On the morning of Monday 29 April I went to the Canberra polling place with intent to cast an early vote. When ushered to a table for those electors with surnames beginning with M, the clerk asked me whether I was entitled to vote early and whether I lived at the address shown on the roll. He also asked me to assure him that I had not already voted. Upon receiving those assurances, he gave me a ballot paper for the House of Representatives Division of Canberra and an ACT Senate ballot paper.

For the Senate vote he said: “Vote above the line from 1 to at least 6 or below the line from 1 to at least 12.” I then said to him: “I have been told that I can place a number 1 above the line for one party only and have that counted as a formal vote for such party. Is that true?” To the question he replied: “Yes, that is true”.

My first reason to cast so early a vote was to find out what clerks at the table have been instructed to say to voters to have the informal vote be as low as possible. Essentially it is this: talk to the voter as though this is a good system designed to help the voter and do not give information the politicians do not want to be given. However, if a voter asks that question quickly, give a truthful answer.

My second reason to cast so early a vote was so that I could send articles to newspapers (and this website) telling people how I had voted. There was no sense in telling everyone how I would vote on Saturday 18 May.

For my House of Representatives ballot paper I used the pencil provided and gave my first preference vote to the Labor candidate, 36-year-old economist Alicia Payne, and marked remaining squares to record a formal vote. I have an unusual view about this. I see that ballot paper as my chance to vote for the best candidate to be my local member. If I lived in Monash I would vote for Russell Broadbent, if in Berowra Julian Leeser, if Bradfield Paul Fletcher. However, I live in Canberra and I judge Payne to be the best candidate. She will be my local member from 18 May.

If that sounds boringly conventional, my Senate vote may shock you. For starters, I brought with me my best pen so that I could write in beautiful blue ink and with the neatest hand-writing of which I am capable. On the bottom left-hand corner I drew an arrow pointing upwards to the instructions. Below that I wrote: “These instructions are deceitful.” I then went to the very top of the ballot paper and above the party boxes I wrote: “These party boxes should be scrapped.” Just below the thick black line I wrote: “This contrivance should be scrapped.”

At the very bottom I wrote: “I refuse to be manipulated by the machines of the big political parties – Malcolm Mackerras.” In short, I cast a deliberately informal vote, my first of that kind – and the best vote I’ve ever cast. I shall continue to do that until I die or until the politicians legislate a decent system designed by me. In the meantime all I can say is that I have tasted this present system and I spew it out. Should readers want to know about my alternative they should visit my website at www.malcolmmackerras.com

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)