The Senate Voting Reforms in 600 words

So I’ve been reading Antony Green’s blog on the proposed Senate voting reforms, and from that, here’s a nice little rundown of the proposal as it stands right now.

I am assuming you know how the single transferable vote system used in the Senate works. If not, click here and brush up.

Above The Line Voting

What it is right now What the current proposal for change is
You number one box with “1” above the line. Don’t number anything else.

Parties, having lodged group voting tickets, then decide where your preferences go. You have no further say in the matter at all.

You must number at least six (6) boxes above the line. You decide the order of parties you prefer.

Parties still decide the order of candidates; for example, if the ALP in South Australia puts Senator Wong at the top of their order of candidates, she’ll get the first round of their preferences, and thus be the first elected.

BUT, if you forget and only number one box above the line, it’s still counted as a formal vote.

Below the Line Voting

What it is right now What the current proposal for change is
You must number every single box below the line. Do not number any boxes above.

You decide exactly where your vote goes – but you must number all the boxes, which in the larger states can mean you’re going to be there for quite a while as you fill out each and every box on a ballot paper large enough to conceal a small car.

Parties do not decide the order of candidates elected.

You must number at least twelve (12) preferences below the line. There are six spots available at a regular (half) Senate election for a State, so you’re indicating your first and second preferences for each vacant spot.

You can keep going if you like; it’s up to you. Number as many boxes as you like, and finish whenever, as long as you do at least twelve.

BUT, if you get confused and only number six boxes below, it’s still counted as a formal vote.

Parties do not decide the order of candidates elected.


The quota you need to get elected is unchanged.

A Senate Majority

A question here is: if there’s a double dissolution, will the reforms mean the Coalition will win a Senate majority?

The answer to that is: It’s monumentally unlikely. Antony Green’s blogpost on the issue, linked below in the Sources, has the details, but the long and the short is; the Coalition’s chances of winning a Senate majority, or a “blocking majority”, under the proposed system are the same as they were under the current one.

What about the ALP’s chances of getting a Senate Majority? Well, they’ve never had one since we started the whole proportional voting thing in the 50’s, so there’s no change there.


These are good changes. I like these changes. I’ve always voted below the line – and always hated the way that the vote above the line can go on a magical mystery tour known only to those who’ve studied the group voting tickets, which leads to things like ALP voters electing Family First Senators in Victoria. The changes mean this will not happen anymore.

The optional below-the-line voting means that the choice is no longer “number one box above, or umpteen hundred boxes below” – making below the line voting a feasible option for everyone.

The proposed changes make the system more democratic, and put power over your vote where it belongs; in the hands of you, the voter.


Green, Antony; Senate Reform – Below the Line Optional Preferential Voting Included in Government’s Legislation (2 March 2016, accessed 17 March 2016)

Green, Antony; Would Electoral Reform Deliver the Coalition a Senate Majority at a Double Dissolution? (17 February 2016, accessed 17 March 2016)

Green, Antony; On Senate Electoral Reform and Blocking Majorities (14 March 2016, accessed 17 March 2016)

Australian Electoral Commission; Voting – The Senate (25 February 2014, accessed 17 March 2016)

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, as it stood on 17 March 2016 after the Third Reading in the House of Representatives