2022 Senate Election and Ballot Paper Completion Types

The 2022 Senate election was the third since the 2016 abolition of group voting tickets. These tickets had previously allowed parties to control the distribution of between-party preferences by allowing voters the choice of voting for only one pre-arranged party ticket.

The new system put voters in control of between-party preferences. Voters could indicate ordered preferences for parties ‘above the line’ (ATL) on the ballot paper, or for individual candidates ‘below-the-line’ (BTL).

The changes also ended full preferential voting in favour of partly optional preferential voting. Ballot paper instructions stated to mark at least six ATL or 12 BTL preferences. Generous savings provisions were adopted, with any ATL vote with a valid first preferences being saved as formal, and any BTL vote with at least six preferences also being saved.

The changes were based on similar reforms ending party control over preferences adopted in the states. New South Wales abolished upper house group voting tickets at the 2003 state election, South Australia in 2018, and Western Australian will abolish them at the next state election in 2025. Only Victoria continues to use group voting tickets.

The major difference between the state reforms and the Senate system is the states have made ATL preferences fully optional. State instructions are to mark one square above the line with further preferences optional. The number of BTL preferences required varies from state to state.

The Senate instructions state to mark a minimum six ATL preferences, though as already mentioned, any ballot paper with at least a valid ATL first preference is saved as formal.

The release of 2022 ballot paper data has revealed an unchanged pattern in how voters completed their ballot papers. As at the two previous elections in 2016 and 2019, around 80% of all 2022 Senate ballot papers were completed according to the ballot paper ATL instructions with a sequence of six ATL preferences.

The tables below have been compiled from the Senate ballot paper data files released by the Australian Electoral Commission. The tables aggregate ballot papers into the following categories.

  • 1-only – ballot papers formal for only the first ATL preference. These ballot papers would be informal without the savings provision.
  • 2-5 – ballot papers with between 2 and 5 valid ATL preferences. These ballot papers would be informal without the savings provision.
  • 6 – ballot papers with the suggested 6 preferences.
  • 7-12 – more than 6 preferences and up to 12 preferences, the suggested number of preferences for a below-the-line vote.
  • > 12 – more than 12 above-the-line preferences.
  • Below line – ballot papers that counted as below-the-line votes.

Categories by State

The table shows the percentage of ballot papers in each category by state and territory. The final three rows show the national figures for 2022 and for the 2016 and 2019 elections.

Above and Below the Line Voting – 2022 Senate Election

Percentage of Ballot Papers
Counted as Above the Line – Number of Preferences Below
State (Groups) 1 2-5 6 7-12 >12 Line
NSW (23) 3.8 3.7 81.4 5.0 1.1 5.0
VIC (26) 2.1 3.3 83.0 5.2 1.1 5.2
QLD (25) 1.4 2.7 83.4 4.4 1.2 7.0
WA (22) 2.2 3.2 83.0 5.1 1.8 4.8
SA (22) 3.3 2.8 81.3 4.3 1.2 7.2
TAS (14) 1.2 2.2 59.6 7.0 7.3 22.7
ACT (11) 0.9 1.2 66.9 11.9 .. 18.9
NT (8) 1.8 2.5 48.8 36.5 .. 10.4
Australia 2022 2.6 3.2 81.3 5.3 1.3 6.3
Australia 2019 3.5 3.5 80.0 4.5 1.2 8.3
Australia 2016 2.6 3.5 81.6 4.9 0.8 6.5

Source: Calculations by author based on formal preference datafiles published by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The same table by state for the 2019 election can be found in a previous post.

The rate of 6-ATL voting was slightly up in the five mainland states, the jurisdictions with the most columns on the ballot paper. (See number of columns for each jurisdiction in brackets.)

The rate of 1-only voting slipped in NSW from 5.5% in 2019 to 3.8% in 2022. The high figure for 2019 may reflect the election being held just seven weeks after the NSW state election where fully optional ATL voting was used for the Legislative Council.

The use of the Hare-Clark electoral system with no ATL option for local elections in Tasmania and the ACT clearly shows up in the higher rate of below the line voting in both jurisdictions. The rate in both jurisdictions was down compared to the 2019 election.

Both jurisdictions, along with the Northern Territory, had significantly fewer columns on the ballot paper which made voting physically easier. All three jurisdictions saw higher rates of BTL voting and higher proportions of voters going beyond six ATL preferences. Fewer columns in the ACT and Northern Territory meant voters could not give more than 12 ATL preferences.

Catgeories by Party

Interesting patterns emerged looking at the different categories of votes by party. The table below has been compiled from votes for each party across the six state and two territory Senate elections.

Above and Below the Line Voting by Party – 2022 Senate Election

Percentage of Ballot Papers
Counted as Above the Line – Number of Preferences Below
Party (% Vote) 1 2-5 6 7-12 >12 Line
Coalition (34.2%) 2.7 3.3 85.9 3.5 0.8 3.8
Labor (30.1%) 2.8 3.0 83.9 4.5 1.2 4.5
Greens (12.7%) 1.1 2.2 79.8 6.4 1.6 9.0
One Nation (4.3%) 2.3 3.2 71.8 9.9 2.5 10.4
United Australia (3.5%) 2.3 3.3 79.5 6.7 2.2 6.0
Legalise Cannabis (3.3%) 3.7 5.0 77.3 6.6 1.8 5.6
Liberal Democrats (2.3%) 3.9 4.1 72.6 9.0 2.1 8.3
Animal Justice (1.6%) 3.1 4.6 77.0 6.4 1.9 7.1
Shooters Fishers Farmers (1.0%) 3.5 5.3 77.6 5.6 1.6 6.3
Unlabelled groups (0.7%) 4.4 4.1 51.2 9.7 2.0 28.7
Great Australian Party (0.6%) 3.0 3.4 59.5 15.3 3.1 15.7
Sustainable Australia (0.5%) 2.2 3.8 72.6 8.9 3.0 9.6
Others (5.4%) 2.4 3.1 65.1 8.7 2.4 18.4

The Coalition at 85.9% and Labor 83.9% both had the highest rate of voters completing only the minimum ATL preferences with the Greens third on 79.8%. Most other parties had 1-6 ATL voting in the 70s though lower rates for some very small parties and groups contesting only a single Senate contest.

Only 71.8% of One Nation voters stopped at 1-6 ATL, the party’s voters having a much higher rate of completion beyond six preferences and a higher rate of below the line voting.

A separate entry is shown for “Unlabelled Groups”, which is an accumulation of Independent groups across all states, that is groups that appeared on ballot papers without a group name above the line. It is a consistent feature of the current voting system that groups without an ATL group name have significantly lower rates of ATL voting and much higher rates of BTL voting. This is not just for groups with a prominent candidate at the head of the ticket (e.g. Nick Xenophon in SA) but occurs for all unlabelled groups with or without a well-known candidate. Presumably it results in these parties also being less likely to receive ATL preferences.

Many of the smaller parties saw much lower rates of voters simply numbering 1-6, with the Great Australian Party being amongst the lowest.

A ballot paper without a complete sequence of numbers can ‘exhaust’ its preferences before the end of the count. Rather than the number of preferences, it is who the preferences are for that is important in whether a ballot paper exhausts. As candidates and parties are excluded and distributed in ascending vote order, a ballot paper that only includes preferences for low polling candidates is more likely to exhaust during the count. I hope to publish another post giving more information of party preference exhaustion rates in the next week.

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