Saturday, August 21, 2010

Federal Election Fun

I worked on the election today. I was a 'Polling Assistant'.

Note: For American readers, much of what I am about to describe will be difficult to understand, as the Australian preferential voting system is quite different to most others in the world. Here is some useful info on Australian elections and voting.

A friend sent me a note a few months ago advising that one could apply for jobs with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for upcoming elections. So I applied online, and was sent a letter of offer shortly after the election was announced. The pay wasn't overly generous, and it was for an open ended 14+ hour day, but it was some work nonetheless. It turns out they had difficulty filling all the positions needed.

There was some training provided, which was delivered online. I think it would have been better to have a printed manual sent out, as reading lots of little PDF files isn't conducive to review. I decided after completing the training a few weeks ago to review the materials on the day before the election, which was useful.

There were a number of items that were supposed to be provided at each ballot distribution station, which were not there, such as the foreign language phrasebook, the preference voting guide, the script, etc. The Officer in Charge (OIC) did say that there had been some problems with supplies. There wasn't any uniform, but I did get a tag to wear that said "Polling Official".

I was given 3 different tasks/jobs while the polls were open: Ballot issuing officer, queue controller, and ballot box guard. I decided to approach each task with alacrity, bringing some respectful and honorable cheer to what a lot of voters seemed to being suffering. I smiled, and cheerfully welcomed people, and said things like "Its a glorious day for an election", "If you vote in an election today, you should certainly vote in this one", or "Welcome to the Federal Election!". I also had to actively ignore some leading political comments from voters.

Once while I was 'controlling' the queue, an older woman got to the front, and there was a gentleman just behind her, of a similar age, but they didn't seem to be interacting. I directed her to a ballot table, and asked the man if they were together, to which he responded: "Of course we are, I am her husband, you idiot!". I thought this was very funny.

From the training materials, I found out that there is a book available at the polling station that tells you how all the Senate groups have allocated their preferences for above the line voting. The AEC doesn't advertise that it is available. When I asked the OIC for a look at it, she told me that in all the elections she had worked on, I was only the second person to ask to see it. The first had been earlier in the day, and that turned out to be Siew Fong (who I had previously advised of the availability of the book). Using the book, it was the first time I voted above the line in the Senate (because I then knew how my vote would be preferenced out). It was a shame that only 3 other voters voted for the same Senate group as me at my polling place. Here is how people voted at my polling place in the Senate:, and the House:

I was quite dismayed with the quality of some of the other staff. Most were OK, but a couple weren't too fussed with doing quality work. One girl got bored, so she stopped giving voters instructions on how to vote, instead just saying things like "Voted before? Fine, you know what to do." Then there was the young guy who decided to just play his phone game while he was supposed to be monitoring the ballot boxes (I was surprised the OIC allowed this).

It was quite busy most of the day, but the last couple of hours were slow. Then we had to count the votes at the end of the day. There were a few scrutineers from the various parties around, but they didn't remain until the very end.

We only counted the primary vote. If preferences were counted for the House of Representatives seats, I didn't see it. It wouldn't have taken very long though, so perhaps the OIC did it while we were counting the Senate ballots. We had just over 1200 ballots for each house to count.

There were lots of informal (invalid) votes (about 14%). Some were blank, some were plainly stupid, and some were intentionally informal. A few rude messages were found, and one vote for 'Humphrey B Bear'. One of the more amusing Senate ballot papers was a formal (valid) vote for the Australian Sex Party, where the voter had drawn a crude penis to indicate their intention.

For the Senate, we only counted the above the line votes. The below the line votes (all 10 or 15 of them out of 1200), were just bundled. It still took over 2 hours to sort and count the votes. The very large ballot papers (about 1200 mm wide) had to be unfolded, examined for formality, sorted, then repeatedly counted. The House of Reps papers only took about an hour.

It was an interesting experience. I will probably do it again.

1 comment:

  1. I wondered how they employed all the workers for Election Day. While I'd like to put my name forward, it's one of the few times I remain glued to the TV while the results unfold from 6pm.....