for Hannah’s post “Learning to Collaborate in an Online World”

Hello Hannah,

Owing to a number of commitments, this is the first time I have been able to visit the “OSG’s AP U.S. Government & Politics” blog for some time. On checking, I see your post was the latest and on an important topic.

“Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to govern himself with reason and justice.”Harry S Truman

I have heard of some problems with the US electoral system where votes were recorded incorrectly and voters were excluded although eligible. In a fair and democratic system, each vote is of the same value and all eligible have the ability to vote. Unfortunately, our systems sometimes fail so the quest for a better, fairer system is important.

I hope your group activity comes up with ways of improving the system.

As I am not familiar with the U.S. system, I thought I would share a little about the Australian system. I spent a number of years as an Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in charge of an electoral site for federal and state elections. The title simply meant I was in charge of a school being used as a voting location for elections.

Australia only has about 20% of the US population and still relies on non-electronic voting by voters. When a voter arrives at a voting location, they are directed to the appropriate table. For local voters, this means the appropriate alphabetical table.

Local voters…

1.   An official first asks the voter if they have voted previously. There are checks to see if they have or not but that’s done when voters are tabulated.

2.   They are then asked their name and address. The official locates them on the electoral roll and rules a line between two markers beside their name. This later allows the roll pages to be electronically scanned to check who has or has not voted. Voting is compulsory in Australia. Failing to vote can lead to fines.

3.   The voter is now handed the voting papers that have been initialled on the back by the official. Federal elections generally have two voting papers, one for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives.*

4.   The voter now moves to a booth and marks their selection on the voting papers with a provided pencil. Considering the size of the Senate paper, voters can choose to number every candidate or simply put “1” in the party of their choice to record votes according to that party’s decision.

5.   Once the vote is complete, the voters place each paper in separate voting containers and their job is complete.

6.   When the polling location closes and scrutineers from the various parties are in to observe the count, the ARO unseals the boxes and counting begins.

7.   Once the count is done and the papers are collated according to first choice, the ARO completes a tally sheet and phones the results to the head office. The head office then passes on the results to the national tally room.

8.   After a clean up of the location, the staff is dismissed and the ARO takes the votes to the head office for their electorate.

Voters not in their electorate but in their state vote absentee as local booths only have their own electoral rolls. These votes are tallied separately by the head office.

Out of state voters have to present themselves at the electorate’s head office to record their vote whereas Australians overseas can vote at consulates or embassies.

*Australian Government

Our federal government is divided into two “houses”. The Lower House is known as the House of Representatives. This is where you find our Prime Minister. Candidates are locally elected in electoral divisions within each state. The Upper House is known as the Senate. Its members are voted in by states. This means when I vote for the Lower House, I choose between local candidates to represent my area.  My vote for the Upper House is tallied as a state vote with the Senators being the twelve people with the highest votes in each state, and two with the highest votes from each territory. This gives us 76 senators and 150 representatives.


Teacher, NSW, Australia

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