We all know theres a big election coming and that on Saturday May 21. You’ll have to roll on down to your local polling station, queue up, and fill in those green and white bits of paper.
Although it’s a privilege and a right to be able to express your political views in this way, and to potentially help decide the way the country will be run for the next three years, it can feel somewhat pointless.
After all, your vote is just one of millions, and, really, how much of a difference would it make if you didn’t show up that day?
Putting aside the fact that one vote has decided the future of nations beforehand, and that several votes in Australia have come down to just a handful between candidates, not all votes carry the same weight in this country as others.
Swing seats — the regions where the competition is far tighter for politicians than others — are one of the major factors in why some voters will be more heavily enticed to vote one way or another than other voters. Just a few of these seats will, ultimately, end up deciding the fate of the country overall.
Couple this with the fact that not all electorates are created equal, and you’ve got a recipe for a relatively unbalanced political system.
Here’s where votes count more than others and which ones will matter the most in choosing the fate of the nation.
Why Do Some Votes Matter More Than Others?
There are 151 electorates across Australia, with an average of 113,000 voters per seat. However, there are a number of electorates with far fewer voters, and some with much more.
Because each electorate chooses one MP each, some MPs need far more votes in order to win than others. This dilutes the votes, meaning that in some regions a single vote can be worth up to two and a half times as much as elsewhere.
Take Tasmania, for example. According to the Australian Constitution, Tasmania gets five electorates and corresponding MPs. However, the population of Tasmania is much smaller than the mainland, meaning the average number of voters is around 79,500 per electorate. It would make sense to merge these into four seats, bringing the average up to around 100,000 and more in line with the country’s average — but the Constitution takes precedence here.
The Constitution also grants each state 12 senators and each territory two. This means that Tasmania has one federal parliamentarian — 12 senators and five MPs — per 23,500 voters. In Canberra, where the territory has two senators and three MPs, 62,000 voters equals one parliamentarian.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that those who get elected in Tasmania have an easier time of it, but, for every one Tasmanian vote, Canberrans need to vote two and a half times to get the same level of representation.
To be fair, it’s not as bad as it could be. In other countries, notably the US, the practice of ‘gerrymandering’ makes some votes worth far more than others. This involves redrawing constituency boundaries in bizarre ways to incorporate voters likely to vote in a particular way, thereby more easily electing certain members.
Thankfully, Australia has the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), that oversees voting and constituency boundaries and tries to keep it as fair as possible, however sometimes their job clashes with that of already existing legislation.
The Seats Where the Election Will Be Won
As mentioned, 151 seats make up the House of Representatives. Each of these seats corresponds to an electorate in Australia, and a political party needs to win 76 seats — at minimum — to claim a majority in the house and therefore establish a government.
Of course, it’s not that simple, with a minority government or government in Coalition — as the Liberals have always done — also possible.
Anyway, all 151 seats will be contested on May 21, however, the vast majority of these are considered ‘safe’. This means there’s going to be very little chance of voters changing their allegiance from one party to another, as historic voting patterns indicate that they would need a shift of more than 10% in order to change hands, which almost never happens. These are, therefore, the seats where votes matter less and, consequently, the ones that politicians spend time trying to win over.
Others, however, matter a great deal. Some analysts suggest that there are around 20 seats that could change hands this time around, while others suggest it could be as high as 33. This election is expected to be somewhat more volatile than previous ones, with teal independent candidates challenging long-standing Liberals in areas that should be safe seats for them. This could add some more chaos to the mix and see big upsets on the night. It’s these areas where votes ‘matter’ the most, as they have a chance of actually influencing the outcome of the ballot, and therefore the next government.
The Coalition, with a majority of just one MP, need to hold all of their seats. Because there are six cross-bench MPs — those who aren’t part of either the Coalition or Labor, like the Greens Adam Bandt — Labor would need to keep all of its current seats and win an additional four seats to block the government from re-election. If Labor wins seven seats, they will hold an outright majority.
The most marginal of these seats are Macquarie (NSW), Bass (TAS), Chisholm (VIC), Lilley (QLD), and Eden-Monaro (NSW). The smallest margin here is just 0.2%, which barely gives Labor control in Macquarie. You can see the full list of marginality here.
Labor has many more marginal seats than the Coalition do — with 43 seats they hold by less than 10%. The Coalition has 37. Labor also have more seats with very narrow margins, including eight with a margin of less than 2%. The Coalition only have three such seats.
So, if you live in one of these incredibly marginal seats, expect to be showered with promises and lavish gifts — if not personally, at least communally — as politicians attempt to hang onto or win your vote. It’s those seats where the election will be won or lost.