I got some alarming advice on the Senate from polling booth workers when voting today

Photo: Simon Thomsen

Australians made a choice about who’ll lead the nation for the next three years and an important part of that decision, especially after prime minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution election because his legislation was being blocked in the senate, is the 76 people who’ll be in the upper house.

But there’s an important difference at this election. The Turnbull government changed the way Australians vote for senators for just the second time since federation, hoping to prevent minor parties from gaining a seat based on preference flows.

Under the old system, preferences cascaded all the way down the ballot paper until exhausted. Under the new system, you have to vote for at least six parties above the line, or 12 people below (you used to have to number every box on a ballot paper that often had 100 candidates).

The new arrangements mean your vote will exhaust – unless you voted for a party, your vote won’t end up with them.

It’s going to make this election fascinating when it comes to the makeup of the Senate, and whether the ALP or Coalition wins, they’re unlikely to get control of both houses.

So how 15 million people voted in the Senate today is important.

But what happened when Business Insider voted today was concerning.

The instructions were:

Number six boxes above the line, or 12 boxes below.

Two really important words that have the potential to change the election result were missing from that instruction:

At least“.

I corrected the polling official. They acknowledged what I said was correct.

The problem is this isn’t an isolated incident.

And when you’ve made a major change to the way Australians vote, you need to be very clear about how to vote.

It would seem plenty of people were not given accurate information before entering the ballot box today.

Business Insider has confirmed independently with a number of people that they were given similar instructions.

And leading political journalists had a similar experience when they went to vote, including Buzzfeed’s Mark di Stefano and the Guardian’s Gay Alcorn.

The Guardian has more on the problem here.

It’s not the only problem the Australian Electoral Commission’s had today, with long queues and reports of booths running out of ballot papers.

Independent candidate and former MP Rob Oakeshott, who’s contesting against the Nationals in Cowper, has alleged voters were told they’d have their names crossed off as voting, without being able to:

Business Insider is seeking comment from the AEC.

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