Like grease on a napkin, the tasty tradition has so saturated Australia that it has become shorthand for the electoral process itself. On Twitter, election-related tweets are accompanied by a sausage-on-bread emoji. A website guides hungry voters to the nearest polling station. And sated citizens often post photos of their Democratic sausages on social media – the Australian version of the American “I voted” sticker.
“It’s a very unique phenomenon in Australia,” said Anika Gauja, a political scientist at the University of Sydney. “It’s kind of an expression of the community and the collective aspects of voting in Australia.”
In the study of democratic sausages — sausagology? — Gauja’s expertise is second to none. She started inspecting sausages on sale at polling stations around Sydney during the 2016 federal election. Three years ago, she tried so many snags – as sausages are sometimes called here – that she got felt ill.
Sausage: long, thin, tasty ✔️
Onion: yes, generous ✔️
Bread: rolled ❌
Service: very fast, they even have checkouts! ✔️
Overall assessment: 4/5
Take a break for a while. start to feel sick pic.twitter.com/tAg0ZI7Hw4
— Anika Gauja (@anika_gauja) March 23, 2019
Gauja said she gorges herself on democratic sausages because the simple, inexpensive food speaks volumes about the country’s strong egalitarian ethos. She goes so far as to call it “Australia’s national dish”.
In the United States, elections are often decided by who can motivate the most supporters to leave work and vote. Lines can be long and people in them are impatient. Some food stalls set up on Election Day in the United States have faced threats of felony charges.
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But in Australia, compulsory voting and Saturday elections mean polling stations often feel more like community festivals.
“It’s not a disputed thing” like it is in the United States, said Judith Brett, the author of a book on Australia’s electoral process. “People vote on the way to the beach. They have the children. They could meet friends. You can buy something to eat and drink.
Community groups have been selling jams, cakes and other products through ballot boxes for about a century, she said. But it wasn’t until the 1980s, when portable gas barbecues became widespread, that fundraisers—often for schools — started selling sausages.
The term “democracy sausage” didn’t catch on until about a decade ago, Brett said.
That’s when Annette Tyler sent out a hungry tweet. It was the day before a state election in Western Australia and Tyler, then in his late 20s, asked people to share photos of sausage options at their polling station using the hashtag #democracysausage .
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The snaps started pouring in. The data manager and a few friends started plotting the stalls on a map – and quickly compiled nearly 1,200.
“It started when I just wanted to know where I could find a sausage,” Tyler said. “But we discovered that there was a [knowledge] gap and, being a bunch of data enthusiasts, we thought we’d go with it.
This is how DemocracySausage.org was born. By the 2019 federal election, the number of documented stands on the site had more than doubled to 2,420. This year, the number of stands is on track to grow again.
The website is ad-free, which means Tyler and his friends are losing money on it. But it’s worth it, she says.
“Election days, in some ways, are inherently divisive: Team A versus Team B,” Tyler said. “But just about everyone gets on board the democracy sausage. It’s nice to be the one thing that brings the day together and can support the local community.
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Over the past decade, Tyler said, the food on offer has multiplied. The website now allows people to upload information about their stalls, with icons depicting sausage sizzles, baked goods, vegetarian options and even halal food. This year, a stand offers homemade kombucha. Another is the dal vegan ad.
“It went from being, like, ‘Let’s just throw a few snags at the barbie’ to ‘What can we offer to differentiate ourselves?’ said Tyler.
This underscores another distinctive feature of Australian democracy: voters can vote anywhere in their state or territory on election day. For community groups in need of funds, maybe the best sausage will win.
At Footscray City Primary School in Melbourne, offerings will include Democratic sausages as well as baked goods, many of which are puns on politicians’ names. An organizer said volunteers hoped to sell 1,000 sausages – about 120 pounds of meat – to raise $3,500 for the school’s entrance renovation.
In the Outback, the sausage and cake competition is a little less fierce, Alisha Moody said. She will throw Democratic sausages at her children’s school in Quilpie, a town of around 600 people in remote Queensland. A disappointing turnout in 2019 inspired an upset this time around, with her parent association adding rolls to tea and breakfast in hopes of attracting more morning voters. Among the new menu items, the “ScoMo”, named after Prime Minister Scott Morrison, includes onions, sausages, bacon, cheese and Egg.
Quilpie is the furthest entry on Tyler’s map: a solitary sausage and cupcake symbol in an otherwise cholesterol-free expanse. The food stand offers distant folks a chance to catch up, Moody said.
“You’ll always end up just standing there chatting a bit, you know, talking about the weather and the flooding,” she said. “So there’s definitely that element of community.”
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But the number of sausage seekers has dropped over the years as mail-in voting has increased, Moody said. In 2019, around 40% of the roughly 17 million Australians registered to vote voted early, either by mail or in person. This number is expected to increase further this year.
“It means fewer people will turn out on election day itself,” Gauja said. “So this whole Election Day spectacle as a community event is under threat.”
Gauja does her best to document the fleshy phenomenon while it lasts. His plan on Saturday is to compare food deals in Sydney voters represented by Morrison and his challenger, Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Like politics, the sausages of democracy inspire strong opinions. Some Aussies prefer buns. Others, including Gauja, consider it a travesty. And pity the poor foreigner who mistakes a democracy sausage for an American hot dog.
“I’m a real traditionalist when it comes to democracy sausage,” Gauja said. “For me, the quality of the sausage is paramount. I insist that it be between one or two slices of white bread. No buns. I think the relationship between sausage and bread is really, really important. I think the onions absolutely have to be there. If they’re not an option, then it’s substandard sausage sizzle.