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AGM 2015 – Address by Casey Peters

Casey Peters addressed the 2015 Annual General Meeting of Electoral Reform Australia on the progress of community activism for proportional representation in the USA. His own involvement dated from membership of a study group of the Peace and Freedom Party called People for Proportional Representation (PFPR) which advocates for effective voting.

He spoke about The Initiative by which any California voter can put an initiative or referendum on the ballot by following a defined process. He also spoke of the history of PR in the USA from the 1920s when there was a move by the National Municipal League to promote PR for use in city elections. By the 1950s, it was out of fashion and was abandoned by many cities in order to remove particular groups (e.g. Communists) from their councils.

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Annual General Meeting 2015

Our Annual General Meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 6th, 7.30PM at 74 Thompson Street, Drummoyne.

Our Guest Speaker will be Casey Peters, a proportional representation advocate from California.

Everyone is welcome, and we’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Occam’s Razor: some reactions to the submissions to the JSCEM interim report 2014 and why we need an independent White Paper

By Stephen Lesslie (President, Electoral Reform Australia)

Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora [It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer] – William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347)

There is no perfect electoral system, but in reforming the Senate voting system we should keep Occam’s Razor in mind.
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JSCEM interim report on Inquiry into 2013 election – response from Electoral Reform Australia

Stephen Lesslie (President, Electoral Reform Australia) and Susan Gregory (Vice President, Electoral Reform Australia)

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (‘JSCEM’) brought down its interim report on the conduct of the 2013 federal election, with a focus on Senate elections, on 9 May 2014.1

What a disappointment it was!

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Annual General Meeting

Our Annual General Meeting was held at 74 Thompson Street, Drummoyne on Wednesday 28 May 2014.

Click here to read the President’s Report.

Thanks to the outgoing committee, and welcome to the new committee:

President: Stephen Lesslie
Vice President: Susan Gregory
Vice President: Mark Rodowicz
Secretary/Treasurer: Patrick Lesslie
Committee member: John Baglin
Committee member: John Alexander
Committee member: Peter Palethorpe
Committee member: Alan Kennedy
Returning Officer: Marian Lesslie

Anyone is welcome to attend our meetings. For details, email

Exhausted Votes

Exhausted, but still working; only informal votes are wasted votes.

Stephen Lesslie

The experiment with above-the-line voting and group voting tickets has proven to be a failure.  No further manipulation of the system with arbitrary thresholds or more rigid rules for party registration can correct its inherent faults.

All forms of above-the-line voting must be abolished and voters allowed to freely choose their own favoured candidates and preferences.

Only by simplifying the system and trusting the voters to make their own informed decisions on preference allocation can we return to a system where the result is both democratic and proportional.

It is essential that voting be fully optional preferential.  Any form of mandatory preferencing will result in an increase in informal votes but will have little impact on the number of votes exhausting.  Paradoxically it appears that the most effective way to reduce both the informal rate and the exhaustion rate is to implement fully optional preferential voting.[1]

Why is there a fear that votes will exhaust?

The fear seems to be that exhausted votes do not help to elect candidates and will be wasted.

It should be remembered that, even with compulsory numbering of all candidates, it is impossible to ensure that all votes help to elect a candidate. There will always be the left over votes that are allocated to the first runner-up; exhausted votes are just part of that number.

Why is there not the same concern for the votes (up to 49%) that, even after preferences are counted, do not help to elect a candidate in single-member elections?

Why exhausted votes are not wasted votes.

  1. Every first preference, whether it is transferred on or exhausts without a further preference, gives candidates an indication of how well or how badly they have polled.  An informal vote gives no such information.
  2. If a party or group gains over a quota its votes have participated in the election of one or more candidates before they exhaust.  In this instance the vote only exhausts at its transfer value.  These “excess” votes are analogous to the votes over 50% that are cast for a winning candidate in a single-member electorate.
  3. Exhausted votes may allow a candidate to reach the 4% threshold for electoral funding.
  4. Exhausted votes contribute, under current STV rules, to determining the quota for election.
  5. Exhausted votes may keep their candidate in the count long enough to ensure that another candidate or candidates are excluded first and thus affect the result of the ballot.

Exhausted votes are not wasted votes.  They are only votes that in a particular election were unable to find a winning candidate.  Had the electorate as a whole voted differently, they may have counted.  Are the votes for losing candidates in a single-member electorate considered wasted votes? (If they were we might have a sensible system of multi-member electorates, eh?)

Excessive fear of exhausted votes and mandatory attempts to reduce them will only lead to an increase in the number of informal votes.

The only wasted votes in an election are informal votes.

It is impossible to prevent exhausted votes

Unless voters are required to number every candidate it will be impossible to prevent votes from exhausting.  Votes will exhaust in any optional preferential voting system.  It does not matter whether the requirement is to “vote for as many as there are to be elected” or “vote for twice the number to be elected plus one” or any other  arbitrary number – “say a round number like 15.”

Despite the excessively onerous formality requirements at the 2013 Senate election in NSW 1% of below-the-line votes still exhausted.

“Rusted on” voters will vote for all the candidates in their preferred party; they also know who they consider to be the enemy and will vote for as many other candidates as necessary to vote formally but still avoid voting for the enemy.  Should the micro parties be already excluded these votes will exhaust.  This applies whether the voter is a major party voter or someone who believes in supporting anyone but a major party.  In modern Senate elections there will always be enough makeweight candidates to ensure that these votes can exhaust.

Many voters will fail in the quest of finding sufficient “safe” preferences and will consequently vote informally.  The more onerous the formality provisions, the higher the informality rate.

What are the consequences of forcing voters to number many candidates?

  1. The number of informal votes will rise, whether the provisions require just two (2) preferences or many.  The more onerous the provisions the greater the informal percentage.  After 30 years of “just vote 1” the informal vote will be excessive.
  2. To comply with the formality provisions many voters will merely complete sufficient numbers sequentially starting from the beginning (the top left hand corner) of the ballot paper.  The 2013 Senate election in NSW demonstrated the advantages of a favourable draw on the ballot paper.  Parties which get a good draw on the ballot paper should not be given a double advantage.
  3. STV gives voters the opportunity to choose the candidate that they consider to be the best.  Requiring voters to further continue preferencing forces them to choose between candidates that they would normally ignore.  If they are thinking strategically they will of course preference the weakest and least effective opposition candidates, in the manner of voters in the open primaries in the USA.


Informal votes cast inadvertently by voters are wasted votes and a denial of suffrage; every attempt should be made to reduce their occurrence.

Exhausted votes, however, are a natural part of any election.  They are the section of the votes that do not elect a candidate.  These votes are still part of the process; had the electorate as a whole voted differently, they may have contributed.  In a democratic society voters should not be expected to know the outcome of an election before they vote.

[1] Largest remainder No 17 February 2013 Electoral Reform Australia
Largest remainder No 20 September 2013 Electoral Reform Australia
Largest remainder No 21 February 2014 Electoral Reform Australia


A Fundamentalist argument for fully optional preferential voting!

When God threatened to destroy Sodom unless 50 Good Men could be found he was argued down to 10.  After all what is the difference between 50 and 45, 45 and 40, etc.?

As it happens He could only find four –  Lot, Lot’s wife and their two daughters. (you’ll notice that three of the Good Men were actually women)

Lot’s wife promptly found herself wanting and was turned into a pillar of salt.

The two daughters blotted their copybook by making their father drunk and having sex with him, thereby leaving only one Good Man.  (Genesis 18, 23-33; 19, 32-37)

The moral of the story?

If God can only find one Good Man why should voters be expected to find more?

Cartoon from

Cartoon from