Two sides of the story: Donkey Voting

Editors’ note:  After reviewing the article, we have decided to republish it with no changes made. We would like to restate that this is a comment piece written by one of our student writers, it does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the YAK team or the University of Newcastle as a whole. We wholeheartedly support student involvement in political life and we welcome debate and new opinions so we encourage you to share your thoughts on this topic in our comments section here or on our Facebook page.

We have also removed the byline and author’s name on this article as per their request due to concerns they had about being personally targeted. Please respect their wishes and their privacy.

Whenever voting time rolls around, I would not be the person who would be waiting outside the polling place at 7:59 in the morning, excited to have my say in the political future of our country.

I would be more likely to be found sitting in front of a computer, filling in internet quizzes about which party my beliefs align most with.

As such, I definitely wouldn’t say I am interested in politics. That being said, however, I am interested in the future of Australia, and I definitely wouldn’t like to think the political rulers of our wonderful nation got into power because they happened to be at the top of a slip of paper.

Donkey votes are probably one of the most misunderstood features of the compulsory preferential voting system. When thinking of ‘donkey voting’, I generally think of donkeys (which is reasonable, in my opinion). For the majority of my life I believed ‘donkey’ was a nicer way of saying ‘an idiot who doesn’t care about voting and leaves the sheet blank or draws pictures of donkeys on the paper or just generally acts like an ass’.

But no! Donkey voting is the numbering of boxes on the ballot paper in the order that the candidates appear, while informal voting could be filling out the paper incorrectly, leaving the page blank, or drawing obscene images over the top of the boxes, as explained by Triple J’s Hack.

And, as the voter has numbered all the boxes, and has therefore still rewarded one candidate over the others (even though it is for no apparent reason), a donkey vote counts towards the election results, unlike an informal vote.

AustralianPolitics.com says some of the main reasons a voter may chose to donkey vote could be apathy, ignorance or protest. Doctor John Tate, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at UON’s Business School, gave some interesting insights into why he thinks young people feel this way about politics.

“I think in a contemporary society where there are so many forms of alternative media, and so many items of interest within that media, it is often hard for politicians to connect with young people because they are competing with so many other objects of their attention,” Dr Tate said.

“Having said that, however, there are lots of young people who care deeply about issues. But not all of them have faith in politicians to deliver on those issues. Politicians themselves are in a difficult position. They are expected, by the electorate, to deal with many issues, and are held responsible if they don’t, but there is a limit on what politicians can do on a number of key issues.”

John also explained that there are a number of implications associated with these choices that could have disastrous consequences for the integrity of the legal system in Australia.

“My worry is that if politicians internalise the belief that an increasing number of individuals are disinterested in politics and they believe that these individuals’ votes are important to their gaining election, they may alter their behaviour as politicians accordingly,” Dr Tate said.

“My concern is that politicians will be less likely to make difficult or unpopular policy choices, even if these are in the public interest, for fear of alienating the disengaged.”

After speaking to Sophie Woodgate* from UON, I realised that it can be a combination of apathy, ignorance and protest that leads a young person to choose to donkey vote.

Sophie offered me some interesting insights into the mind of a self-confessed regular donkey voter. “Nothing about politics engages me enough to care about voting in the correct manner. This may be because I have little to no interest in politics, as politicians don’t market for young adults.”

“I genuinely have no idea whether my choice impacts the political results. I have no understanding of whether a donkey vote is still counted, as there are still numbers next to candidates,” Sophie said.

“I feel that if there was more involvement for the young adults like myself, I may be interested in voting but as of yet the process seems long and quite boring in a sense.”

If you are uninterested in politics, I implore you to think twice before being a donkey. Leave the ballot sheet blank or draw a graphic image of a dick riding a grenade for all I care. Just please; leave the actual voting to the people who have a passion for the future of our country.

* Name has been changed so people don’t try to feed her hay.

Feature Image: via Instagram: @maria_wolfy_