tip off

Setting the bar

The major parties are reportedly considering an interesting new approach to Senate electoral reform: denying you your right to have your preferences distributed if you haven’t chosen the right party.

UPDATE: The submissions are now available here, and it turns out the proposal excoriated below is only that of the Liberal Party, and not a major party unity ticket. The Labor Party proposes New South Wales-style optional preferential voting above the line. It is also only the Liberal submission that advocates photo identification when voting.

Dennis Shanahan of The Australian reports that the Liberal Party and the ALP will today make submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Reform including, among other things, their recommendations for Senate electoral reform. Interestingly, it appears that both will advocate excluding parties from having their preferences distributed unless they clear a threshold of 1.4% of the primary vote. A common feature of proportional representation systems is that parties must exceed a certain vote threshold in order to win seats, but approaching the issue at the preferences end of the equation is something Sir Humphrey Appleby might have described as “novel”, having never been proposed by any disinterested authority that I am aware of.

While entirely impossible to justify, the appeal of such a proposal to the major parties is simple to discern. It is clear that the election result has led to unstoppable momentum for reform among those with a particular interest in such matters, even if that’s less obviously true of the public at large (an Essential Research poll conducted immediately after the election found 38% thought micro-parties in the Senate good for democracy, with only 25% opting for bad). However, if public submissions to the inquiry are anything to go by, by far the most favoured options involve the abolition of group voting tickets, which in the current manner of their operation are self-evidently an offence against democracy. With the objective of putting electoral outcomes back in the hands of the conscious decisions of voters, the obvious routes to reform are to follow the New South Wales example and distribute preferences only as far as voters purposefully allocate them, or require that voters number every box above the line.

By contrast, a preference threshold alternative could address the controversy directly at hand, namely the election of Senators from as little as 0.5% of the vote in the case of Ricky Muir, while maintaining the major parties’ power to corral preferences to the disadvantage of parties that might in fact clear a conventional election threshold, which are popularly set at around 5% (as is the case in Germany and New Zealand). The instructive case study here is the 1998 election, when the major parties all but froze out One Nation despite their success in polling over a million votes nationally (9.0% of the total). That left them with only one seat out of a parliament of 224, having narrowly achieved a Senate quota in their own right in Queensland. In economic contexts, such behaviour might be described as oligopolistic collusion, whereby established operators act in concert to deny new competitors access to the market.

In fairness, it might yet prove that the parties’ determination to seek an alternative to an election threshold has been inspired by Section 7 of the Constitution and its requirement that the Senate “shall be composed of senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State”. In rejecting a challenge to above-the-line Senate voting when it was introduced in 1984, the then Chief Justice of the High Court, Harry Gibbs, allowed that the section required that voters “must vote for the individual candidates whom they wish to choose as senators”, but did not accept that above-the-line voting amounted to anything other than a simplified means for doing so. The principle that the Senate electoral system must be based on choosing candidates rather than parties was nonetheless confirmed, and more than one authority has suggested that this would be violated by a provision that denied election to individual candidates on the basis of their party’s aggregate vote (note that, absent other reforms, candidate-based thresholds would exclude all major party candidates except those at the top of the ticket).

However, it’s very far from clear to me that a preference threshold would get around this, or that there might not be an alternative basis for challenging a system that denied some voters the right to have their preferences considered, while maintaining the privilege for those with the good taste to vote for the parties who are proposing the idea. It’s one thing to penalise a poorly performing party for failing to clear a threshold whose purpose is to ensure that members of parliament do in fact represent a reasonably significant constituency, but a preference threshold seems to place the penalty on those who vote for them. For the sake of clarity of expression, I wrote in the opening paragraph of this post of parties having “their” preferences distributed, which certainly encapsulates the depressing reality of how the system works at present. However, the foundation of any democratic system is that the vote belongs to the voter, and not to the particular party to whom they happen to give their first preference.

