You Can’t ‘Waste Your Vote’!

Dennis the Election Koala, now in full colour, somewhere elseUpdate, February 2019: The famous comic about Australia’s preferential voting system, starring Dennis the Election Koala and Ken the Voting Dingo, has been revised, updated, and completely redrawn in spectacular full colour! Please find it at its new home here.

This blog post will remain here, but if you’re looking for that comic and want to share it, please use the current version, not this one. Thank you!

Dennis the Election Koala gives Ken the Voting Dingo an important lesson in civics!

Any time there’s a federal election approaching, you’ll see and hear Australians saying things like, “I’d like to vote for [Minor Party/Independent] but the most important thing is to keep [Major Party A] out, so I’d better vote for [Major Party B].” But this concern doesn’t apply in Australia; we have a more elegant voting system than that. We seem to have picked up ideas about “wasting your vote” from American TV shows or something.

So here’s a comic designed to clear up this common misconception and explain how preferential voting works! It’s four pages long — just the right size for a pamphlet. I’ve tried to make it non-partisan and future-proof, and you are encouraged to share it online and in print. Letterbox your street or apartment building, or hand out copies at a polling booth! Scroll down and you’ll find the comic in various formats for sharing and printing. (EDIT: Now including a ‘radio friendly’ version!)

web-500-cant-waste-vote-01 web-500-cant-waste-vote-02 web-500-cant-waste-vote-03 web-500-cant-waste-vote-04

For sharing on the web:

For printing and copying a pamphlet:

Make an A5 pamphlet by printing a double-sided A4 sheet and folding it in half. Print a few and letterbox your street or building — or copy a whole bundle and hand them out at a polling booth! Remember, photocopying’s free when you do it at work.

High resolution:

A4 pages, 300 dpi, aliased black-and-white. This is the size I drew them at, with my tablet. Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4

NEW!!! Radio-friendly version:

By popular request, I have created a ‘softer’ edit of the comic in order to make it as accessible as possible. This version contains no references to bums, farts, bastards, murder, babies or incest. (One funny cartoon animal still slaps another funny cartoon animal in the face though, because come on people.) If you had any reservations about sharing or letterboxing the comic, have them no longer!

  • 700 pixels wide, single image (radio edit)
  • PDF version (radio edit) — ready to simply print and fold
  • High resolution: Page 1 (radio edit), Page 2 (radio edit); Pages 3 and 4 required no changes

DECLARING MY INTERESTS: I’m a member of the Australian Greens — a minor party, how about that! But this comic is intended to be non-partisan and informative. In fact, the whole message of the comic is, you can and should vote for exactly who you want to! We’re fortunate to have preferential voting in Australia so we ought to understand how it works.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License, if you were wondering. I should reiterate that the third page was derived from an infographic on the PEO website under the assumption that they wouldn’t mind.

78 Replies to “You Can’t ‘Waste Your Vote’!”

  1. I would really like to thank you for this cartoon, it was informative and easy to understand and for the life of me i cant figure out why it isnt sent to everyone instead of all the useless election mail we recieve every darn election. i know quite a few people who vote informal, simply bcause they think their one little vote doesnt count. I am sending this to all of them.
    Thank you again and good luck for this election.

    1. Thank you this is brilliant and should be handed out at high schools, I know so many young people who don’t even enrol to vote. The one thing I would suggest you add is that if you only vote ‘1’ then the party you voted for get to allocate your preferences so your vote STILL isn’t wasted. Personally I prefer to choose my preferences.

      1. As I’ve said, this comic isn’t about the Senate vote. There just wasn’t enough room. It seems like I could have made that much clearer though!

        Honestly the comic is not much more than a rushed first draft. Not how I normally work but in this instance I decided that putting out something ‘good enough’ in a timely fashion was better than putting out nothing.

  2. Now you need to do a similar comic explaining the principles of voting for the Senate.

    1. That’ll be my 100-page graphic novel.

      Seriously though, explaining the senate vote is a bit beyond me I think. I’m no Antony Green — just a relatively informed layman trying to be helpful.

  3. Thanks. How about a comic strip for the senate vote. Maybe pointing out the flaw in unweighted inclusive gregory to raise awareness of it.

    1. See above! I had to google ‘unweighted inclusive gregory’.

      In any case I suspect that’s the sort of digression that would undo the purpose of an infographic. ‘Inside baseball’ is the term, I think.

