Western Australian Senate Election

There is no doubt that the Western Australian Senate election was a public relations disaster for the Australian Electoral Commission. Hopefully lessons have been learned.

In the appeal to the Court of Disputed Returns, many commentators are calling for a fresh election to resolve the situation.

Electoral Reform Australia disagrees with this course of action.

At the election held in September, the voters of Western Australia elected six Senators. There is no dispute about the three Liberals and the lead Labor candidate who were declared elected. Why should these candidates have to recontest seats that they clearly and undisputedly won? Why should they have to spend more time and money? Would it be fair if, in a new election, one of these candidates failed to be re-elected?

It cannot be guaranteed that two out of the four candidates who are competing for the last two Senate seats will win in a new election. Would it be fair if a complete outsider won one or both of the disputed seats? Remember, it will not be the voters who will decide this election but the party “general secretaries” who will submit the registered group voting tickets that will decide the result. It is also highly likely that over 100 candidates will contest this election as everyone knows that all that is required to win is a “cute” name and a favourable draw on the ballot paper.

A new election will not be fought on the same grounds as in September 2013. It is not hard to see that a new election will be seen as a referendum on the performance of the Abbott government.

A significantly different electorate will vote: some voters will have died and many will have since turned eighteen.

Regardless of the legality, it would not be fair to have an election for just the two disputed positions. Were this to happen, the quota for election would be 33.34% instead of the 14.29% that applies when six candidates are elected. This would effectively eliminate all minor party prospects.

What needs to happen, unpalatable and unsatisfactory as it seems, is for the Court of Disputed Returns to examine both counts, make a decision and, on the balance of probabilities, declare elected the candidates that they believe won the election.

The High Court of Australia is composed of honourable and respected jurists: Electoral Reform Australia believes that we need to trust their judgment in this matter. Any other course of action leads to worse outcomes with lasting implications.

It’s now or never!

Opportunities for electoral reform are very rare. Major changes have occurred only twice in the last sixty-five years – in 1948 and 1984 – and the Parliament got it wrong both times.

It has been obvious for some time that Senate elections, despite the vote being counted by proportional representation, are no longer giving a proportional result.

It has also been obvious that the result does not reflect the considered views of the Australian people.

It is not the voting system that is at fault. It is the accretions superimposed on the system that have distorted the results. The worst of these accretions is above-the-line voting and its associated group voting tickets, but there is also the unnecessary and undemocratic requirement to number a large number of squares in order to register a formal vote.

Australia is fortunate in that one of its jurisdictions, the Australian Capital Territory, has an electoral model that is simplicity itself and which works extremely well. Let’s look at it, learn from it and implement it for the Senate.

To those in the proportional representation movement who think that we need to limit our demands for achievable change – are you prepared to wait another sixty-five years before genuine reform takes place?

The case for fully optional preferential voting for the Senate

by Stephen Lesslie

As many of you know, Electoral Reform Australia has been a strong advocate for fully optional preferential voting. We believe that any vote that clearly indicates a first preference should be considered a formal vote. We believe voters should be encouraged to give further preferences but should not be punished if they choose not to.

Our philosophy is simple: when a voter has made a clear and unequivocal statement of their views, what gives a government the right to say that their voice will not be counted because they have numbered insufficient squares.

Can any reader explain why it is necessary to deny a voter their franchise?

I recently received the following example of a typical contribution to this debate:

“It is necessary to have some compulsory marking of preferences in order to preserve the proportional nature of the Senate voting system, which is the best in the world, but it is not necessary to require all 97 to be marked. The marking of preferences should be optional after, say, the first 20.”

Where is the mathematics and the research to justify this blunt assertion? More importantly, where is the humanity and the inclusivity that proportional representation should be encouraging? Continue reading

Optional preferential voting – make it meaningful

Why the need for any artificial ‘minimum’ to be voted for? Say 6, or 20, or ‘the number to be elected’?

What’s wrong with voting for at least one, or for as many as you choose to?

Under PR – or STV – as we prefer to call it – a voter has a single transferable vote.

A single vote means one vote. You vote for your chosen representative – one person.

Your vote is transferable. If the person you have chosen is not elected, your vote can be transferred to another candidate of your choice – your second preference. And so on, until your vote elects someone.

Saying that you must vote for ‘as many as are to be elected’ means to some people that they have more than one vote: that they themselves are actually electing six people. It is misleading and unnecessary.

The issue of exhausted votes is always raised.

It is a furphy.

