Australian Senate Voting System Alternative

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As you shared, there are some unique burdens for guys who don't want to become dads. Tech advances promised to make work easier and more flexible. Instead, they have contributed to a problem experts warn is now an "epidemic". Euijin Lee first met Heather Rigby when she visited Australia to study in , almost 20 years later she's fulfilled a promise to come back with her husband in tow. By Alle McMahon. Photo: Make sure you follow the instructions on your ballot paper very carefully. Supplied: Tasmanian Electoral Commission. Related Story: When does pre-polling open for the federal election?

Related Story: Sick of getting election leaflets in your mailbox? A 'no junk mail' sign won't protect you. Photo: Here's what the two ballot papers will look like. Supplied: AEC. Video: How do preferences work? Photo: They may be handed to you by a volunteer. ABC News. Photo: Voting can be complex and some people like to have a bit of guidance. AAP: Kelly Barnes. Where do you stand?

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Obvious Route for Australian Senate Reform Ignored – Electoral Reform Society

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Federal Elections

I robbed my first house at seven. Here's your simple guide Your insurance company wants your fitness data. The JSCEM received a reference from the Special Minister of State to undertake an inquiry into the election, taking into account the following specific issues:. Combined with pliable and porous party registration rules, the system of voting for a single party above the line and delegating the distribution of preferences to that party, delivered, in some cases, outcomes that distorted the will of the voter.

The Chair emphasised that the above-the-line voting system confused voters, and that many voters would not have known where their preferences were going when they voted above the line. While the GVT provided by the parties are publically available, it is unlikely many voters study them in depth due to their complexity. The Committee made six recommendations in the report: two involved replacing group voting tickets with optional preferential voting above and below the line; one that the AEC should be adequately resourced to undertake a voter education campaign in relation to the change; and three that related to party and candidate registration.

This report has been produced at this time to not only provide the Parliament with the time to legislate change, but to enable thorough and adequate information, education and explanation of the improvements to the voting public well in advance of the next election.

The bipartisan Committee unanimously supported the recommendations.

Little more was heard about the matter after the report was released, other than a statement by then newly-appointed Special Minister of State Mal Brough in September that the Government intended to pursue Senate voting reform. The issue again surfaced in February , with media reports that the Government was engaged in discussions with the ALP and the Greens to legislate the Senate reforms before 17 March in order to pave the way for an early election.

The legislation to reform the Senate voting system, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill , [32] was introduced into the House of Representatives on 22 February with essentially no official prior notice by the Government. It was amended by the Government almost immediately to allow Senate first preference above-the-line votes to be counted in the polling place.

In its initial form, no Senate results would have been reported until the votes had reached the central scrutiny point, several days after the election. In its initial form, the Bill implemented the recommendations of the JSCEM interim report to introduce optional preferential voting above the line. The last-minute Committee inquiry resulted in an advisory report, which recommended that the Government also allow optional rather than compulsory preferential voting below the line; with a minimum of 12 below-the-line preferences and a savings provision that the ballot paper would be formal if it contained at least six preferences.

On 2 March the Bill was introduced into the Senate. The second reading debate involved speeches from 39 senators and stretched over four days. No sooner had the Senate voting changes passed the Parliament than one of the crossbench senators, Bob Day of Family First, lodged a challenge in the High Court against the changes, supported by Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm.

In a hearing on 24 March , the Chief Justice of the High Court, sitting alone, ordered that the matter be listed on 15 April for directions as to referral to the Full Court, and on 15 April the case was referred to the Full Court for a hearing on 2 May As identified by the Court, Day had essentially five arguments that the new voting system was unconstitutional:. Writing before the judgement was handed down, constitutional law expert Professor Anne Twomey wrote of the merits of the case:. The grounds for this challenge are not strong.

For the most part, the arguments being made would apply with equal or greater force to the pre law, the validity of which has consistently been upheld, albeit by single judge decisions. The Act is substantively different because it permits optional preferential voting, allowing votes to exhaust. While there is a possibility that this might be regarded as contrary to the irreversible evolution of representative government, the Act does not mandate that votes become exhausted—they merely give voters a choice as to how their vote can best reflect their preferences.

However, the ruling did clear the way for the Government to hold the election under the new system. According to the judgement summary:. The High Court unanimously dismissed both applications. The High Court further held that a vote above the line was a direct vote for individual candidates consistent with s 7 of the Constitution. Finally, there was no disenfranchisement in the legal effect of the voting process and there was no infringement of the implied freedom of political communication or the system of representative government.

