Ping pong and politics: why every vote counts

By Richard Schonell. April 19th 2016.

the hilarity

Yes Johnathan - the genius of it all boggles our mind too.  Source:

Yes Johnathan - the genius of it all boggles our mind too. Source:

Queensland’s local government elections held a month ago revealed two things about the state of #auspol: one, it can be hilarious, and two, every vote counts.

Lets start with the funny.

Here at Y Vote we definitely don’t condone informal voting, however we never shy away from applauding good showmanship.

One elector from Townsville demonstrated flashes of brilliance when he attempted to vote for Johnathan Thurston (aka the king of North Queensland) even though he wasn’t on the ballot paper, inadvertently confirmed that every stereotype about Queenslanders are true.

Not to be out done, the good people of Toowoomba got on board the #Kanyeforpresident train and voted for Yeezus. 

But the funniest thing to go down by far was the drawing of a ping pong ball from a bucket to resolve a dead heat between two councilors from Croydon shire.

Yep. That's right, they used ping pong balls to decide the outcome of an election.  

What’s even funnier is just how prepared Queensland was for such a contingency.

Under the Queensland Local Government Electoral Act 2011, which sets out the laws that all local government elections must abide by, the returning officer (the person responsible for counting the vote) is required to draw a marble or something similar from an ‘opaque container’ in the event of a tie.

Feel free to check out section 97, subsection 8 if you don’t believe me. 

Right there in black and white. QLD has surely lost its marbles... or other similar things.

Right there in black and white. QLD has surely lost its marbles... or other similar things.

Hilarious as it is, the fact that we have laws like this underscores just how close elections have been in the past and will continue to be in the future.

While it isn’t all that surprising that elections are tight in places like Croydon Shire, which has a tiny voting population of just 195, we still see results that come down to the wire in much larger electorates.

The 2013 federal election for the seat of Fairfax was a case in point.

Even though Fairfax has a voting population of more than 90,000 people, the result came down to a margin of seven votes after preferences were fully distributed. Following a recount, Clive Palmer managed to win by just 27 votes – and this is what the country has been stuck with ever since.

every vote counts

However, there is nothing particularly unusual about tight results.

Is this similar enough to marbles?

Is this similar enough to marbles?

In Australia’s short history we have had a number of elections decided by 10 votes or less. Probably the most exciting of all was the federal election for the seat of Ballarat in 1919, which saw Edwin Kerby defeat the sitting member Charles McGrath by a single vote.

But elections don’t have to be anywhere near that dramatic for a small number of determined voters to have a major impact, as the Queensland Local Government elections demonstrated.

One of the most interesting results on the day was the election of Greens councilor Jonathan Sri in the Gabba Ward.

This marked the first time a Greens representative has ever secured a majority of votes in any election for any level of government in Queensland. What made this result all the more remarkable is that the Gabba has been a Labor stronghold for as long as it has existed. Labor needed a 14% swing against it to lose, which is exactly what happened. 

In the end, the Liberal-National party candidate actually won the most primary votes, with the Greens candidate winning on preferences after securing 6,823 votes compared to Labor’s 6,457 – a difference of just 366 votes.

This just goes to show that there is no such thing as a safe seat if the voters really want change. 

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