      1. you are now top 10 in google for that term :)

  4. In getting caught up in explaining how Australia’s voting system works, you’ve completely missed how utterly broken it still is.

    The preferential system we have is only anywhere near sensible when there are no parties, or when there is only one winner allowed. Obviously, neither of those conditions are present. Parties are omnipresent and there are 150 winners.

    So, what happens with this system under those conditions? Massive geographic bias. Like-minded voters that are in the one place will get representation, while the same voters spread out over a wider area get nothing. You are a member of the Australian Greens. You should *know* this. In the 2010 federal election, the Greens obtained enough primary votes that under a fair system they should have been entitled to about 18 seats. Instead they got only one, and they are likely to lose even that this time around due to Labor and Liberal acting to protect their political duopoly.

    Did you know that 2010 was the first time a third party has won a seat in the House of Representatives since the great depression, unless you count splinter groups of the Liberal Nationals? The possibility of third parties in government is almost entirely theoretical.

    Next time you get the chance, ask some Green MPs why on earth they haven’t leveraged their position to get a Royal Commission on our electoral system happening yet.

    (And no, Single Transferable Vote is not an appropriate solution. The Tasmanian House of Assembly and ACT Legislative Assembly are still badly flawed. If you want an example of something that functions fairly well, I suggest you look to New Zealand instead.)

    1. Got that out of your system, have you? Well, happy to help.

      I’m not an advocate for Australia’s system; I just want to explain how it works. I happen to think it’s better than most, but I agree that New Zealand’s is better.

      You’ve got a lot to say; maybe try drawing your own comic about it? Serious suggestion.

      1. So I failed to keep that tinge of bitterness out of my post? Yeah, OK, sorry about that. It was probably your last line about us being fortunate to have our preferential system that got me.

        I’m in the process of constructing a website, but income related matters keep getting in the way.

        1. Patrick, well done on creating this.

          It’s got viral written all over it – popped up three times in my Facebook stream already. Really hope you’ve got a server that can cope. (I mean, I really, really hope that you do, because it would be a real shame if its exposure was limited by bandwidth).

          Jed, well done on realising that no matter how valid your rant may be Patrick’s only intention was to explain the existing system, which I suspect the majority of Australians don’t understand. He’s done a great job, and it’s already secured the Greens an extra vote from a very intelligent, but only partially politically engaged, friend of mine who would otherwise have simply followed the Liberal How To Vote card.

          If Australians understood the system I have little doubt the Green vote would increase, and a movement would slowly develop which questioned how appropriate small geographically-based electorates with a single representative are in Australia in the 21st century.

          1. Well the whole point of the House of Representatives is to provide representatives for the people in electorates of specific geographic areas and this beneficial in the 21st or any era because it provides representation in Canberra for people with common beliefs and concerns eg Agricultural or mining areas, blue or white collar, young or old.
            To provide representation without geographic electorates as you mention the representatives would have to support some sort of generic, global policies.
            Now this is great for parties like the Greens, whose policies are national an don’t generally reflect local concerns, issues, beliefs but for the majority of Australians, who want someone local who represents local concerns it would be disenfranchising.

          2. I think that a different type of system ‘may’ work. What there were no ‘parties’ allowed. You could have a number of people nominate in each electorate, the people vote for the representative they want. The representatives go to Canberra, and they vote for who they want to be the prime minister, the treasurer, ministers etc. ALL votes are conscience votes, and the Senate can Veto any legislation they try to pass.

        2. No worries mate and all the best with the website project.

          There’s nothing in the world that can’t be improved, but I do think we’re fortunate to have preferential voting.

          1. I’ve seen the alternative at close quarters… the party that won the last election in Canada was hated by a good proportion of the population, but hey, they did get almost 40% of the votes…

          2. That happens to me the most constructive stream of ‘differing opinion’ I have seen on any post, anywhere. Nice work Jed, Patrick and Michael!

  5. Thank you for posting this. I came of age in Australia, and when I moved back to Canada (Which has a one vote/one party system) I thought the Canadian way was really ass backwards.

    I have shared this with my Canadian pals and they wonder why the hell we do it the way we do in Canada.

    Good luck in your upcoming election. As a citizen, I should probably look into the issues and throw an absentee vote down there.

