LUCK OF THE DRAW: Returning officer John Arthur (right) at the Lismore Electoral Office yesterday, with candidates Julia Mellan
LUCK OF THE DRAW: Returning officer John Arthur (right) at the Lismore Electoral Office yesterday, with candidates Julia Mellan

Nats out of the hat first in ballot draw

By ALEX EASTON and PATRIZIA REIMER

THE 'donkey vote' may not be enough for a Northern Rivers seat to change hands at the State election, but it will make life a little easier for Ballina MP Don Page and Lismore MP Thomas George.

Both MPs yesterday topped the ballot papers in their seats, giving their vote, according to conventional wisdom, a boost of up to three per cent, thanks to the donkey vote.

Donkey voting is the practice of numbering votes in the same order they appear on the ballot paper, without any reference to who the candidates are.

In the case of the Lismore draw, that would mean preferencing Mr George first, followed by Julia Melland of the Democrats, then Andy Gough of The Greens, with Labor candidate Peter Lanyon last.

That means that the ballot draw, which was done in every seat around the State at 2pm yesterday, two hours after the close of nominations, is a closely watched event that has developed over the past century into a ceremony that is part arcane ritual and part sideshow alley prize draw.

Ballina returning officer Jeffrey Smith declared 'I feel like a magi- cian' as he invited observers to inspect the empty box candidates' names would be drawn from.

In Lismore, returning officer John Arthur ran his draw complete with a beautiful assistant to hold the box above eye-height as he drew the four vials that each contained the name of a candidate.

However, we Australians can be a contrary bunch and the donkey vote can come in many forms.

While logic suggests those at the bottom of the list, such as Tweed MP Neville Newell and Clarence MP Steve Cansdell, are the losers of the ballot draw, it turns out they are also set for a boost in votes with the 'reverse donkey-vote' being the second most common lazy vote.

So it is little wonder that Ballina Greens convenor Sandra Heilpern said her candidate, John Bailey, would welcome his position at the bottom of the ballot paper.

For NSW Electoral Commission staff, the finalisation of the ballots means voting time. While the election isn't for another fortnight, pre-poll votes start on Monday.



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