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Make your vote count. Wide-open council race.

Local council elections 4 December and pre-polling starts 22 November.

ALMOST ONE IN four people (22%) didn’t vote in the 2017 Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council elections, while 5.8% of those who did, cast an informal vote which means it didn’t count. Voting is compulsory, contrary to what some people think.

Voting rules can be confusing as they are different for different spheres of government. Here we explain how to make sure your vote counts.

In Queanbeyan-Palerang, voters will be electing 11 councillors. For QPRC at least nine will be new because all but two current councillors are retiring. See www.elections.nsw.gov.au for other council specifics.

Vote above OR below the line

Candidates are either ‘grouped’ or ‘ungrouped’. Groups are place above the line and they need to have at least six candidates. In this election, there are 10 groups, including The Greens, Labor and Liberals political parties as well as a healthy showing of independent groups, and four ungrouped candidates. Ungrouped candidates are single candidates looking to get themselves elected; they don’t have running mates and they appear below the line.

Grouped candidates

You can vote for a group of candidates by placing the numeral 1 in the box above the line for that group or ticket. The lead candidate in a group (placed at the top of the list) will get your vote. If they get more than a quota (the minimum proportion of all formal votes needed to be elected) then their ‘over-quota’ or surplus votes flow to the second person in the group, and so on.

You don’t need to vote for more than one group above the line but if you do, you’ll get better value from your vote. That’s because, if your preferred group is unsuccessful, your next preferred group (2) will get your vote. And so on for as many grouped candidates you allocate a preference.

Ungrouped candidates

Ungrouped candidates are listed together in the final right-hand column of the ballot paper. They don’t have a square above the line because they are individual candidates, not part of a team.

For these people, it’s difficult to get elected below the line because a lot of people just vote ‘1’ above the line. In 2017, three ungrouped candidates from Braidwood won a combined 899 votes across the Local Government Area (LGA) — out of almost 32,000 votes — counted; these 376 votes were out of 879 at the Braidwood booth (or 42%) but none of them were elected, and only about half of their votes flowed to other candidates.

You can vote EITHER above the line or below the line. But you can’t number squares both above and below the line. If you do, your vote will be informal and it won’t count.

Voting for candidates below the line

You can vote for individual candidates who appear as part of a group above the line and independents in the ungrouped column, because they all appear individually below the line. In that case you need to number only squares below the line and you must number at least six squares otherwise your vote doesn’t count.

Voting times and postal voting

Early voting opens on 22 November and will be open Monday to Friday until 3 December in Queanbeyan and Jerrabomberra (9am – 5pm), and in Braidwood and Bungendore (8:30am – 4:30pm). The Queanbeyan and Jerrabomberra booths will also be open on Saturday 27 November.

Election day is 4 December, with voting open from 8am to 6pm. Polling locations can be found online.

It will be easier to qualify for a postal vote this time, in response to COVID-19. You need to apply by 29 November and to return your completed ballot paper by 17 December. Online voting (ivote) will be available for the first time for local elections if you meet the criteria.

The Electoral Commission will count postal votes from 18 December and the final preference distributions will be done in the week beginning 20 December. We may not know the outcome before Christmas but we should have a good indication of who will serve on the new council, through until September 2024.

IMAGE: Nils Versemann, Dreamstime.

With thanks for details to Katrina Willis.

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