Political scientists define electoral systems in terms of three variables: the electoral formula how the votes are counted , the ballot structure and the district magnitude the number of people to be elected. That is, the new system maintains STV with a Droop quota and transfer values calculated using the inclusive Gregory method, [51] and the number of senators elected at each election remains unchanged. The ballot paper looks superficially similar to that of ballot papers used between and , with a series of columns representing groups across the ballot paper and the candidates in each group listed in their column.

The ballot paper is divided by a horizontal line, and each group that qualifies receives a box above the line see Figure 1. Voters can either vote above the line for parties or groups, or vote below the line for candidates. Voters who vote above the line are instructed to complete at least six preferences, and voters who vote below the line are instructed to complete at least 12 preferences below-the-line preferences are counted as they are entered by the voter. Savings provisions allow votes that have at least one preference above or six preferences below the line to be counted.

Figure 1: Senate ballot paper structure. Votes above the line are essentially a shortcut for a below-the-line vote, and are converted into a below-the-line preference order before the vote is counted.

Australian Senate Voting System Alternative

In the above example, an above-the-line vote for Group D is counted as a below-the-line vote for all of the candidates in Group D in the order in which they are listed on the ballot paper, top to bottom. If Group D gets a 1 above the line, and it has four candidates in the group, the first candidate in the group will get a 1 vote, the second a 2 vote, through to the fourth candidate who gets a 4. If the voter then gives their second above-the-line preference to Group F which has four candidates , the first candidate in Group F will get the next preference in sequence 5 , and the next two candidates in Group B will get 6 and 7 respectively—and so on, until all above-the-line preferences are allocated to equivalent below-the-line candidates see Figure 2.

Figure 2: How above the line preferences are counted on the Senate ballot paper. If the voter skips or repeats any numbers either above or below the line , the repeated numbers and any higher numbers are ignored. For example if the voter has listed the preferences 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6 below the line only, preferences 1 through 3 will be counted.

This vote would therefore be informal and not counted, as it has fewer than six below the line preferences. If the voter allocates preferences both above and below the line, only the below-the-line vote will be counted. However, if the vote below the line is informal, the above-the-line vote will be used. In addition, any ticks and crosses on the ballot paper are counted as a 1. A high-level explanation of how the vote is counted is that a quota is determined as discussed above , and the candidates with more than one quota of votes are declared elected.

Following the transfer, if any candidates are above quota, they are declared elected and their surplus is distributed to the next preference. The process continues with candidates over one quota being elected and their votes being transferred—or candidates with the lowest vote being excluded and their votes transferred—until either all of the vacancies are filled or there are no more votes to transfer. If the latter happens and there are unfilled vacancies, the candidates with the highest remaining votes are declared elected into any remaining vacancies.

Following the federal election on 2 July , the AEC declared the first Senate election result for the Northern Territory on 25 July , and the last for NSW on 4 August —meaning that despite the new system the AEC completed the count before the deadline of the final day for the return of the writs on 8 August Once the AEC began to publish the Senate vote data, [54] a number of analysts started examining the criticisms that had been levelled against the new voting system before the election, including that it would eliminate minor parties; that most voters would just vote 1; and that there would be high vote exhaustion rates and higher informality.

These criticisms are considered in detail below. As in all elections since the introduction of group voting tickets in , the majority of Australian voters chose to vote above the line for the Senate in While the number of voters numbering preferences above the line was noticeably lower than in recent elections see Figure 3 , more than nine in ten voters numbered preferences above the line. Figure 3: Above-the-line voting at Senate elections, — Rates of above-the-line voting were slightly lower in than in for most states and territories Table 1.

The below-the-line voting rates in both Tasmania and the ACT were substantially higher than those for the other states and territories; however, in both Tasmania and the ACT also had the highest below-the-line voting in the country. Both of these jurisdictions use Hare-Clark for state or territory elections—a voting experience that is similar to voting below-the-line in the Senate, which likely explains their traditionally high below-the-line voting rate. Table 1: Use of above- and below-the-line voting by state. In contrast to the ACT—where below-the-line voting remained high in but dropped slightly since —the rate of below-the-line voting in Tasmania more than doubled in compared to , with more than one in four Tasmanian voters numbering preferences below the line.

This increase is likely due to the Senate campaign of Labor Senate candidate Lisa Singh, which encouraged voters to vote below the line for Singh. The data show that this outcome did not eventuate at the election, however, with only 3. Given that the NSW Legislative Council ballot paper allows a single preference above the line, some voter confusion between the requirements of the respective ballot papers is to be expected.

