Sausage Sizzle: Week 211

A patriotic car outside the Newtown Public Polling Place: Sydney, Australia

One of the most cherished election activities in Australia is sadly unknown in the US. It has to do with fundraising, but it’s not the kind of money that bankrolls political candidates or sways public policy. In its purest form it involves a bunch of volunteers roasting sausages on their BBQs. However, different permutations involve cake stalls, bake stalls, raffles, boot sales, fetes, mini-fetes, and sausage sizzle-cake-raffle stalls.

“Are you here to vote?” One of the party workers asked as Barret and I approached the gate to the Newtown Public Polling Place.

“No,” I replied. “I’m here to sausage sizzle.”

Voters outside the Newtown Public Polling Place: Sydney, Australia

Sausage sizzles are a cherished form of fundraising by school associations and community groups. There’s even a website that tracks which polling places are offering which food and you can bet the sausage sizzles are reviewed in the post-election news coverage.

I picked Newtown Public because it was close to my house, but I only found out later on the Sydney Morning Herald that the Erskineville Public had vegetarian options and halloumi on their burgers! I kind of wish I had known this beforehand.

Cake Stall at Newtown Public: Sydney Australia

Anyways, Barret had a burger and I went to the cake stall for a glass of lemonade and a rice bubble treat. I talked to the volunteers for a bit until they were distracted by more voters coming out of the polling booth. Since we had completed our patriotic duty, we strolled off to enjoy the rest of the sunny afternoon. I really want this sausage sizzle thing to catch on back home.

About: Election Sausage Sizzles

How to vote like an Australian: Week 173

An example of an Optional Preferential ballot: NSW, Australia


In honor of the 4th of July (I admit I’m a bit behind on my blog), I would like to write about one of the most patriotic things a citizen can do: voting. However, not just any old voting will do. Today we are going to talk about voting Aussie style. Not only is it unique, it’s also compulsory. That’s right, Belgium and Australia are the only two countries in the world in which you have to vote or you will get a nice little fine in the mail.

Depending on the type of the election, there are two main ways to conduct elections. The first and more straightforward method is called Optional Preferential (see drawing above). Unlike the US, which favors a two-party system, Optional Preferential will never leave you feeling like you’ve wasted a vote. Unless of course you are the kind of person who uses your ballot to draw anatomically correct figures.

This form of voting is commonly used in some local council elections and also to elect the NSW Legislative Assembly. The number ‘1’ is placed next to your preferred candidate and you can either finish there or continue numbering as many other candidates as you wish.

At the end of the election, these votes are separated into their first preferences. If one candidate receives 50% +1 of the first preference votes, they win.

If not, the lowest performer is ruled out and their votes are disbursed according to the second selection on the ballot. For example: velvet blue, your first choice, receives the lowest amount of votes. Velvet blue is eliminated from the pool and your vote goes to your second choice, Robin egg blue. If a ballot paper does not have a second choice it is exhausted and removed from the pool.

This continues amongst the lowest performers until a candidate emerges with the majority of the votes. Therefore, if you number multiple candidates, your vote could still count even if your first choice does not win.

The other common form of voting is called Proportional Representation. It’s commonly used to elect members of the Legislative Council and is a system which increases the odds of a minority party being represented.

An example of a Proportional Representation ballot: NSW, Australia

Unlike Optional Preferential, the Proportional Representation ballots can be massive. In fact, the 1999 election was a record-breaking election in terms of the size of the ballot paper.

As Norm Kelly puts it in his book Directions in Australian Electoral Reform:

“The March 1999 NSW Legislative Council election produced one of the largest ballot papers ever used in Australia (and possibly the world), with 81 groupings (including 78 parties) comprising 264 candidates.

The ‘tablecloth’ ballot paper measured 102cm by 72cm (approximately 3’4” by 2’4”). Its size created major logistical issues for the election, requiring the construction of wider voting booths and the use of larger planes for transporting papers.”

