With the next federal election less than a month away, there’s been a lot of chatter about preferences. So what the bloody hell are they and how can you use preferences to give your vote maximum gusto come May 21? Let’s find out.

What are preferences?

Great question! I’m glad you asked.

Your preferences are the order in which you want candidates to be elected.

Let’s say there are 10 candidates running at the election.

Putting a big fat “1” next to a candidate’s name = you love them and you want to elect them.

Chucking a sloppy “10” next to their name = ew, you want them to get the fuck out.

What are preferences used for?

Candidates for each seat in the House of Representatives (the senate has a slightly different and somehow more confusing system) need to receive a majority of primary votes (AKA: voters placing a “1” next to their name). So they basically need to score over 50%.

If none of the candidates reach this majority, the Australian Electoral Commission workers will count voter preferences to decide the winner.

Again, let’s say 10 candidates are running for office.

A candidate from the Australian Labor Party cops 49% of primary votes at the election.

They still need to get over 50% so they’ll be relying on preferences from voters who initially voted for other candidates to get them over the line.

How do preferences work?

If none of the candidates receive a clear majority of first preferences (over 50%), the candidate who got the least amount of 1’s next to their name gets booted.

The folks who chucked that candidate first (the one who got booted) get their second preferences counted.

I totally understand that the above sentences are ridiculously confusing so let’s do an example.

Say Sam places the Liberal Party first on their voting ballot but the Libs ends up coming last. The Liberal Party is now eliminated.

The vote counters will check Sam’s ballot to see who they chucked as their number 2 preference.

Sam’s vote now goes to their second preference. If Sam’s vote was enough to get whoever they put second past the 50% mark, we have a winner!

If not, the candidate with the next lowest amount of first preferences is knocked out.

The vote counters check the ballots of voters who put THAT candidate first (the second one to get eliminated for not getting enough primary votes) to see who they put second.

The cycle repeats until one candidate gets over 50%.

SIMPLES! Not really tbh. It’s super complex and honestly hurts my brain.

BUT, the main thing you need to know is that it does matter who you preference and in what order. Feel empowered!

Do political parties control preferences?

No. Your preferences are your business. That’s why announcements like the below tweet are misleading.

The Greens are NOT preferencing Labor ahead of the Liberals.

The Greens are instead SUGGESTING to voters that IF they vote (1) greens, they should consider placing Labor ahead of the Liberals on their ballot.

Greens leader Adam Bandt clarified this on Friday as per the Financial Review.

“Across the country Greens how-to-vote cards will recommend preferencing Labor ahead of Scott Morrison and the Coalition.”

Whether Greens voters take this suggestion is up to them.

Political parties will give out “how to vote” cards on election day or even chuck some in your letterbox.

However, the order printed on these cards is just a SUGGESTION.

You can totally make your own order based on who YOU like/hate.

So there you have it, folks!

Australia’s preferential voting system is a tough nut to crack. It’s complex and can seem like an absolute minefield for ya noggin.

At the end of the (election) day, you’re welcome to snag a how-to-vote card from your preferred candidate/party if that makes it easy for you. You’re also fine to create your own order!

The choice is yours.

Image: Palmer Photo by Rohan Thomson/Getty Images. Bandt Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images. Hanson Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images