Table 2: Use of preferences above the line as a proportion of votes above the line. The vast majority of voters—more than four out of five above-the-line voters—followed the ballot paper instructions and allocated six preferences. The one exception was the Northern Territory where there were only seven columns above the line; here Some parties expressed concerns that the reforms would lead to high levels of vote exhaustion where votes indicated no preference for one of the candidates remaining in the count and therefore would not count against a final candidate due to an expected high numbers of 1-only above-the-line votes.

These concerns did not materialise at the election see Table 2. Inevitably, a significant number of votes cast—especially those cast for parties other than the three major parties—will simply exhaust instead of being allocated according to preferences. Where those votes would previously have helped to elect minor party candidates, they will simply not count toward any vote tally once the six candidates that the voter preferred are eliminated from the contest, ie the votes will be discarded. What they did in that last election was—and there are three million Australians who made this decision with their vote—vote for candidates other than from these larger parties which dominate the political landscape of the country.

It looks like the legislation will get through because of this dirty deal. Three million people voted at the last election for candidates other than those from these three parties. They are going to end up not being involved in the election of anyone. Twenty-five per cent of the voting public will end up with no representation of their view of who should be here, and that hardly seems fair.

How are preferences counted?

While all votes—including exhausted votes—are counted to determine the election results, exhausted votes do not count against a successful candidate. However this is a subjective argument. An exhausted vote is by definition formal, and has expressed the electors stated preferences. An elector may reach the conclusion that if the candidates they have numbered are not elected, they do not wish their vote to assist in the election of any other candidates. This is, potentially, as valuable to an elector as their stated preferences.

The High Court action against the new system by then Senator Bob Day, discussed above, also cited the projected exhaustion rate as a problem:. Upon that new approach, the value of the votes of those who follow the instruction is diminished, by reference to the number of parties that are not preferenced [eg 29 in South Australia in the last general election].

The result of that is that such electors record no vote at all, as their vote is denied all real value, and not treated as equivalent to those who did vote either for all candidates by a full preference vote [very few ] or those who record first preference votes in sufficient numbers to elect their first, second or third preferences within the one party list. The Commonwealth cannot justify that regime: because if voting remains compulsory as it does there is no sound justification for diminishing the value of a vote from some of those votes as against others.

As pleaded in paragraph 9 of the Grounds this is, nationally, 3,, votes across Senate elections in as against a total formal vote of 13,, votes. Election analyst Antony Green has argued that the raw number of exhausted votes is not a good indicator of the issue. In some counts, the AEC excluded the final non-elected candidate in order to determine an order of election for the successful candidates, thus inflating the exhaustion rate.

Upon re-examining the ballot papers to assess the exhausted preferences of parties that did not elect senators, Green found an exhaustion rate of around , votes around 5. Rather than being wasted or discarded, One possible explanation for this may be that voters are aware, at least at some level, of the potential for vote exhaustion, and are voting such that if their vote cannot be counted for a minor party candidate, their preference will count towards a party with a better chance of election and will not be wasted.

A slightly different approach is taken by the AEC in its analysis of Senate vote exhaustion following the federal election, where a distinction is drawn between the number of ballot papers and the number of votes. The number of votes can be different to the number of ballot papers due to surplus votes being transferred at reduced values. For example, if the quota for election is 80 votes and a candidate receives votes, 20 votes will need to be transferred to the next preference.

Rather than choose which of the 80 ballots to keep and which 20 to transfer, all ballots are transferred at a transfer value of 0. If 10 of those ballot papers cannot be transferred to another candidate, they will exhaust—but as they do so at a transfer value of 0.

The Alternative Vote Explained

Importantly, because these ballots are transferred after electing a candidate, they still count towards the election of that candidate, even though the votes subsequently exhaust. The AEC analysis concluded that, using its approach, the national exhaustion rate was 7. Of the exhausted ballots, The AEC report also noted that vote exhaustion was strongly associated with the number of candidates on the ballot paper, with a higher number of candidates leading to higher levels of exhaustion.

As noted above by the AEC, it is also worth considering that, in some cases, voters may prefer that their vote exhaust rather than see the vote elect candidates with whom they strongly disagree. Prior to the election, it was reported that internal Labor analysis predicted an additional , informal votes as a result of the new Senate voting system, given the AEC would not have sufficient time to educate voters about the change. As the original report on which the article is based is not available, it is not known how the Labor analysis reached this conclusion. AEC figures on Senate ballot paper informality indicate that the number of informal Senate ballot papers did increase slightly on the election, but by less than 1 percentage point nationally.

