It’s election day, and just when you thought you’d hit your quota of big decisions, you’re faced with some more: bun or slice of bread? Tomato, mustard or barbecue? Onion or no onion?
For some, deciding what toppings and toppings decorate their sausage sandwich may upset them more than deciding how they stack the contestants.
With most voters dropping their ballots around noon, you can assume it’s well-timed around the sausage fun of democracy.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott eats a sausage while visiting Kalgoorlie, Western Australia during the 2010 election campaign. Source: AAP / DEAN LEWINS/AAPIMAGE
Historian and Emeritus Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, Judith Brett, is the authoritative voice on how the unassuming sausage sandwich achieved iconic status on Election Day.
Professor Brett’s 2019 book on how Australia introduced compulsory voting titled: From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting, explains the rise of the electoral problem over time.
Ninety-two percent of registered voters had a say in the 2019 election, making Australia a country with one of the highest voter turnouts in the world.
As Professor Brett explains in her book, barbecues and cake stands at polling stations played a big part in giving Election Day a festive atmosphere.
Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale bites into a sausage from a primary school sausage sizzle after casting his vote on July 2, 2016. Source: AFP / PAUL CROCK/AFP via Getty Images
With compulsory voting drawing millions to the polls, local communities are taking the opportunity to raise funds to install stations outside primary schools, community halls, surf clubs and churches.
In a 2019 interview with CNN, Professor Brett said there is a long history of links between Election Day and food in Australia.
“Certainly there’s a photo from the 1930s of a voting booth with a cake stand outside, so I think community organizations saw this as an opportunity to raise funds,” he said. she said in the interview.
In the 1980s, the popularity of portable gas barbecues saw the classic sizzle of sausages become a common feature of community gatherings and, of course, election days.
“During the 2010 Queensland election, some friends in Brisbane set up a website for groups to register their election day fundraising offers,” Professor Brett writes in his book.
Scott Morrison prepares sausages during a Liberal Party campaign rally at Launceston Airport in April 2019 in Launceston. Credit: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
The group, Snagvotes, hoped to encourage participation, bring the community together and offer support to those manning the booths.
It was a success, with Twitter and Facebook accounts born soon after. A map linking polling stations to food stalls came next.
In 2011, the sizzle of election sausage became known as the “sausage of democracy”, and in 2016 it was crowned word of the year by the Australian National Dictionary Centre.
The origins of the term are obscure, but a handful of tweets with the hashtag #democracysausage appeared in 2010.
The term and sizzle are so widespread that Twitter has attached a sausage sizzle emoji to the Ausvotes22 hashtag.
Were there any notable democracy sausage blunders? Yes, there are, Professor Brett points out in his book. In 2016, former Labor leader Bill Shorten took a bite out of the center of a roll, raising the eyebrows of many.
“Obviously social media concluded that he never had his weekend breakfast at Bunnings.”
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten bites in the middle of a roll at Sydney’s Strathfield North Public School in 2016. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
On another occasion, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull kindly refused a sizzle of sausage from a volunteer during a visit to flooded Lismore.
“He too had turned out to be no ordinary guy,” Professor Brett writes.
Now, democracyausage.org has taken on the role of assembling the locations, marking all the stalls that should appear on election day. On its interactive map, there are icons indicating sausages, cakes, coffee, bacon and egg burgers, as well as halal and vegetarian options.
The website was created on the eve of the 2013 state elections in Western Australia after Annette Tyler tweeted for fellow voters to share locations and photos of sausage sizzles with the hashtag #democracysausage.
Footage poured in, encouraging Annette, who works in data management, and her friends to compile information from the crowd. Now, a small team of volunteers have plotted locations for the federal election.
His Facebook profile reads in part: “A map of the availability of sausages and cakes on Election Day. Why? It’s practically part of the Australian Constitution. Or something like that.”
Annette expects there to be a ratio of around 1 to 3 between stalls and polling stations on the day, noting that some places only see a small number of voters.
How many sausages will be sold? Hundreds of thousands, she estimates.
Sometimes people get creative and adorn cake stands with Malcolm Turnovers, Bill Shorternbreads and Jacqui Lambingtons in 2016.
A poster listing stand offers from a previous election shared by the @DemSausage Twitter.
In the same year, consulates and embassies organized sausage sizzles for those away from home.
“It’s very Australian, isn’t it? Love a sausage sizzle? Annette tells The Feed.
“At election time things can get very divided with who you go to vote for and one thing everyone can support is democracy sausage.”
During a tour of democracy sausage stalls in 2019, Annette ate four servings for the cause, sporting her “democracy sausage” shirt on some occasions, which drew attention.
“It’s kind of nice to be the one everyone likes that day.”