  6. Thank you to all commenters, past and future! I’m pleased the comic’s getting so much attention, since that is, after all, the whole point. Thanks for spreading the word.

  7. I’m italian, but this is FANTASTIC!
    And I really like we we’ll implement a similar voting system here. Our current voting system was called, from the very person that invented it, ‘porcellum’, something like ‘porky’. And there’s a reason for that!

  8. Great comic, I really enjoyed it. However I have a few questions that it doesn’t explain:

    Does my 3rd preference get the vote if my 2nd preference was eliminated before my 1st preference was eliminated?

    If my 2nd preference gets my vote, but is later eliminated, does my vote change to who I preferenced 3rd, or does it go to the party that my 2nd preference preferenced?

    1. Q1. Yes, correct!

      Q2. The former. YOUR preferences are followed. If you hear someone talking about a party’s preferences, it means the preferences they recommend to voters on how-to-vote cards. A party is not a voter, so it can’t actually have preferences in the sense that you do! (Although, in senate voting, it kind of can, sort of, when people vote above the line… but that’s a separate topic.)

      I kind of wanted to go into a few hypotheticals like this in the comic, but, gotta keep it digestable.

      Oh, and, DISCLAIMER: Not an expert! Don’t work for the AEC!

  9. Great comic, I understand the need for the koala and dingo but you missed the obvious donkey joke.

    Shared with my friends, hopefully it can educate a few more people to take voting seriously.

  10. Patrick! I go for the Greens too!
    I totally forgot you (and this site) existed and now people are reposting it on facebook. It’s pretty cool.

    1. Hello! Thanks! Which Annie are you??

  11. Hey Patrick, I’m delighted to see that you’re still going strong! I’d always hoped you would. And I have to say that your voting strip actually made sense of something that’s… well, not made much sense to me. Until NOW! Anyways, I thought I’d just check in and say, “Hi!”


    1. Tony Single! Hey man! So good to hear from you! Hope you’re doing well.

  12. […] If you don’t understand this, then you SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO VOTE!Source: […]

  13. The Senate is very important also. Isn’t the difference here that we are voting for senators for the whole of each state/territory. and because of this the voting forms can be very large. Hence the voting above the line system makes it a simple choice of one vote. The party has pre-registered its preferences and a vote above the line follows the party’s preferences. If we as voters don’t agree with whom the party pre-selects for its preferences the voter can choose to vote below the line for their own preferences. In which case the comic is valid.

  14. Seriously though, putting out a “number every square” message without even mentioning the Senate is worse than useless advice, particularly if you are interested in boosting a minor party. The Senate is way more important than the HoR for the minor parties, and you’ve made a comic that would confuse anyone who tried to use it to vote in the Senate.

    1. Can’t do everything, I’m afraid. Though I suppose I could have made it clearer that the comic is specifically about the House of Reps.

      The Senate is, as you point out, already good for minor parties because proportional representation makes it easier for them to get elected. Personally I’d like the House of Reps to be just as good for minor parties, but that requires more people to understand how preferential voting works — hence the comic.

  15. I think it’s great that you’ve done this in a non-biased way; I like how you state what you support without trying to push that on others. I can’t say that happens often when asking people of their political preference these days…

    Thanks for an awesome illustration!

  16. This comic explains the voting system very well, but it is not impartial. You’ve basically made a comic for people who want to vote for the Greens, but feel they have to give Labor their number 1 vote to keep the Liberal Party out. Credit for the disclaimer, but it was obvious regardless.

    1. PS I vote Liberal.

    2. For the record, while I support the Greens personally, I’m also broadly in favour of more parties; more options; more representation of truly diverse political positions. Not a fan of two-party systems.

      So while my own biases may well be showing, my attempt to make this comic as non-partisan and inclusive as possible was genuine.

      1. I believe that you believe that you are being as non-partisan and inclusive as possible, but again I would suggest that you have failed quite badly. There is nothing inclusive about labelling minor parties on the right as racist inbreds. And characterising the Greens as being a little wacky but overall benign, is as non-partisan as my characterising the Greens as being a little wacky and wanting to destroy the economy.

        The only way to actually be non-partisan would be to have Major Party A, Major Party B, Minor Party A, and Minor Party B. Admittedly I would not find it anywhere near as entertaining as what you have produced, but in claiming that your comic is non-partisan when in fact your biases are completely transparent, you are trying to have your cake and eat it too.

