Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally set a date for the federal election – May 18.
Hopefully you’ve enrolled to vote by now (if not, get to it – the cutoff is 8pm tomorrow night, April 18). But with less than five weeks to go, what should we be doing to prepare?
Maybe you’re a first-time voter, or maybe you find politics a little daunting and convoluted. Regardless, here are some basic tips to follow to be sure that, when you leave the polling booth next month, democracy sausage in hand, you know you’ve made an informed decision.
1. Know what’s on the ballot
First-timer or not, election day can be a little overwhelming. It helps to know what to expect when you head into that little cardboard booth to cast your vote.
In this upcoming election, all 150 Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives and six Senators from each state will face re-election. On your green ballot, you will list your 8 preferences for who you want to form the next government in the House of Reps, and on your white ballot, you’ll list either the parties or individual candidates you want to represent you in the Senate.
The AEC has a handy visual guide explaining this process and you can always ask the friendly volunteers working at the polls for a fresh ballot paper if you think you’ve made a mistake on the day.
2. Read up on the parties
So, you’ve probably heard of the Liberal/National Party (i.e. our current governing party, led by Scott Morrison) and the Australian Labor Party (a.k.a. the opposition, led by Bill Shorten). But the major parties aren’t your only options: before you head to the polls, read up on some of the minor parties. You might be surprised to learn of what their policy platforms are, and how your own beliefs align with theirs. Visiting a party’s website is a great way to learn about their policies and the candidates representing your electorate.
3. Learn a bit about your electorate and who’s representing you
Before you can figure out who is representing you, it helps to know your electorate. You can do that here.
Once that’s sorted, look up the profile of your electorate to get an idea of the area, as well as past and present MPs and potential future candidates. You can do that on the AEC website or using the ABC’s election guide.
Do your research on each party’s candidate. Usually, they’ll have a website and some social media pages, where you can learn about their proposed policies, personal beliefs or endeavours and if/when they will be campaigning in the streets, if you want to pick their brains in person. It’s also important to do your research beyond their personal pages: Have they been in the news recently? Have they had any scandals that you should know about?
4. Decide what major issues matter to you
Elections are fought and won with debates over major policy areas, such as the economy, climate change and immigration. Amid the information overload of an election campaign, how can we figure out where each party stands on these major issues? More importantly, how does each party’s stance compare to our own?
Luckily, the ABC has simplified this process with a program called Vote Compass. Here, you fill out a quiz to identify what major issues matter most to you and the compass will show you how each party’s platforms align with your own beliefs. The program won’t tell you who to vote for, but it can make your decision much clearer.
5. Be wary of where you’re getting your news
Different news programs, outlets and corporations can have certain agendas, overt or subtle, depending on who owns them, who writes for them, whether or not they are for-profit and whether they are designed to entertain or inform.
To navigate potential bias during this election campaign, try and consume news from a variety of sources. For example, if you get most of your news from the Herald Sun, maybe check out how The Age or The Guardian has covered similar stories. Or if your family watches the Channel 7 nightly news, maybe suggest switching to the ABC or SBS a few nights a week. This is a good way to ensure the information you’re getting during the election campaign is balanced and prevents you from being stuck in an ideological echo-chamber. The website Media Bias/Fact Check is also a handy guide to gauge where different news outlets sit on the political spectrum.
6. Figure out where you need to be to vote (and what to do if you can’t get there)
Polling places will be open between 8am and 6pm on election day, and you’ll soon be able to find out your local centre here.
If you’re not available on the 18th, don’t fret – there are other ways you can vote:
- Head to an early voting centre
Early voting centres will open on Monday, April 29. You can vote early if you know that you will be interstate, outside of your electorate or more than 8km from a voting centre on election day, or for health, religion or safety reasons. Keep an eye on the AEC for early voting locations.
- Submit a postal vote
Apply here before May 15 at 6pm. You’ll receive your ballot papers in the mail with a return envelope and you must complete your vote and have it witnessed on or before May 18. You then have up to 13 days for your ballot to be received by the AEC.
- Vote via telephone or at a mobile polling facility
These options are only available for those with limited physical or geographical access – more information on these options here.
7. Get excited!
Regardless of how invested you are in politics, having the opportunity to vote is something you shouldn’t take for granted. From the worldwide climate strikes that took place in March to the famed actions of Eggboy, we’ve seen how powerful young voices can be in the political sphere. On May 18, you’ll have the chance to use your own.