NSW had the highest informality rate at 4. Table 3: Senate ballot paper informality in compared to , percentage of total vote. The AEC also undertook an analysis of types of informal Senate ballot papers, reproduced in Table 4 below. As the AEC does not routinely analyse the types of informal Senate ballot papers, it is not possible to compare the results to previous elections. However, the digitisation of the Senate ballot papers for the Senate election enabled the AEC to produce the analysis for The most common form of informal ballot paper had no identifiable preferences—a category which would include blank ballot papers.

These constituted 64 per cent of all informal ballot papers. Unfortunately it is not possible to tell what the voters intended by leaving their ballot papers blank, but they may have included not wanting to vote at all, but wanting to avoid a fine, or not wanting to give any of the candidates on the ballot a preference. The next most common errors were repeated numbers either above or below the line. In some cases this might be due to ticks and crosses on the ballot paper, which are counted as a 1. A ballot paper with some candidates ticked and some crossed would be treated as being informal due to having multiple 1s.

Repeated and skipped numbers were common on informal below-the-line ballots—informal only if they had not otherwise had six consecutive preferences starting at 1 below the line. For example, a below-the-line preference sequence of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 9 would have been formal, whereas a sequence of 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 would not. Prior to the amendments to the CEA , skipped and repeated numbers below the line would not have made the ballot paper informal.

What are preferences and why do they matter?

It is unlikely that many voters knew the details of the complicated pre ballot paper formality rules, and so it is likely plausible that these were simply errors. Expanding the savings provisions to allow for skipped and repeated numbers, as per the pre CEA , would have potentially allowed an additional 58, or 10 per cent of the informal ballot papers to be counted. Table 4: Types of Senate ballot paper informality in These numbers indicate that there was reasonably little misunderstanding of the new Senate ballot paper among voters.

The vast majority of the informal ballot papers under the new system would also have been informal under the old system no preferences, no above-the-line 1, repeated above-the-line 1, and insufficient preferences below-the-line. It is therefore unlikely that the errors were purely a result of the changes. Much of the criticism of the Senate voting reform Bill related to the expected composition of the new Senate.

The main arguments were that it would eliminate the non-major party crossbench from the Senate, and that it would entrench Coalition control of the Senate. This Bill will have the effect of maximising the number of senators elected representing major parties Several analysts concluded that the Senate reforms would result in the Coalition having a majority in the Senate after the election. One analysis predicted that the Coalition would win 40 seats and Labor would win only 25 in a double dissolution election under the new voting system. One of the most politically significant criticisms raised against the new system when it was proposed was that it would eliminate the election of senators from outside the major political parties to the Senate.

Clearly, the new Senate voting system did not eliminate minor parties from the Senate. Six non-major parties won, between them, 11 seats in the 76 seat Senate, having received The level of success of small parties in can be attributed in large part to the double dissolution election, which reduced the quota for election from one seventh of the vote to one thirteenth.

There have been no public counts of the election using a normal half-Senate election quota, so it is not clear how well the small parties would have fared in a half-Senate election.

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However, the CEA requires the AEC to undertake a recount under section to provide the Senate with a list of potential short- and long-term senators following a double dissolution election. This recount provides some indication of how many senators elected at the double dissolution election would also have enjoyed the same result at a half-Senate election see Table 6. Table 6: Senators elected by party under the statutory recount.

However, the section results for One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team and the Jacqui Lambie Network—whereby they still have senators under the new system—suggest that the reform is not inherently hostile to small parties; and that if small parties have significant public support, they can gain a presence in the Senate. After the election, the Senate reforms were again blamed for the composition of the Senate—this time for enabling the election of four One Nation senators. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told the media:.

They have four Senators because the Greens political party and Malcolm Turnbull changed the rules in the Senate and then Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution. Anyone who disagrees with that has a problem not with the new Senate system, but with preferential and proportional democracy itself. All the same, the fact that we have four new One Nation Senators and not one given the votes actually cast is down not to Senate reform but to the government's strategic decision to force a double-dissolution Without knowing what deals might have been done we cannot know for sure how many seats One Nation would have won under the old system—it might even be in theory that at a half-Senate election Hanson herself could have been beaten by some similar right-wing micro-party on a preference snowball.

Depending on the deals done, their seat haul at a double dissolution under the old system could have even been as high as seven. In general, the Senate election albeit with a reduced quota demonstrated that small parties with reasonable first preference votes and strong preference flows can gain seats in the Senate—even in the absence of group voting tickets, and particularly in smaller electorates such as Tasmania and South Australia.