Happily, it does appear from Dennis Shanahan’s report that the submissions will grant some credence to the more honest alternative of optional preferential voting above the line. Other proposals said to be “pursued” or “examined” are a national electoral roll for both federal and state elections (difficult to argue with), photo identification when voting (more in the Liberals’ interest than Labor’s, so the precise wording here will be interesting to see), a tightening of the late-campaign advertising blackout, and the no-brainer of prohibiting people from serving as registered officers for more than one party.

55
  • 1
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Please keep this thread relevant to the topic of the post – the current open thread is here.

  • 2
    Socrates
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I will not bother appealing to ethics or principles other than rational self interest. This proposal (exclusion < 1.5%) is undemocratic and bound to be gamed. Labor power brokers would be fools to agree to it, which means they probably will.

    Obviously this new system will still be gamed. Victory will go to whichever major party has enough resources to set up more micro parties to strip away the most votes from their opponents' base. It will be just like scenarios when the right nominate two left candidates and only one from the right in pre-selections, ensuring the split left vote does not elect either.

    Being unethical is no barrier to being stupid, as the factional leaders in both major parties demonstrate far too often.

  • 3
    AngoraFish
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    The theory is to entrench the two-party system by encouraging borderline protest voters back into the camp of one of the major parties.

    The line that will be run here is that anything other than a direct vote for a major party is potentially a vote wasted.

    This is a particularly effective tactic against new parties as they have not yet any runs on the board to establish their capacity to exceed the threshold, so any voter taking a punt on a startup runs the risk of being disenfranchised.

    Of course, the genuinely pissed off and already disenfranchised voter won’t be convinced by such arguments, however a fairly strong argument could be made that these votes are largely random anyhow, akin to donkey voters, uncontrollable, and therefore better to simply exclude from the count rather than risk the randomness of a preference.

  • 4
    caf
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    You would have to hope that this is just an ambit claim by the major parties.

  • 5
    SgtThursday
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Am I understanding the substance of these proposals correctly?

    If I were to vote (for example) Pirates 1 and Greens 2, or Australian Voice 1 and Liberal 2 – my vote would essentially exhaust in the very likely event that my first choice doesn’t reach 1.4%

    That is simply ABOMINABLE. That vote belongs to ME, not to whatever party I vote for.

  • 6
    Arrnea Stormbringer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with a first-preference threshold of 1 percent or so, but votes for candidates that fall short of this should still be distributed (just all at once, not sequentially.)

  • 7
    Arrnea Stormbringer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with a first-preference threshold of 1 percent or so, but votes for candidates that fall short of this should still be distributed (just all at once, not sequentially.

  • 8
    Arrnea Stormbringer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Whoops, double posted there – phone doesn’t like this comment box at all.

  • 9
    Ben heslop
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    What they should do is reduce the value of a vote the further down the preference list it is. So if I voted for Labor third, and that preference is used, its only worth a third of a vote. This reflects that I only weakly endorse them.

    Of course this would never get up because major parties rely on 2nd and 3rd preferences to hog the senate seats.

  • 10
    Helen Holm
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    It’d be interesting, William if you could post what this reform would have meant in the last (September 13) election. How different would the outcome have been?

  • 11
    David Walsh
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Holy crap. As a staunch proponent of Senate voting reform, this proposal as described above makes me feel ill.

    The whole point of full preferential voting (in both houses) and full preference group voting tickets (in the Senate) is based on the notion that every vote must count, and to the fullest extent possible.

    If we’re now going to be junking entire portions of the vote, then that notion is clearly no longer paramount. So why persist with group voting tickets?

    Instead of opting for the sensible middle ground of optional preferential voting, this proposal combines the worst elements of full preferential and first-past-the-post. Mind boggling.

  • 12
    Drew McKinnie
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    The power of our votes is precious, must not be manipulated. I accept we vote for candidates. If I choose to vote below the line, my vote and preferences are my own and I expect them to be distributed to those individuals, regardless of party. If I vote above the line, my vote is still my own but in effect I am making a party my proxy for individual preferences. If we had preferential above the line that might simplify the process and still give me choice on my flow of preferences outside of party wishes. I agree that the vote belongs to the voter, that every vote and every preference must count, and in my case I normally do not trust any party to manage nor manipulate my choices.

