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Methods for Democracy

The workings of government

Peacock Politics Adam Peacock asks politicians and leading commentators to cut the crap and to explain simply how the Australian political system functions, why it was set up the way it was and if they think it needs an overhaul. Here or your favourite podcast app.



Elections are how we chose who is to represent us in our parliaments. Often the ability to participate in elections is seen as a core part of democracy. Voting (more accurately enrolling and turning out to vote) can be compulsory or not. About 32 countries have compulsory voting, although less than half of these don’t enforce it. The Australian Electorate Commission provides a discussion of compulsory voting as does the NSW State Library.

Methods of voting divide into three major types: first past the post (plurality), preferential and proportional (with the latter two often being combined). The Australian Electorate Commission explains the details here. The Australian Parliamentary Library describes the voting systems used in Australia here.

Voting and counting votes to elect representatives can seem complicated. The resources listed here can help you understand this.


Generic information

A series of videos explaining common electoral concepts: Animal Kingdom Videos.

About optional preferential voting systems

This video from Voices of North Sydney (for the 2021 NSW State by-election) explains the importance of using all your preferences even when optional, so that your vote is not extinguished – the key message is that candidates who may have got elected might miss out because they didn’t quite get enough votes through preference flows.

It makes it clear that voters not parties determine the preferences flow and that it is important not to waste your vote by ensuring your preferences aren’t exhausted.


Specifically for Australian elections

In Australia the three levels of government, federal, state/ territory and local have similar but not identical electoral systems.


The Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand (ECANZ) gives a comprehensive summary of electoral systems in Australia and New Zealand.


Federal elections comprise House of Representatives and Senate elections.


This video explains how the Senate voting system works and this video explains how preferences are distributed when candidates are eliminated from the count. The Australian Electoral Commission has this fact sheet and a page broadly explaining the Senate voting system.

House of Representatives

This video explains how the House of Representative preferential voting system works and how votes are counted.

State / Territory

Each State or Territory parliament / assembly has a section detailing how the voting system works in their jurisdiction.


Local government is set up under state and territory legislation; different jurisdictions apply differing voting systems so throughout Australia all systems are in use. A brief summary can be found here.

Last Update: 15/06/2022
Elections, Methods For Democracy, Methods For Democracy
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