Multiple choices in the voting-booth

Australia and the mother country still have plenty of things in common, whatever the Asia-Pacific strategists say to the contrary, but the electoral system is not one of them.

Voting is compulsory in Australia. Although fines are modest and enforcement not always consistent, turn-outs of more than 90 per cent are the norm. In the polling-booth voters are confronted by a ballot-paper with one candidate from each party, just as in British elections, but instead of marking a cross against only one name, they number them in order of preference.

Any candidate who gets more than half the first preference votes wins immediately; otherwise the bottom candidate is eliminated and the second preferences reallocated. If there is still no winner, the last candidate drops out, preferences are reallocated, and so on until someone is elected. The system is more complicated than Britain's, but answers many of the criticisms directed against other methods of voting - there is only one MP in each constituency, for example. Australian elections also produce a clear political result more often than not.

The above method is for electing the 148 members of the House of Representatives. Half the 76 members of the less powerful upper house, the Senate, are chosen each time state by state. Each party enters slates of candidates equal to the number of seats, which means having to compete against your colleagues to be top of the list.

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