  • 13
    Raaraa
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    @5
    I’m under the impression that the votes will get counted and not exhausted, however the circumstances will not allows such parties to win even when the votes roll over to them seeing that the first preferences threshold is not met.

    This discourages preference deals but does not fix the problem. In fact it penalises candidates that won preferences genuinely but not get enough first preference votes. Not fair.

  • 14
    Raaraa
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I misread. It seems to ask for those preferences to be exhausted, which means those votes are not counted. Does this mean it jumps to the next preference automatically, or exhaust the entire vote?

  • 15
    Diogenes
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    This is nothing short of a repugnant perversion of democracy.

  • 16
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I seriously doubt that any threshold introduced in Australia, with its preferential voting system, would eliminate the votes of minor parties (like the non-preferential systems, such as those in most Europe, do). It will merely eliminate them from the count.

    I am also surprised that the proposed threshold is set at 1.4%. I thought they would go for 4%, the same as the deposit and electoral funding threshold.

    Robson rotation, modified to have ATL so that the ATL vote of a voter was distributed between the candidates of the group they voted for as shown on their ballot paper, could provide a way to have a candidate based threshold wile not having a group based threshold. It would also allow voters to determine which of a parties candidates gets elected, as happened (to an extent) in Tasmania 1949-1984, thus making it very unpopular with the parties.

    A simpler solution would be to only apply the candidate based threshold after the distribution of the preferences of the candidates elected with more than a quota on primaries.

  • 17
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    So the main problem with just having both above the line and below the line OPV is that it might lead to a high exhaust level, but we fix this with a proposal that leads to a high exhaust level. I’ll be interested to see the arguments advanced in the submissions.

    On the face of it this is even worse than vote threshholds in that at least under vote threshholds if your party fails to clear the bar then your vote is valid as a preference. It seems to be saying if you vote for a micro-party you are to be punished by having your vote converted to first-past-the-post.

  • 18
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Shanahan was in error: this proposal is only in the Liberal submission not the ALP one. Here is the text from the Lib submission:

    “An additional option which the Committee may wish to examine, in order to discourage
    preference deals with distorted and concealed motives, would be a requirement that before
    preferences from any party are distributed, that party must have received a primary vote of
    at least 10% of the value a quota. In other words, at a regular half-Senate election a party
    must exceed a threshold of approximately 1.4% before its preferences can be redistributed.”

    The Labor submission argues for NSW style above and below the line OPV with instruction for a minimum number of squares but a saving provision such that 1 above the line is formal. It does not argue for the preference-distribution threshhold.

  • 19
    campidg
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    The Greens have put up Bills proposing above the line preferential voting by group on several occasions over the past decade or so as an alternative or compliment to ticket voting to reduce the distortions and horse trading. The majors are happy with the way ticket voting works for them so have always knocked them back. When I saw the headline I got excited thinking that maybe Liblab had finally decided to put their interests aside for the sake of democracy, but no such luck.

  • 20
    lefty e
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    What a surprise: the majors propose to address the most scandalous rotten borough of Australian democracy (registered tickets, aka hack preferences) by creating another scandalous rotten borough (discriminatory preference distribution).

    I suspect this avenue would be found unconstitutional, but its a shocking look.

    Its pretty simple: put the voters in charge. We want actual voter prefs, not party hack prefs. Fill out all the boxes ATL (NSW style), or have optional BTL prefs.

    All problems solved. Then you don’t have parties with negligible votes being randomly generated a Senator by hack-orchestrated preference ponzi schemes, as today.

    If they get up, it will be because of *actual voter prefs*. And thats fine.

