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.
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