How Sausages Became a Symbol of Australian Democracy
As Australia entered the final frantic week of a federal election campaign, Twitter saw a flood of tweets with the tag #auspol and an emoji showing a sausage on a slice of bread. While some countries symbolise democracy, voting and elections with ballot boxes, rosettes, raised hands, or Greek statues, Australia has the Democracy Sausage.
An Innovative Democracy
Australia was formed in 1901 through a federation of the six British colonies on the Australian continent. At that point, all of them were self-governing parliamentary democracies. Even then, Australian democracy was unusually innovative. At the election of 1856, the colony of Victoria became the first jurisdiction in the world to issue voters with a government-printed ballot paper and send them into a private voting booth to mark it — the system of voting used in every modern democracy. Some Australian colonies were the first jurisdictions outside of France and the United States to extend suffrage to all men (others retained racial restrictions until the 1960s), and they were the first jurisdictions in the world outside New Zealand and a few American states to grant suffrage to women.
There remain unusual features to Australian democracy today. Every election in Australia — federal, state and local — uses some form of preferential voting, where voters number the candidates in the order of their preference. And voting in every jurisdiction in Australia is compulsory for all citizens. The fine for not voting in a federal election is only $20, but the overwhelming majority of electors vote and lodge a valid ballot paper.
Significantly for the democracy sausage, though, Australian elections are always held on a Saturday. With large numbers of people guaranteed to turn out, they provide an opportunity for local organisations to hold fundraisers, usually for the benefit of the school, community hall, or other venue hosting the polling place. As early as the 1930s, cake stalls began to pop up at polling places on election day.