Helping Make The Magic Happen

We’ve just had a national election. I’m not here to opine about the result. (For the record, the incumbent conservative government was ousted on a wave of green and teal.)

What I am here to opine about is being a part of the magic that is a well run democracy. We are (increasingly, as it seems) lucky in Australia to have access to uncorrupted elections. Our electoral process is overseen by the independent Australian Electoral Commission. The AEC is responsible for maintaining voter rolls, drawing electoral boundaries to allow for equal representation and conducting federal elections. (Each state also has an equally independent state based commission to oversee state elections.)

Voting is compulsory in Australia (you are marked off the voter roll when you vote, sent a fine if you do not). You can argue whether this is overkill or not but I support the concept because it stops the major parties from only appealing to their base. There’s a vast middle ground that vote that they have to try and keep onside.

I have worked as a polling official at almost every state and federal election since 2007. In the beginning I loved it because it gave me a day away from the children with adult conversation and I got paid for it! But now, as a working mother of adult children, I love it because I get to help people participate in our democracy.

Last Saturday (did I mention that our elections are always held on a Saturday when most people are able to vote?) I was employed as an Ordinary Vote Issuing Officer (as opposed to a Declaration Vote Issuing Officer – as I’ve done in the past – which just means helping people outside the electorate of the polling booth cast their vote). This entailed not only issuing ballot papers to voters but also, on occasion, being Ballot Box Guard, Queue Controller or Hygiene Officer (this one is a new COVID role – wiping down polling booths, vote issuing tables and the pencils used to vote (sorry, did I not mention that all our ballots are cast on paper?)).

Why did I want to write this post?

Because…

I got to share in the excitement of those who were voting in their first election.* You could pick them. The excited faces, often accompanied by mum or dad (or both), the keenness to be a part of the process.

I was able to help a woman with an intellectual impairment undertake her right to vote with support from a carer. Those familiar with my blog will know that I work in Special Education. It thrilled me no end that I was the table this woman came to for her papers.

I loved the young families that came to vote. I would joke with the little children that they were here to help Mum and/or Dad vote and could they count to 9? (The number of candidates on the House of Representatives paper in that electorate. We have preferential voting and every box must be numbered to indicate your preferences. This is so that if your top choice doesn’t get enough votes to win, your 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice may get up.) On our Senate paper, you could vote ‘above the line’ for the parties or ‘below the line’ for the individual candidates. When I’d finished explaining this to one father, his little girl told me she could count to twelve. While Dad thought he should hurry her along, I waited patiently while she showed me her counting prowess. It filled my soul with joy and love.

During a spell as Hygiene Officer, I noticed an older woman spending a long time in the voting booth and she did look over at me a couple of times. I approached her and asked if she needed help. She was feeling very overwhelmed by the Senate paper and I worked with her patiently to number six preferences above the line (she had managed one but then got stuck). I did not, as is stressed in our training, offer any opinion on her choices but just helped her get to number six to ensure her vote was valid.

I arrived at the polling booth at 7am. Doors opened at 8am. We were flat out until at least 5pm and then voting closed at 6pm. That’s a long time for an introvert to have to talk to a lot of people. And yet, I was energised, not depleted. I guess that comes down to the servant gene taking precedent over the shy introvert.

After the polls close, it is then the role of polling officials to open the ballot boxes and sort and count the ballots under the scrutiny of party scrutineers. At one point I and another worker were sorting the smaller vote tallied candidates into the two party preferred (how the preferences flowed for the two candidates with the biggest first preference votes – usually the two major Australian parties, Labor and the Liberal-National Party Coalition) and we had about six scrutineers gathered around us. “I don’t feel intimidated at all!” I said. They had the decency to laugh. But I welcomed them because it is a part of the integrity of our elections. Scrutineers cannot touch the ballot papers but they are there to ensure that those of us sorting and counting are doing it right.

My day ended at 10.30pm. That’s a long day. But I was filled with happiness because I had been a crucial part of our democracy.

There’s a state election in November. I can’t wait to be a part of that too.

*The Youngest Son was voting in his first election too. But he was working at another booth so I wasn’t there to see it. He was also working in a booth outside his own electorate so he had to go through the process of an absentee vote. I could have taken him for pre-poll voting before the day but it just didn’t happen. In a way, I’m kind of glad he had to see how that side of the process works.

PS The Eldest Son also worked for the election, counting some of the pre-poll votes. And while the Middle Son did not work at the election, he took his role as voter very seriously and happily voted out an under-performing candidate in his electorate. There is a great gift in teaching your children that democracy is important and you have to be a part of it.

What has been your role in the pursuit of democracy in your country?