        1. Oh, you “believe that I believe” do you? What else can you see from atop your lofty spire of objective enlightenment? These are rhetorical questions of course because I’m about to close the comments and leave you to stew.

  17. Thanks you so much for this. I have gone blue in the face trying to explain preferential voting to otherwise rational, intelligent and politically engaged people who simply don’t get it.

  18. […] Australian Greens member has come up with a novel, alright, comical way to explain how preferential voting works for the House of Representatives at an Australi…. Even better, Patrick Alexander has offered the comic in a few different formats that can be easily […]

  19. How do the party preferences work? Like how liberal party gives its preferences to labour instead of greens?

    1. Please see my reply to Gav, above.

      Put simply, each voter has total control over his/her preferences. Parties can only make recommendations to voters. (However, in Senate voting, if you vote above the line, you are relinquishing this control to the one party you vote for; asking them, basically, to number all the boxes on your behalf. Again, though: this comic is not about Senate voting.)

  20. Nice one, Patrick.

  21. Laura Anne Seabrook August 20, 2013 at 9:14 am

    So what about one of these for the upper house, and the difference between above and below the line?

    1. No time, and lack the expertise.

      I suppose it would be easy enough to explain Senate voting as far as the voter is concerned… it’s explaining the ‘back end’ that’s beyond me. Well, maybe one day.

  22. I like the cartoon… Great work!

  23. I like this post both because it puts a fairly complicated concept into an entertaining and digestible form, and because I encourage anything that encourages the benefits of third party voting (interest: I too vote Green).

    However I do think it glosses over one point, and makes the situation seem more black and white than it is. Put simply, I *do* risk losing something, from a pragmatic point of view, if I vote for a third party. It doesn’t come for free.

    Suppose my electorate has 100 voters, and the major party I prefer gets 50 votes, while the major party I don’t prefer gets 45 votes. And suppose I am one of the 5 votes that go to a third party. Now, my electorate must go to its second preferences. And while my vote *will* help the major party I prefer, it is still possible that they won’t win (depending how others’ second preferences go). If I had put a “1” next to the major party I preferred, they would have received 51 votes, and they would have won. No need for second preferences.

    While this is an unlikely situation, it is thoughts like these that go through people’s heads when they’re in the voting booth.

    1. I don’t follow you, Shaun, though maybe that’s my own fault — never had much of a head for numbers.

      In your example, it seems to me that if your preferred major party needs only one more vote, and they get yours (based on your preferences), they win. No worries.

      I mean, your non-preferred major party will still only end up with 49 votes (45+4) at the most.

      What am I missing here?

  24. Thanks Patrick,
    I’m 51 and never understood how that worked. It was really causing consternation this time around.

    1. Jill, are you 51 outright or after preferences? :)

  25. Great and informative comic strip and good to see. As Someone who has never voted Labour and never given my vote to the Liberals I say have a bit of fun and send a message. Who in their right mind could resist voting for the Party Party Party Party or The Sun Ripened Green Tomato Party! Only matters who you put last. This is about who you least want to elect so the last position matters most.
    SEND A MESSAGE to the Pollies and their Parties. Pity we can’t do something to Murdoch to limit his vote!

  26. Sorry, as good as this cartoon is, I don’t understand why the ignorant one/Dingo had to be treated with violence. Did the Koala have some unresolved issues? Payback for past predation on the koala’s ancestors? I would have used a Wise Koala who gently corrected rather than punished the dingo’s ignorance. The rest of it is great and helped me understand the system a bit better. Thank you.

    1. They are cartoon animals, Erica. It’s what they do.

      And you’re welcome!

  27. Love what you’ve done Patrick!

    Will definitely print some off for my neighbours before election day.

    Have added some links and info about this page over at my site with the hope you’ll get a little bit more traffic from my circles.

    If you can think of a simple way to explain the Senate… OK, I guess we’re all screwed thinking about that one!

    Kind regards,

  28. […] We have preferential voting in Australia, which means that people develop the useful mindset of voting for the parties they least hate first, and the ones that hate most last, in a numbered list of candidates. Here’s an infographic of this is in action featuring a sentient koala. […]

  29. Please correct me if it’s not the case that that preferences are not counted if a candidate exceeds 50% of primary votes? If so, I’m obliged to vote Labor to prevent LNP winning outright.

