On Tuesday evening, March 11th 2008, I attended a debate in Malanda between candidates for Mayor – and for Divisions 3 and 4 – of the Tablelands Regional Council.

It was a fascinating experience. My main interest – and reason for making the round trip to the southern Tablelands – was to observe the Mayoral candidates in action. I’d been unable to attend a previous debate hosted by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. This was a second chance.

But it was also fascinating to observe the other candidates for Council pitch for votes. I now have a better insight into some of the others people who may sit around the same table, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected Councillor for Division 8 this coming Saturday.

Like other events I’ve observed during this election campaign on the Tablelands, ‘debate’ was dignified, friendly – and quite unlike the drama of Parliament. This is a contest without rancour, very different also from the battle for control of the new Cairns Regional Council. Down the hill, gloves are most definitely off. We Tablelanders seem to be a nicer, kinder breed.

As well as listening to the contestants give brief set-piece speeches – and hearing their responses to a few questions from the floor – I had a chance to chat afterwards with other observers. I listened with interest to their opinions about the different candidates. Unlike me and my companions, most of the folk attending were from the southern shires. They’ve known the southern Mayoral candidates – Geoff Stocker, Peter Hodge and Joe Paronella – personally and for some time. This made their opinions even more valuable to me.

The other two candidates – Jo Moro and Tom Gilmore – are from Mareeba Shire. In terms of population and budget, Mareeba Shire is almost equivalent to the other three Shires put together. This is not an amalgamation of equals. Mareeba Shire is the biggest partner by far. One might think that would give a natural advantage to candiates from the Mareeba area. Perhaps it will. We’ll know better in less than 100 hours time.

The voting system in the contest for Mayor – like the voting system in Division 8 – will be be optional preferential. That means voters can number more than one box – but they don’t have to do so. Many voters will just vote 1. If so, unless their favoured candidate wins, their vote will ultimately not count towards the total of the victorious candidate.

On the other hand, those voters who choose to cast preference votes (eg. Mr A – 1; Ms b – 2; Dr C – 3; Mrs D – 4) may find that even though their first choice (Mr X) doesn’t make it, their second, third or even fourth choice does. In that case, their preferential vote counts towards the winers’ total – even though they didn’t pick the winner with their number 1 vote.

This is a great voting system – much better than first past the post as used in US or British elections. It means a voter can give first preference to a first choice – without the dilemma that candidate may not be electable and the vote will end up ‘wasted’. Casting a full set of preferences means a vote cannot be wasted. It will eventually rest with either the winner or the runner up. That’s because, when votes are counted, preferences are ‘distributed’.

In the case of the tablelands Mayoral contest, five candidates are competing for the one Mayoral position. It is possible – although unlikely – that one of these five will obtain more than 50% 0f the first preference vote. If so, they win then election – without any need to distribute preferences.

If that doesn’t happen, the system works like this. The candidate who scores the lowest primary vote is eliminated. His/her second vote is then distributed accordin to the the second preference cast (in the case above, with Mr A eliminated, the vote transfers to Ms B).

If that distribution of prerences isn’t sufficient to carry a candidate over the 50%+1 mark, the next lowest candidate is elimated and his/her preferences distributed. Elimination from the bottom carries on until a clear winner emerges.

I propose to adopt a similar approach in my article. I’ll eliminate from the bottom – and tell you in the end who I’m going to vote for – and in which order.

Of course, all I’m talking about here is what I – as one member of this large electorate – intend to do with my vote. If you are a voter in the Tablelands Regional Council area, you will need to make your own choice.

I’m going through this exercise of writing about the Mayoral candidates, their strengths and weaknessses as I see them and how I’ll mark my ballot paper on Saturday – simply becaiuse I’ve been asked often who I intend to support for Mayor. People are interested – but most have little time to study the options. I can’t pretend to have done that either in an extremeply thorough way – but I have put some thought into the Mayoral contest. If you are interested in what I think, read on.

But before that, I must sleep. It’s already nearly 2am, Wednesday morning. Today/tomorrow I go out doorkknocking – then there’s the Division 8 candidates debate in the evening. I need to be fresh. So my little saga about the Mayoral candidates – and who I intend to support – will have to wait a little longer.

Watch this space, as the saying goes.

Alternatively, you may well prefer to follow the advice of the Buddha, who reportedly said on his deathbed “work out your own salavation with diligence!”

Voting is YOUR choice. That’s the great thing about it.

That’s what makes it democracy.