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It's Surprisingly Easy To Ruin Your Senate Vote. Here's How To Make Sure It Counts

It's surprisingly easy to accidentally mess up your Senate vote.

With a record enrolment rate of 96.8 percent, more Australians than ever are heading to the polls, but nearly half of them don't understand the new Senate voting rules introduced in 2016.

Election Stats

This finding released in an Australia Institute Survey from 2018 also found widespread confusion about how to vote above or below the line. In fact, 50 percent of voters mistook voting six above the line as voting for the party you dislike more than any other.

More than a third of people believe numbering more than six boxes above the line disqualifies the vote altogether.

Neither of these are true.

In fact, even the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) commissioner Tim Rogers incorrectly explained the regulations to listeners during an ABC RN interview with host Fran Kelly on Monday.

"One to six above the line, one to twelve below and that’s as part of the legislative change as you’ve said Fran before the last election," Rogers said.

Critically, he didn't explain that voters must vote at least six candidates, labelling them "one to six".

What he meant to say was: "minimum six boxes above the line".

Senate Ballot Paper
Mock Senate ballot paper. Image: AEC

With a Federal election just around the corner, it's high time we clarified what the new rules mean. Imagine getting all the way down to your local polling station and wrestling with the giant Senate ballot paper, only for your vote not to count.

READ MORE: The Election Has Been Called. Get Your Democracy Snags On The Grill

Do You Have To Vote Above Or Below The Line?

It's your choice. Voters can choose to vote for a party or group (above the line) or individual candidates (below the line).

Voters must choose one of these options.

How Many Boxes Do You Have To Number?

The number depends on if you're voting above or below the line. Before 2016, voters had the choice to number one box above the line or all boxes below. This is no longer the case.

Above the line: number at least six boxes, one to six. One is the first choice and six is the last choice. You can number more than six if you wish, but there must be least six boxes numbered.

Below the line: number at least 12 boxes, one to 12. Number one is the first choice and 12 is the last choice. You can number more than 12 if you wish, but there must be least 12 boxes numbered.

Voting Senate
There's a bit of confusion about how to vote for Senate members. Image: Getty Images.

All this information is available on election day on every ballot paper.

"The best way to make sure you vote correctly is to follow the instructions on the ballot paper. They are printed on the paper," Media Director for the Australian Electoral Commission Phil Diak told 10 daily.

What Are Common Mistakes Voters Make?

There are a number of common mistakes that could mean your vote is 'informal' or doesn't count. To ensure your vote counts make sure you do the following:

  • Use numbers when filling out the ballot paper, not ticks or crosses
  • Use consecutive numbers in the boxes ( i.e. make sure you use number one, two, three, four, five, six, etc -- don't skip any numbers)
  • Do not identify yourself in any way or make you voting intention unclear
Senate Ballot Paper
Make sure you do nothing that could self-identify. Image: Getty Images.

"Do not do anything that would self-identify. Not initial the paper or write your name. Do not do anything that would make your intention unclear, like writing scribbles or slogans," Diak said.

READ MORE: Scott Morrison Says He Is The 'Undisputed Underdog' Of The Election

If you're worried you might make a mistake at voting time, the AEC has a number of tools where you can practice.

SENATE: Practice voting for the Senate here.

REPRESENTATIVES: Practice voting for the House of Representatives here.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au