    1. If a candidate wins an absolute majority (over 50%) from primary votes, then no, I suppose preferences wouldn’t be counted because that candidate has won.

      Concluding from that that you’re obliged to vote for a major party is a huge leap; not sure how you ended up there! In our hypothetical 100-voter electorate, if Party A gets 51 primary votes, they’ve won, and that’s that — whether Party B would get 49 votes from primary votes or from preferences doesn’t make a difference.

  30. Thanks for this, I already understood but it is the most fun and clear explanation of the process I have read. It’s a pity about some of the language as this would be a great resource to use in schools in their government unit.

    1. Based on some feedback I’ve received, I am considering doing a sort of ‘radio edit’ of the comic, to make it as accessible as possible. Unfortunately, I will almost certainly not have time to do this before the election, plus I’m about to lose proper internet access for a few weeks anyway. But stay tuned!

  31. Hello all,

    Just letting you know, I’ll be closing comments on this post soon; maybe later tonight. I have just today moved to another country (nothing to do with politics; shush) and am about to start a new job and also lose internet access for at least a few weeks — so on top of being busy, I simply won’t be able to approve anyone’s comments to be posted.

    I might open comments up again once I’ve got internet access back… then again I might not. As interesting as some of these discussions are, I’m not sure this is the ideal forum for them.

    Thanks again for all the interest and feedback! Please keep sharing the comic, however you can.

  32. […] I know people don’t understand this. I’ve talked to a lot of people since starting this citizen journalism project, people who are well educated and tuned into the election. One person told me she didn’t want Abbott to be prime minister, but she doesn’t like Darren Cheeseman, so she would put the Greens candidate first, someone else second and Sarah Henderson third.  I told her that her vote would go toward electing Sarah Henderson and ultimately contribute to Tony Abbott becoming prime minister. I still don’t think she believes me. This link is helpful to explain preferential voting […]

  33. […] very useful ‘You Can’t Waste Your Vote’ cartoon has been circulating cyberspace for the past couple of weeks. I didn’t fully understand […]

  34. […] You can check out how your lower house how to vote card will look at Below the Line and decide your strategy to fully empower your protest vote before you visit your polling booth. If you are hazy about exactly how the preference system works to let you ‘vote for the partial bastards before the total bastards and still VOTE 1 for a minor party’ have a look at chicken-nation. […]

  35. […] and parties for non-Australians and also Australians too. | noble | kraken Worth it alone for this comic that explains why you should put the two major parties last and work backwards from there. […]

  36. […] you have any suggested changes. We encourage people to put progressive minor parties first due to preferential voting in Australia to oppose the “two-party system” which the mainstream media creates in Australia. […]

  37. […] to me blither on, let’s hear from Dennis the Election Koala, thanks to Peter Alexander at Chicken Nation.  Speaking with Ken the Voting Dingo, Dennis will attempt to explain a little thing called […]

  38. […] There is an election tomorrow. Perhaps you should seriously consider changing how you vote to send a message about how serious you think this issue is. Remember, you can’t waste your vote. […]

  39. […] Alexander’s comic style voting guide for the federal election last year?  You can find it at  Well the equally clever Thom Holland has spruced it up in time for the Victorian […]

  40. […] democracy should have equal representation for all citizens. Here is a great infographic about the Australian voting system. Something like this would be optimal in the province of Alberta and Canada. The NDP is wanting to […]

  41. […] don’t have to waste their vote on who they hate least and this is perhaps best explained in comic form by Patrick Alexander. Another option that may be worth exploring is that of optional preferential voting, wherein voters […]

  42. […] Not all is lost, we have a preferential voting system, so you can vote for a third party and your vote always counts, just ask Dennis the violent Koala. […]

  43. […] on, until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote, thereby securing their seat. (The process is explained in more detail here by Dennis the Election Koala and his hapless friend Ken the Voting Dingo. Australia is […]

  44. […] to the voter’s “Second preference”. Here’s an awesome explanation of how Single Transferable Vote works in Australia. This method is less widely used around the world than First Past The Post, but it’s been […]

  45. […] Patrick Alexander has a really good cartoon explaining this, and it’s probably more coherent than what I just wrote. […]

  46. […] For the election, we use Single Transferable Vote. For a guide on how Single Transferable Vote works, we recommend reading about Dennis the Election Koala: […]

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