Government paper replaces free drinks
The Australian colonial parliaments inherited the British way of voting. Men who qualified to vote came to the designated public voting place which was usually a hotel, and their vote was called out for all to hear and registered in the public polling book. These were tallied and reported on hourly, allowing would-be politicians to ensure those who had taken incentives to vote for them actually did so. It also encouraged drinking at the hotel as people gathered to follow the results, meaning that potential voters could be gathered from the drinkers if the result was close. The outcome could, and sometimes did, end in a drunken melee.
In the 1850s Victoria became the first colony to adopt the secret ballot as used in other countries, but with significant changes. In countries like Belgium, France and Switzerland potential voters were provided with a completed ballot paper which the voters delivered to the polling booth. This meant that the voter’s choices could be known by others, due to the colour or size of the ballot paper. Consequently, rewards could still be provided once the vote was seen going into the ballot box.
In Victoria, the government decided to improve secrecy by providing the ballot paper at the polling site so the voter would complete it secretly, in a private booth. Voters indicated the candidate they supported by crossing out all the names but one, the chosen candidate would be the name remaining.
The Australian Ballot
Some argued that if voting took up to five minutes this process would be too slow. The solution was to divide the voter group up alphabetically, tick each voter off at presentation and provide them with their own ballot paper. Additional legislation provided for five or six booths. This new method was used in the 1856 Victorian election and the process was quickly adopted in South Australia and Tasmania.
The government-printed ballot paper with its compartments for candidate names was known as the Australian ballot. Over time other local and state jurisdictions adopted similar voting processes.
Pencil not ink
South Australian administrators added final significant changes: voting was to be in pencil instead of ink which was quicker and cleaner; and the voter only needed to put a cross against the name of the person he wanted to vote for, also saving time.
The how to vote card is born of the ballot paper. For many decades political parties have reproduced the ballot paper completed with their party’s preferred voting instructions and candidates or supporters hand these out to voters at polling booths across the land, on election day. These ephemeral ‘how to vote cards’ offer a record of the electoral landscape and its many contributing candidates, and are collected by private and institutional collectors.
How to vote in St Kilda
Our reproduced piece of ephemera has several nice feature. It is small, 10 x 4.3cm, about the size of a tram ticket but on thin card. Voting hours are two hour longer than we have. There is a reminder that voting is compulsory, a requirement to increase voting participation introduced in 1924. This how to vote ticket was for the unsuccessful candidate. You can read more about it here.
Brett, J., From secret ballot to democracy sausage: how Australia got compulsory voting (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2019)
https://www.moadoph.gov.au/search?keywords=ballot+ retrieved 12 October 2021