Sure, there may be an increase in the number of exhausted votes, but there will be a larger corresponding decrease in the informal vote, which means a higher overall participation rate in the election.

A single [1], or even a single tick or cross that is unambiguous, should be a formal vote. It’s easy, inclusive and, dare I say it, democratic. The icing on the cake is that you can still indicate who you would prefer if your favourite is not elected.

Voting should be simple. It’s a matter of choice. Making that choice can be hard, so why make the expression of that choice even harder?

Senate Election 2013 – a potential train wreck

Stephen Lesslie

In our last newsletter (June 2013) in the article entitled “Above-the-Line Voting – a worked example” we predicted that the 2013 Senate election would have 50 groups and 120 candidates. We were almost right; in NSW there are 44 groups, plus 4 ungrouped – a total of 110 candidates.

We also stated that this election will be a disaster and that proportional representation will be blamed. We still believe this because: Continue reading

Above-the-Line Voting – A Worked Example

You are a voter.

You decide to vote for the Australian Labor Party in the House of Representatives.

For your Senate vote, you decide to vote for the World Peace Party. You don’t know who they are and you don’t think they will be elected but you believe that by voting this way you may be able to send a message that world peace is important.

You have checked the Australia Electoral Commission (AEC) website on how to vote for the Senate. The website gives an example ballot paper with five groups A-E and two ungrouped candidates – a total of seventeen candidates. It also gives an explanation of the difference between voting above the line and voting below the line.

Continue reading

Senate Elections – 14/9/2013

by Stephen Lesslie

The half Senate election to be held in conjunction with the House of Representatives election on 14 September 2013 will be a disaster. It will not be democratic and will not be proportional.
And proportional representation – or specifically, the single transferable vote (STV) currently used in Senate elections – will be blamed.

In an STV system, a member is elected when they receive enough votes to obtain a quota. For half Senate elections the quota is 14.29%. In most States, four or five Senators will be elected because they (or their party) received sufficient first preference votes to reach this quota and be elected in their own right.

Continue reading

Who’s confused?

The following article appeared on the Weekly Times which calls itself “the voice of the country since 1869” and is published by News Limited.

NSW Farmers Association voting confusion NSW Farmers Association voting confusion

READERS might remember in 2007 when federal Labor pollie Barry Jones released his plan for the Knowledge Nation.
It contained a diagram so incomprehensible the media referred to it as “spaghetti and meatballs”.
Well, the NSW Farmers Association has created its own spaghetti-and-meatballs moment with a change in their voting system for office bearers. NSW Farmers Association has gone to a proportional voting system that may need NASA’s computers to process it.
Back Paddock will not attempt to explain it, mainly because we can’t, even after reading one of the explanatory notes (pictured) sent to delegates.
Whatever happened to a show of hands?

Show of hands? Whatever happened to the concept of a secret ballot?

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Prematurely opened ballot boxes

In our last editorial, we wrote that Electoral Reform Australia had made a submission to the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) in relation to a proposed change to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 which would mean that all ballots in a prematurely opened ballot box would be excluded from the count.
We are pleased to say that the JSCEM took our concerns into consideration in their final report, which referred to our written submission and the oral evidence given by Electoral Reform Australia Vice President Stephen Lesslie. (The minority report also drew heavily on our submissions.)
As a result, the new section 238B requires the AEC to include ballots from a prematurely opened ballot box, unless they are satisfied that the ballots have been tampered with.
This new provision ensures the integrity of the electoral system is maintained, but does not result in the unnecessary exclusion of ballots that could have occurred under the initial draft legislation.

Adelaide City Council Discriminates Against Plutocrats!

Adelaide City Council currently chooses its Lord Mayor and Councillors in five separate elections: one for Lord Mayor; one for 5 Area Councillors; and three ward elections electing 2 Ward Councillors each.

Is this system fair? Are all plutocrats treated equally?

Councillor Election

Consider the influence of the following voters in the election of councillors:

Voter A  – Net worth $500,000

Owns, with the bank, two small rental properties in two different wards and lives with his parents in the third ward.

Number of Votes = 5  (1 Mayoral; 1 Area Councillor; 3 Ward Councillors)

Voter B – Net worth $10 million

Owns two factories in different wards and lives on Kangaroo Island

Number of Votes = 4   (1 Mayoral; 1 Area Councillor; 2 Ward Councillors)

Voter C – Net worth $100 million

Owns three office blocks in the central business district and lives in the penthouse of one of them.

Number of Votes = 3  (1 Mayoral; 1 Area Councillor; 1 Ward Councillor)

Is that fair?

Continue reading