Group voting ticket

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Group voting tickets (also known as "above the line" voting) are a way to simplify preferential voting, usually in an election held under the single transferable vote or the alternative vote system. Ranking each candidate individually is called "below the line" voting. The system is used for the upper houses of the Australian state parliaments of South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, and for some elections in Fiji. It was used in the Australian Senate from the 1984 election[1] until the 2013 federal election.

Voters can choose to vote for a group ticket by placing the number '1' in one of the ticket boxes above the line or can vote for individual candidates by numbering all the boxes below the line. Ticket votes are distributed according to the party or group voting ticket registered before the election with the electoral commission. In some elections, voters can express an order of preferences among different tickets by voting '1', '2' and so on in different ticket boxes.

In Australian elections for the upper houses which use proportional representation as well as preferential voting, it may be daunting to have to fill in scores of boxes—preferences are compulsory in South Australian and Western Australian elections. Some voters would choose their early preferences and then vote for other candidates in the order they appeared on the ballot paper—known as a donkey vote; or fill in the form incorrectly, leading to an informal vote.

To ease this task, above the line voting allows the voter to choose one party or group, and all the remaining squares are deemed to be filled in according to a registered party ticket. About 95% of voters choose to use this method.[2] This leads to pre-election trading between parties on how each party will allocate later preferences to other parties and candidates.

"Above the line" voting has been criticised as electors not knowing, and having no practical way of finding out, where their preferences are being directed. All details are published in advance, both electronically and in a free booklet published by the Australian Electoral Commission or the appropriate State electoral commission. The booklets may be viewed at polling booths on request to the poll officials. However, such is the complexity of the information that it is unlikely that the average voter could easily determine the fate of his or her vote's preferences particularly, as some parties submit multiple allocations (e.g., 33% to one party, 66% to another, and so on), and the effects are integrally wound up in preference deals between other parties.


Group voting tickets were introduced for elections for the Australian Senate by the Hawke Labor Government to reduce the number of invalid votes by simplifying the voting system. Under the new system a voter cast a valid vote if they placed a single mark above the line instead of the scores on a typical Senate ballot paper. It was first used at the 1984 federal election.[1] For the Australian Senate, the rate of informal voting was reduced from around 9% before 1984, to around 3% under group voting tickets.

In Victoria, GVTs were introduced in 1988.[3]

Group voting tickets were abolished as part of the voting reforms prior to the 2016 election in favour of optional preferential voting. The government proposed reform of the Senate voting system for the Senate on 22 February 2016.[4] The Senate reform legislation passed both houses of the Parliament of Australia on 18 March 2016.[5]

In December 2016, the South Australian government introduced legislation to abolish Group Voting Tickets for the Legislative Council.[6] A number "above the line" would only imply a vote for candidates in one column. In effect, the legislation would make Legislative Council elections into a form of party-list proportional representation.

Tactical voting[edit]

Using GVTs, the potential for tactical voting by parties is greatly increased. Because voters are not usually aware of how a party's preferences are directed, GVTs have allowed minor parties with low support in the community to be elected almost exclusively on the preferences of other parties, for example, where small parties with very different views have agreed to exchange preferences, or where larger parties have sought to minimise votes for opponents with similar views.

A notable case was the 1999 New South Wales state election when the Outdoor Recreation Party's Malcolm Jones was elected to the Legislative Council with a primary vote of 0.19%,[7] or 0.042 of a quota.

GVTs came under scrutiny at the 2013 Australian election for multiple candidates getting provisionally elected with the vast majority of the 14.3% quota being filled from preferences, with "preference whisperer" Glenn Druery's Minor Party Alliance organising tight cross-preferencing between minor parties.[8][9][10] Motoring's Ricky Muir won a senate seat on a record-low primary vote of 0.5% in Victoria[11][12] (previous record held by Family First's Steve Fielding in 2004 on 1.9% in Victoria).[13] The Sports Party's Wayne Dropulich was on track for a period of time to win a Senate seat from 0.2% in Western Australia, coming 21st out of 28 groups.[14][15][16] Family First's Bob Day won a seat on a primary vote of 3.8% in South Australia,[12][17] and the DLP's John Madigan won his seat in 2010 on a primary vote of 2.3% in Victoria.[18] Xenophon and larger parties including the incoming government are looking at changes to the GVT system.[19][20][21]

2003 changes in NSW[edit]

Following the use of tactical preference tickets and the record number of minor parties contesting the 1999 Council election, a modified form of group ticket voting was introduced in the 2003 election. A candidate group for NSW Legislative Council elections now requires 15 candidates to be eligible for an "above the line" box. Parties do not lodge preference tickets and a single 1 in that box only preferences the candidates in the group. Voters wishing to preference multiple parties with an "above the line" vote can use lower preferences ("2", "3", and so on) in those parties' "above the line" boxes. Other changes to party registration processes have also resulted in many fewer parties contesting NSW Legislative Council elections.


  1. ^ a b Antony Green (23 September 2015). "The Origin of Senate Group Ticket Voting, and it didn't come from the Major Parties". ABC. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  2. ^ "Glossary of Election Terms - Federal Election 2007". ABC. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Senate election reforms announced, including preferential voting above the line, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 22 February 2016
  5. ^ Electoral laws passed after marathon Parliament sitting: ABC 18 March 2016
  6. ^
  7. ^ Antony Green (2009-06-16). Antony Green's Election Blog: NSW Legislative Council and its new electoral system. Retrieved on 2009-09-12.
  8. ^ Bitter dispute erupts over Senate preferences in Queensland: ABC 5 September 2013
  9. ^ Glen Druery - the 'preference whisperer': ABC 21 August 2013
  10. ^ 'Preference whisperer' defends role in minor parties’ Senate success: The Guardian 13 September 2013
  11. ^ Victorian 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
  12. ^ a b Motoring Enthusiasts Party member Ricky Muir wins Senate seat: ABC 1 October 2013
  13. ^ A ballot crammed with choice: SMH Tim Colebatch 5 August 2013
  14. ^ Western Australia 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
  15. ^ The Preference Deals behind the Strange Election of Ricky Muir and Wayne Dropulich: Antony Green ABC 13 September 2013
  16. ^ Australian Sports Party 'pleasantly surprised' by potential Senate seat: ABC 9 September 2013
  17. ^ South Australia 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
  18. ^ Single-issue groups set to take balance of power: Canberra Times 9 September 2013
  19. ^ Coalition shy of Senate majority: Business Spectator 9 September 2013
  20. ^ Tony Abbott fires a warning shot at micro parties in the Senate: WA Today 9 September 2013
  21. ^ Xenophon wants voting reform: NineMSN 9 September 2013

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