferguson pile was so large it morphed into two then three piles. At the end of the process, it would be possible to pick the winner just by looking at the size of the piles! But they had to be counted properly.

The stacks were broken into batches of fifty votes, checking again for informals. There were a few more of these, and some discussion about "if the voters intentions were clear." I remembered back to the US Presidential election of 2000, and the discussion about hanging chads and pregnant chads. I like our system more!

The final tally of first round votes was (from memory):
ALP (Martin): 1500 or so
Libs (some guy surname of Peart): 557
Greens: 404
Democrats (remember them?): 54
Family First: 51
CEC: 3!!!

Martin got more votes than everyone else combined. The counters joked that Mr and Mrs CEC, and their one kid, must have been the only one's voting for him here :-)

I was smugly happy about the Family First vote. They'd had at least two people there handing out how to vote cards all day, with some banners and posters. All for 51 votes. They might as well have stayed at home... One of my cronies spotted one of the FF folks serving beer to us at the after party at the RSL!!!!

There was a brief pause while the senate ballots were sorted. Turned out that this was a good idea - as I mentioned, five more lower house ballot papers turned up. And two of them were informal, which figures.

I called through the primary ballots to the campaign office.

So finally we could get on to the distributing of preferences. I'd brought a radio with me, so I could find out what was happening in the rest of the country. Good stuff, it would seem! Two seats falling in Victoria which was a surprise. I conveyed news to the others locked in as I got it, they seemed generally rather pleased.

I had to struggle to remember back to the high school, or where ever they taught us about proportional voting. After the the primary votes have been distributed, the candidates with the fewest ballots had their votes redistributed to the other candidates. In practice, they just pick two parties/people with the most votes and distribute the votes to them, based on who of the two most successful candidates they gave a higher preference to.

During this process, they discovered a bunch of Martin's ballots had got mixed up with the Greens pile! Martin's primary vote went up by about 50...

So. The CEC chaps votes when 2 to the libs, 1 to us. Which is not to say that they'd put Labor second, just they they'd put us higher than the libs! And so on through the Democrats (about thirty to us), Family First (mostly to the Libs). And finally the Greens. The poor greens scrutineer who was still there was very sad when this happened. Their vote at this booth was down from last time.... And their prefs fell to us in a big way! 371 of their 404 votes! Nice.

So the final two party preferred vote, at this (relatively small) booth was roughly:
ALP (my man Martin!): 1900
Libs: 600 and something.

Turns out there was a swing to Labor - if that's possible! - of about 4.6%, making Batman still the safest labor seat in the country! A clear majority of about 21%! Which, to put it another way, meant that really I was wasting my time, it was always going to be thus. Ah well.

So, with that, it was all over. The still had to count the senate ballots, but that was going to take hours more. I phoned through the final results and headed off to the party. I'd already been there from 6PM till just before 9PM! Long day.

It had been weirdly satisfying seeing democracy, raw actual ballot paper democracy, at work. This could have been a dull job, but in some ways it was exciting to watch that pile of ballots get higher and higher. Will put my hand up again next time around.

Fuck me, this is a long entry. Good night!

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I scrutineered once in a byelection in 1998. A friend was running as an independent. (Got bugger-all, but thought it was worth it for the experience.) Votes were about 3/5 Labor and 2/5 Liberal, everyone else got distributed immediately, I went home at this point. (So it sounds like they've changed the rules about leaving early.)

The AEC keeps a regular roster of reliable casuals for election day. It's also a source of overtime for AEC employees. I did work experience at the AEC many years ago ... they do fuck all between elections, so when there is an election they like to show off how immaculately professional they are ;-)

One is allowed to leave...

The scrutineers are allowed to leave whenever they like. They're just not allowed back in again :-)

I like to think I did my tiny part for the new government!!!!

Doesn't sound it, but it was. Certainly a novel experience...

There's a really terrible movie named bobby that claims CHAD stands for Card Hole Aggregate Debris, but it's not true. The end.

That's just plausible... *goes to look for dictionary*

That would have been really interesting. This was the first election that I'd really cared about, so I was very pleased when my guy won.

I've been following elections since I was four (I'm told).

This was more important than most, suffice to say I was very, very pleased with the outcome...

Waaait... a donkey vote is 1 to 6 straight down? What if the voters intention was to vote exactly like that!?!?!?!?

A donkey vote is when someone votes straight down the ticket. The chances of this being sensible is small - although it has happened! Not when there were six candidates and the democrat and the family first folks were first and second on the ticket! Surely no one has political views that schizophrenic!!!

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