The most distinguishing feature of this ballot paper is the think line which runs across the top. It divides the paper according to the two options available: voting above the line and voting below the line.

Voting above the line is the fastest way to complete your civic duty. Just mark ‘1’ next to one of the political parties and you’re done. You could also continue numbering 2, 3, etc. should you feel inclined.

All political parties with a box above the line must have at least fifteen members. The reason being is that a vote above the line is essentially numbering each party member 1-15 in the order in which they appear. Obviously it is the party that decides the order of their own candidates.

Voting below the line is something you might want to do when you either disagree with the party’s order of candidates or you want to cherry pick your own dream team across party lines.

To do this you need to number at least fifteen candidates in numerical order. If you’re really gung-ho you can even number every single candidate on the ballot. Below the line voters can also choose from the group-less candidates on the far right hand that are in an ‘ungrouped’ column.

Even if you aren’t an Australian citizen, you can still benefit from this random bit of political knowledge. Just think about how exciting your next Halloween costume contest or bake-off would be if it were Aussie rules style. I can personally guarantee that the vote tallying makes a great spectator sport.

Guest blog: Pig-Pickin’ with Penny

At the Pig-Pickin in Virginia

Blog reader Penny (aka Mom) goes into the heart of Tea Party country for a neighborhood Pig-Pickin’. While not necessary, I recommend reading this post with the voice of a BBC announcer. My mom is the only person I know that could (and has) made the question “are you in a hurry to pound some meat,” sound positively dainty.


Delicious parallels begged to be drawn between Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ theme and our October 2013 invite to a  ‘Pig-Pickin’. Most readers would recognize the presence of certain essential elements in both: the one chosen pig, the bonfire, and two opposing groups of guests, Democrats and Republicans.

But herein lies the current problem: whether to define the radical Tea Party supporters as Republican – or to acknowledge a created schism within the ranks of the Republicans, so viewing the Tea Party as a parasitic graft and independent of conventional Republican ideology. The host of ‘Pig Pickin’ was a masterful diplomat. With warmth and hospitality he negotiated his way through the gathering of incongruous persons and the hostile mud of the barbecue area.

The modern version however of the outcome was decidedly cheerful. A six day duration of falling rain failed to dampen the spirited barbecue celebration of Columbus Day. Politics was cast aside as everyone’s attention became focused on ‘Piggy’ who shared billing with boat rides, fishing, live music, a giant bonfire, hush puppies, coleslaw, beer, soda and cider. Baked beans were also on the menu. Never mind that the enormous cast iron pot in which they were warming tumbled into the fire. Scraped up and herded back into the pot the baked beans tasted … woodsy perhaps.

“In my opinion the Tea Party is not unlike the Nazis taking away the people’s freedom.” Clearly the man next to whom I was seated was not the guest who had earlier arrived in a car sprouting slogans in support of extremists running for government in Virginia. Consider one such extremist, Jackson, running for lieutenant governor who warns against yoga by asserting, “Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. Satan is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to…”

I was curious about my dining companion’s comparison of the Tea Party; here was a man who’d been born and raised in Germany in the 1940s, the son of a German soldier on the front, solely acquainted with his father by having but three telephone conversations with him. I wanted to ask more. I really did. But after downing two beers I felt I could hear my mother admonishing me.

“Never discuss sex, religion or politics. And never go out without a fresh handkerchief and money in your purse.” For the most part, useless advice by present day standards. And then our table conversation shifted to safer ground: native Virginia plants and shrubs, the convenience of Dulles airport and future highway projects within the area.

The giant bonfire which was lit rapidly became a fluttery fire before extinguishing itself. A steady deluge of rain had converted the mountain of timber into an island unto itself. The Occoquan River had wrapped its watery arms around the wood, obliging the lighter of the fire to wade towards the pile with unusual hope and determination.

And yet the congenial spirit of the evening prevailed as we came together for Columbus Day. The holiday is after all not just about remembering Christopher Columbus, but about taking time to reflect upon who we are and what we can achieve together.

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: