Explainer: Why Voting Matters and How To Do It!

— By 21 April 2016

A new election is almost upon us! And it’s more important than ever to get your voice heard!

As an LGBTI+ person or ally, it’s now more important than ever to know that your vote matters. We’ve seen our rights become more of a focus in public debates this past year than ever before, and with a double dissolution around the corner, it’s going to be a big one!

If you care about fair and improved medical care for trans people, achieving marriage equality for all Australians, and ensuring schools are safe for all LGBTI+ students through continuing and protecting funding  for the Safe Schools Coalition program your vote can make a huge difference.

Other important issues include Australia’s refugee policy, our stance on climate change and the environment, welfare, trade, and a range of others where your vote counts!

Voting for candidates you believe will take the right stance on the issues you care about can have a huge impact. These are the people who are supposed to represent us, and that means that we need to tell them what we care about, and then hold them accountable for following through on it.

Ultimately if candidates see that supporting queer rights and other issues that matter to you are getting them more votes, then they’ll fight even harder on those issues to reflect the will of the voters.

The biggest myth is that ‘your vote doesn’t matter’ or ‘the system is corrupt anyway so who cares’. Politics is far from perfect, but your vote is your chance to help improve things, and we want to make sure you know how to do it!

We know enrolling to vote and figuring it all out can be tricky, so we’re broken is down with a handy guide to make it easy!

What’s a Double Dissolution Election?
You’ve probably heard this term being thrown around a lot! And it’s actually a pretty big deal and makes this election a bit special.

The Australian constitution includes double dissolutions as a way to resolve disputes between the two houses of parliament that arise when the government cannot get its legislation through the Senate. In short, when it’s really difficult to pass any new laws because the two branches of government can’t reach an agreement, this sort of serves as a big reset button to get things moving again.

The most important thing to know is how this differs from most elections. In regular elections all seats in the House of Representatives and only half of the seats in the Senate are up for election. Senators are elected every six years, which means half are up for re-election every three years. The difference with a double dissolution election, is all 76 Senate seats are vacated. It’s a full election of our whole government, which means it’s a big opportunity for change.

Enrol to Vote
To vote in any local, state, or federal government elections, you need to be enrolled. When you enrol, your name and personal details are added to the electoral role. This means that when you vote, the polling place you go to can confirm your identity and make sure everyone only votes once.

Voting is compulsory by law in Australia, so if you register to vote and then don’t vote, you can be fined.

To enrol, go to http://www.aec.gov.au/enrol/ and fill out your details. The gender options on this form are male, female, or unspecified. The option you select doesn’t need to match any other form of ID you have, but it may make things more difficult on election day if you have inconsistent  documents.

To find out if you’re enrolled or check your details, go to https://oevf.aec.gov.au/.

Deciding who to vote for
It’s important to research the parties and candidates before election day. You might have a few issues you care about most, or think will have the biggest impact, and look for a party that has really good stances on those few issues, or you might want to look at a wide range of issues, and try to find a party that’s close to your ideal across the board.

Each party will have a website, that will give you an idea of what kind of image they want to promote, but remember that these sites are designed to convince people to vote for them, and aren’t always an impartial reflection of a politician’s stances.

Looking at a candidate’s past voting history if they’ve been elected before, and seeing what different news sites say about them, as well as their public statements, is a good approach. Remember that any source you look at will have it’s own biases, and getting information from lots of different types of sources is a good way to partially counter that.

To find out how specific members of parliament have voted in the past, see how often they disagree with their party, and check how frequently they turn up for voting sessions in Parliament, go to https://theyvoteforyou.org.au/ and search their name.

You’re on the electoral role, you’ve done your research, and you’ve decided which parties to support this year- great! Now comes the actual voting. There are a few ways to do this- in person, an absentee ballot, or early voting.

In person
Voting in person means going to a polling place on election day. These are usually at local schools, churches, or community centres, and most of them are open between 8am and 6pm. It’s a good idea to check with specific polling places about when they’ll open and close if you’re planning to arrive close to the starting or finishing times.

All polling places should be accessible, but it’s always a good idea to check in advance if you have any specific accessibility needs and you aren’t sure what the building is like. Voting in person can mean standing in line for a while, and there often won’t be seats available without leaving the line.

When you vote in person, they’ll ask you for your name and address, which they’ll check against the electoral roll, and if you’ve voted in this election before. To be able to vote, your details need to be up to date.

Postal voting
Another option is to mail in your vote.  Postal voting means that you don’t need to worry about getting to a polling place on the day, but not everyone is eligible. The Australian Electoral Commission’s criteria says you need to fit into one of these categories

  • enrolled at an address more than 20 km away from a polling place

  • a patient at a hospital or nursing home and unable to travel to a polling place

  • unable to travel due to being infirm at home

  • caring for a seriously ill or infirm person

  • serving a prison sentence of less than 3 years

  • registered as a silent elector

  • unable to attend a polling place due to religious beliefs

  • unable to sign your name due to a physical incapacity

  • registered as an overseas elector

  • a member of the defence force, or a defence civilian serving outside Australia

  • an Australian Federal Police officer or staff member serving outside Australia.

If you do, you can get the form from http://www.aec.gov.au/Enrolling_to_vote/special_category/General_postal_voters.htm

Voting can seem a bit complicated, but it’s one of the most direct ways to influence who will be making the laws we all have to live under.

It’s incredibly powerful, and taking the opportunity to stand up to homophobia and transphobia in politics can make a huge difference! So make sure you enrol to vote and use yours wisely!

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