The 'Middle-Finger Vote': How Voters Are Deciding When Democracy Suits Them

Welcome to the world of pre-polling, where voters decide when democracy suits them and don't care for sausages, no matter what the source.

It's called the middle-finger vote -- the political 'up-yours'. And it's being utilised more frequently, with hundreds of thousands of votes already cast, weeks before election day.

Traditionally voters have been expected to line up on polling day itself, with queues stretching through wrought-iron school gates, past the bunting and down the street. With your vote cast, it's time for a democracy snag -- maybe with a bit of bacon, or on an artisan bread roll, if you're at a highfalutin private school.

But the latest data tells us the times are a-changing -- and fast.

Of the 16.4 million people eligible to vote in 2019, the Australian Electoral Commission says more that 510,000 have already cast their ballots after just four days of pre-polling. Compare that with just 315,000 at the last election in 2016.

On the first day alone, a whopping 122,771 people jumped out of the blocks, nearly double the 66,894 people who took advantage of pre-polling in 2016. It's not unreasonable to think one million people will have already had their say by mid-next week.

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'So what?' you say. 'Good on 'em.' But wait. These are voters who haven't waited to hear the opposition's long-anticipated costings on its multi-billion dollar emissions reduction target, nor its ambitious electric car agenda.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale and candidate for Higgins, Jason Ball outside a pre-poll in the Federal seat of Higgins. Photo: AAP

They're not interested in knowing if their local candidate will be disendorsed for racist posts or stupidity, and their certainly not fussed about the leaders' debates . No -- these are people with a fixed view, a firm mind and, according to the polls, fed up with the government's dysfunction.

The middle finger is up. The bird is proudly flying.

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Three weeks of pre-polling is a long time. Too long, many politicians believe. It takes ministers away from campaigning on the national stage, as they return home to muster votes in their local areas, and depletes party resources like volunteers, flyers and posters.

Tanya Plibersek supporters hand out flyers outside a Sydney pre-poll station. Photo: AAP

It also affects strategies. How soon should a party release its key promises? When does it dump its opposition dirt files to the media? When should its costings be made public? The earlier the better, I'd argue.

It was, after all, the final week of the campaign that cost NSW Labor leader Michael Daley his chance to lead the state at the March election. The damaging vision of him telling voters that Asians were taking their jobs was catastrophic. Those who voted early had no knowledge of this, and couldn't change their votes, even if they wanted to.

Privately at least, both major parties suspect three weeks of pre-poll should be wound back. There's always postal voting.

Voters lining to vote early at a pre-polling booth in Sydney. Photo: AAP

There is also the view that elections are one of the few things in our plural society that truly unite us.

So sure -- if you're pregnant, sick or working, of course you should be able to go to pre-polling. But for the rest of us, you only have to line up to vote once every few years.

That is, forgetting your state elections -- oh, and those pesky council elections.

On other hand, this damned democracy thing this is a hell of an effort... where's that pre-polling station again?