However, despite the success of such parties in , it is likely that the new system will, over time, lead to fewer parties contesting Senate elections, although this may take a number of elections to become evident. Smaller parties that do not have an obvious constituency and do not have the financial or grass-roots support to campaign throughout a state will find it difficult to replicate the results of, for example, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party in The Senate voting system that operated prior to the election created incentives for registering multiple parties with catchy names and using those to channel preferences through GTVs to another party, expanding the ballot paper.

Over a number of election cycles, as evidence increases that this type of participation is ineffective, the number of these parties should decrease. Parties that have a specific constituency—such as those who appeal to certain religious groups, for example Australian Christians or Christian Democrats—may choose to merge rather than risk splitting their vote between multiple parties. Under the previous Senate voting system, these parties could easily trade preferences, pooling the vote of their constituency.

Under the new system, these parties will depend on their voters allocating preferences to all of them or have their vote split between the parties. By merging or running joint tickets in the Senate, parties that share a constituency can better consolidate their voter base and increase their chances of election.

This is not to suggest that small or single-issue parties will disappear, but rather that the removal of some of the incentives for the creation of these parties should lead to fewer of them appearing on the ballot paper in the future—particularly at a normal half-Senate election. In addition to its recommendations for changes to the Senate voting system, the JSCEM interim report on the federal election also made recommendations in relation to party registration; namely, a minimum threshold requirement of 1, unique members to register a political party.

In her second reading speech on the Bill implementing the changes, Senator Lee Rhiannon stated that the Greens objected to raising the registration requirements as it would be a barrier to small parties:. The Greens have stood firm in our longstanding support for the vital role of small parties in our democracy. We did this when Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals voted together to double the nomination fees to run in an election.

It was clearly a move to try to knock out smaller parties, and some people have come to realise that that is not the fair way to enhance our democratic process. There was also the controversial attempt to raise the number of members needed to register a party, which the Greens did not agree with, because we recognised that most parties start small with little money and there should not be barriers such as large memberships or high nomination fees put in their way. By , a total of 66 different parties contested the federal election—almost double the 35 who contested the federal election see Figure 4.

As noted above, however, it is likely that the new system will, over time, lead to fewer parties contesting Senate elections. Figure 4: Unique parties contesting recent federal elections. In addition to registered political parties, Senate elections allow non-affiliated groups of candidates to run as a group on the ballot paper, receiving an above the line square. In NSW, which has traditionally attracted the greatest number of candidates and groups to its Senate ballot paper, the number of parties and groups in the past two federal elections numbered in the 40s although it decreased slightly between and , and the number of candidates has continued to climb, reaching in see Figure 5.

The changes to below-the-line voting allow numbering as few as 12 preferences. This change has certainly reduced the burden on voters, who otherwise would have had to number all preferences below the line on the NSW ballot paper. However, it is arguable that even a relatively well-informed NSW voter would not have sufficient information on all 41 groups to make a rational decision as to whether each was deserving of one of their preferences—particularly given many of these groups would have done little or no campaigning. One of the criticisms of the previous Senate voting system was that it produced disproportionate results, some candidates having been elected with very small first preference votes over candidates with larger votes.

As outlined in this paper, there is a limit to how proportional the outcome of an STV electoral system can be; however, it is apparent that the Senate results were roughly proportionate to the share of the vote that accumulated to respective parties and groups. Parties with larger or medium-sized votes tended to gain more seats relative to their vote share under the new system see Figure 6. Kevin Bonham has also analysed the proportionality of the new Senate by looking at the average number of votes and seats won by each party in each state.

He concluded that it was generally proportional, although it might have favoured the left side of politics slightly:. Comparing the number of seats and votes won by the major parties to everyone else, it is apparent that the combined seats the major parties won in the Senate closely aligns with the proportion of the vote they received.

However, the combined share of seats won by the major parties is consistently greater than the share of votes that they win, suggesting that the Senate voting system has afforded a small degree of advantage to the major parties see Figure 7. The new Senate voting system has not yet changed that situation; although, one election—and an unusual double dissolution election at that—is not a sufficient basis to discern a trend.

When considering Senate proportionality, an important factor is the decreasing share of votes that the major parties have received in recent elections. The Senate election did not slow this trend, with As outlined in this paper, however, many voters who gave their first preference to a minor party gave their second or third preference to one of the established political parties see also Appendix A.