38 thoughts on “Helping Make The Magic Happen

  1. This is such an interesting post, Heather, Our process is a mess compared to yours, with parties-in-charge drawing district maps to dilute the power of the people they can’t please. I vote, but that’s about as much as I participate. The process here is partisan in the extreme, and I have no desire to spend more time one group or the other.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I worked at the election too and had a chuckle that my shift involved being “pencil monitor”! Yup, I was wiping pencils and making sure there were enough for people to use. (Near the end of the day we found the missing extra box!) Last election was my first time working at a polling booth and it was interesting to see the process behind the scenes and the parade of people. Our most interesting informal ballot paper had ten smiley faces 🙂 instead of numbers and then there were the ones with a couple of ticks instead of at least 6 numbers. Easy to take it for granted, & it’s not perfect but we really are fortunate that we have the process, the safety & the accessibility to vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Youngest Son said when he was Pencil Monitor (I love that title!), sometimes a parent would have given the pencil to their small child and then said child would have a tantrum when told to give it back. 😀 I always found it a bit sad when we’d find a ballot paper with two sixes, say or they’d only put a 1 above the line on the senate paper. Always tough to eliminate a well intentioned vote. Luckily not many of those.
      I rather think people should have to work at least one election (like a national service scheme) so that they understand just how the process works and how secure it is. (Especially for the ones who think using pencils is bad because we could erase their vote and change it. They’d soon realise nobody has time to be bothered with that when the polls close!)
      Thank you for your service to our democracy!

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  3. I find this post refreshing, showing that a democratic election can happen. Here it’s all so partisan that I vote– and that’s about it. Good on you for being a poll worker. It sounds like a long day, but even so… worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a long and busy day (we were three workers down from what we should have had so we only got a couple of 15 minute breaks through the day and then 5 minutes when the doors closed) but energising at the same time.
      I can only imagine how hard it would be to participate in a system you know is not truly representative due to partisan processes.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What Dan said…and I am jealous of your electoral system and mandatory voting. Our system is so broken and I fear it won’t be fixed in my lifetime and that it will continue to be abused by political parties. Some days I fear for our democracy.The U.S. should seriously take a page from Australia’s voting playbook.

    Thank you for serving your country at the voting booths and for teaching your boys well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Watching from afar, particularly some of what has gone on since your last election, it’s hard not to wonder if one day you will need UN Election Observers. How it is possible for a party in power to also be responsible for drawing district boundaries and enacting laws about how to vote just bewilders me. I will keep hoping for your sake that wiser heads will prevail one day and the system will be restored to one suitable for a healthy democracy.
      What I loved seeing in my boys is that they work the elections not just because it’s a good pay day but because they also enjoy being part of the process and get just as much out of it as I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can understand your excitement and engagement, Heather. My daughter works for the government in the UK and it’s part of her job to be involved during the ballot. Both of my youngsters are far more political than me, and I’m glad that they are, for I long ago grew disenchanted with the political system in Britain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It can be easy to become disenchanted but as I would often comment to those grumblers who came to my table, if you aren’t part of the process you can’t complain about what you get. Even if your vote doesn’t give you the result you wanted, it’s still a step forward. For 27 years I lived in an electorate that stayed with the one party (well, the one MP actually) and then one day, boom, he got voted out. It’s been a marginal since ever since. Except in this election it has swung even further away from the political side it used to hold. A significant number of “blue ribbon” (strongly held conservative) seats fell to independents this election. So change is possible. I’m glad your children are actively involved. It’s in the younger generations that we will see real change.

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  6. Ah, Mosy, Mosy – you’re a treasure, you really are !! I don’t mean because of your dutiful work, but because of what’s in your head: THINKING, always thinking. You don’t just barge ahead into stuff: you think first and then barge. Unlike some, who shall remain nameless although they are filled with love for you and your trio of terrific young blokes.

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  7. The American system that elects the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate seems quite different than yours (and ours in Canada) because elections for federal government positions are managed at the State Level. Each State also decides how to draw the lines of congressional districts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have federal seats for the Australian government and then separate state seats for the state governments. The AEC draws the boundaries for federal seats and the state commissions (eg the Victorian Electoral Commission in my state) draw lines for the state electorates. At no point does a government official have involvement in the establishment of electoral boundaries or the conduct of elections. (Seems obvious to me. Why would you let one party draw the lines? Of course they’re going to draw them to benefit themselves.)

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      • The United States has State governments too, of course. What I like about the American Federal System is that their House of Representatives and their Senate are both elected by voters in each state. Legislation has to be approved by both of these bodies. Canada’s Senate is appointed upon direction of the Prime Minister. This seems far more partisan, to me, than how electoral boundaries are drawn in some of the American States!
        Juggling boundaries may or may not affect the outcome, though. How voters are expected to vote and how they actually vote are often two different things! No one thought Trump was going to win in 2016.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t know that about the Canadian upper house! That sounds crazy. We elect both our House of Reps and the Senate. At a state level we also have two houses, both elected by the people. The upper house is almost always more evenlyl balanced because people have a tendency to want a bit of oversight of the government in power.

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          • I believe some Americans believe in oversight too. It is called a split-ticket vote and they will vote for one party for the House and the other party for the Senate.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this post and the following conversation. May there be more of it. Couldn’t comment on site, don’t have passwords with me.Sent from my Galaxy

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the compulsory voting rule! Wouldn’t that be fabulous if every country did the same?
    In Canada, other than the compulsory aspect, things are run quite like Australia. I too am grateful for the democracy we have.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We voted for the first time away from home, here in Halls Gap. All very efficient and easy. Good on you for being part of the whole process. Love your attitude and no doubt your sons take after you too.

    Liked by 1 person

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