Friday, October 01, 2004

Going to Vote At the Consulate

An (my girlfriend) has been having a bit of hassle with hospitals of late. She's been asked to have an operation, and yet keeps getting turned away because her health isn't good enough  for the procedure. Talk about a catch-22 situation. This left us with three hours to kill on Monday morning. Since voting started that day, I decided to take her down to the Australian consulate and show how my electoral system works.

Getting off at the 5th floor of the Tôn Đức Thắng building, I noticed security was tight. Normally there are a few government guys in green with automatic rifles patrolling outside the consulate, or quietly observing at the end of the corridor. (The consulate is a series of office apartments inside the building itself, rather than a self-contained enclosure like the American consulate.) You don't bother the Men in Green, and they don't bother you. This time, they were hand-held metal detecting anyone who turned up on the floor. Understandable, given the  Jakarta bombing that happened earlier in that month. I was swept, I had to remove my wallet and key rings, and then I was swept again. Found clean, we went on my way to the voting room.

To my surprise, there were quite a few people in there. There was the odd backpacker. There were a few long term expats like myself. But there were also a lot of Vietnamese as well - locals who had got Australian citizenship, and with that, a place on the roll. To them, one official - the lady who was handing out pre-poll envelopes and ballot papers -  was patiently explaining how voting works, and without indicating who they should vote for. On the House of Representatives ballot paper: "You pick your favourite candidate, and number them 1, You then number everyone else. You have to number every box. No ticks or crosses are allowed." On the Senate, she recommended they choose one candidate above the line, and tick that.

It's a hard job to do: explain the ballot process clearly and concisely to people whose first language isn't English - and at the same time be politically neutral. But the lady (presumably from the AEC) was doing it all the time, and hats off to her. She had a lot of pride in what she was doing, and so she should. Joking with her (while no-one was around), I stated "It's not like you can say 'You want to put Pauline Hanson last.'" Getting the joke, she replied cheerfully "No, I can't say that". Utterly professional and at the same time with a sense of humour - we had here the cream of the Australian Public Service.

The first thing I needed to do was fill in the pre-poll envelope - put my Australian address on the back. Having done that, I showed it to the woman, and she gave me the ballot papers. I asked An to come along to the polling booth, and show her how I voted.

So how did I vote? I have my little algorithm. First, I decide who to vote last. Next, I decide who to vote first. Finally, I fill in the remainder. For the House of Representatives, I relegated the Loony Lyndon LaRouche-influenced Citizen's Electoral Council to number 6, followed by the Fundamentalist Family First Fist Fuckers at number 5. Step 1 sorted. Step 2 had the Greens at  number 1, Democrats at  number 2 and the ALP at number 3. That left the Liberals at number 4. Ballot paper 1 was finished in a minute.

Now the house of representatives ballot was small: about 8 centimetres by 15. Easy to fill in. The Senate ballot paper was something else again: about 20 cm tall by (get this) 60 or 80 cm wide. (These are approximations going on memory, so don't trust what I say about this too much. But you did have to fold out the Senate paper to use it.) The explanation for this size was the fact that there were 50 candidates for the Queensland senate, each organized in party lists. Now I prefer to vote under the line and number every individual Senate candidate, rather than vote above the line and go with the party preferences. The advantage is that I got to vote Pauline Hanson last. The disadvantage is that ballot paper 2 took a little bit longer at 7 minutes. Since you don't want a blow-by-blow of every candidate, let's just say that my senate preferences resembled what I did on the House of Representatives: the centre-left Greens and Democrats first, and the right-wing nutcases last. I did go out of the way to give an extra low vote to George Brandis of the Liberals since he's been going out of the way to call the Greens "Fascists". Prat. 

Once I was satisfied with my vote (making sure I numbered every box), I put both the ballot papers in the pre-poll envelope. I popped that in the ballot box. Sorted.

To finish up, I want to note one other difference about overseas voting. When you go to vote in Australia, thousands (okay, five or six) of Partei People are waving their "How-To-Vote" papers in your face. There were none of them around the consulate. I doubt the security people would have let them in. However, there were "How-to-vote" booklets left on a table from the Liberal Party. Pretty hefty ones: 40 cm by 30 cm, and about 40 pages thick. They were in a pile on a little table off from the main corridor, on the way to the toilets. They gave the way to vote for every Senate and House of Representatives election in Australia. None of the other parties had their material present.

Now the leaflets were located outside of the Consulate itself, and certainly outside of the voting room before. But their presence was strange. It costs a lot to mail or carry leaflets into Việt Nam - unless you are going by diplomatic pouch. The leaflets could have been printed locally, and that would have been cheaper, but I saw no evidence of that. The Liberals are spending a bit of money to win this election.