Here’s an example of how votes are counted in a preferential voting system. It’s a little
simplified to make it easier to understand but accurate in spirit.
Suppose there are 5 parties on the ballot paper. Then the vote counters set up 5 buckets labelled with
the names of the 5 parties.
Suppose there are 1000 ballot papers. Counters look at the first preference on each paper and put it in the corresponding bucket.
If any bucket has more than 500 ballot papers in it, then the process stops and that party wins the seat. But, and here’s the important bit, the number of votes in each bucket is recorded and every party knows how many first preferences each party got. If you voted 2 AJP, nobody will ever know. You haven’t sent anybody a message that animals matter to you.
If no bucket has more than 500 ballot papers, then the party with the smallest number of papers in it is eliminated. This means that all its ballot papers are looked at and moved into the bucket corresponding to its second preference. This is what people mean when they say your vote “falls through” to your second preference.
Now, if any bucket has more than 500 ballot papers, the voting stops. If not then the party with the smallest number of votes in its bucket is eliminated. Meaning its ballot papers are considered and distributed to another bucket.
The process continues until one bucket has more than 500 ballot papers in it.
The Animal Justice Party is a young political party. Unless your AJP candidate happens to be a household name with a very high profile, their bucket will be distributed. All that will be recorded will be the number of votes it got during that first count. So if you vote 1 AJP and 2 Liberal, then your vote will end up in the Liberal bucket when AJP is eliminated. The Liberal party will get a clear message that people care. Similarly if you vote 1 AJP, 2 Greens and 3 ALP then if the Greens are also eliminated your vote will end up in the ALP bucket. You vote is never wasted but you can use your first preference to send a message about the things that matter to you.
Here’s a 4 minute video clip which explains vote distribution in some detail for a simple lower house seat.