  • 21
    lefty e
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Shanahan was in error: this proposal is only in the Liberal submission not the ALP one. Here is the text from the Lib submission:

    Thanks KB. Typical Shanahan. Im relieved to hear the ALP isnt a party to this.

  • 22
    imacca
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    more honest alternative of optional preferential voting above the line.

    Yup, i’d go for that.

    national electoral roll for both federal and state elections

    Cant believe we dont have that already??

    photo identification when voting

    Nope. No demonstrated reason for this one. everything i have ever read about multiple voting or electoral fraud in Australia says its very low level to the point where its just not an issue.

    a tightening of the late-campaign advertising blackout

    Although how they will go about this?? Social media is not susceptible to that kind of control.

    the no-brainer of prohibiting people from serving as registered officers for more than one party.

    Absolutely. I’d say people being in that is a sure sign of a scam.

    Would seem to me that if you have optional preferential above the line is the simplest and fairest way to improve on the blanket sized ballot paper issue.

  • 23
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    22

    It could be argued that the main effect of prohibiting people from being the registered officers of more than one party is just requiring less competent scammers to lift their game.

    Tighter ballot access rules (more nomination signatures, tighter party registration requirements, candidate residence requirements, a nomination signatures requirement for parties, etc) are the most effective way of reducing the number of candidates.

  • 24
    barramundi
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    LDP’s Senator elect David Leyonhjelm enlightening on minor party preference harvesting at Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters hearing today. Evidence starts at 0.30.00
    http://parlview.aph.gov.au/mediaPlayer.php?videoID=224616

  • 25
    billie
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Voters no longer can exercise a free vote when the ballot paper has so many candidates that the voter is issued with a magnifying glass to complete their vote. When I have scrutineered, 80% of below the line ballot papers are informal.

    Why not say you can vote “1″ above the line, or below the line where you only have to number from 1 to 18 in a half senate election and 1 to 36 in a full senate election.

    I am happy to eliminate candidates of parties that get 1.4% of a quota – any other solution promotes microparties and gaming the senate vote

  • 26
    SgtThursday
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    … but the proposal as posted is not to eliminate candidates (or parties) getting less than 1.4%. I wouldn’t have a fundamental problem with that, if that’s what the proposal was.

    The proposal is to stop the distribution of preferences for any ballots where that “eliminated” candidate is #1. Meaning that if you vote for a candidate lucky enough to pass the threshold then your right to a full preferential vote is protected, and if you vote for an unlucky candidate then your right to full preferential voting is surrendered. This pretty much rips at the heart of what preferential voting is intended to do in the first place.

    It is an assault on democracy, and the only comfort I have is the belief that the JSCEM should be intelligent enough to dismiss it as utterly flawed and unacceptable.

  • 27
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Diogenes

    This is nothing short of a repugnant perversion of democracy

    Are there pleasant perversions of democracy?

  • 28
    Fran Barlow
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that one important feature should be an end to compulsory preferences. People should number as few as they think address their needs/aspirations.

    Equally, a primary threshold of half the size of a quota (a primary being any integer not greater than the number of senators to be elected) sounds fair enough to me.

  • 29
    cud chewer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Where in this debate stands the very simple option of allowing preferential voting above the line. I though Antony Green supported this idea too?

  • 30
    cud chewer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that one important feature should be an end to compulsory preferences. People should number as few as they think address their needs/aspirations.

    I’d like to see a middle ground – so you need to run your preferences to at least 6.

    And I don’t like the party allocated preference flows. I’d like to see that abolished. What chance of that?

  • 31
    cud chewer
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I can only assume the 1.4% they are talking about is meant to exclude a lot of loony parties but leave the greens.

    However, what about the LDP? Didn’t they go higher? could the not benefit from a rearrangment?

  • 32
    Michael
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    In my own submission to the JSCEM (no. 19, at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2013_General_Election/Submissions), I’ve argued the case against thresholds in general. The Liberal proposal could correspond to the models mentioned in the first and third dot points at paragraph 27, depending on whether or not they propose that votes for candidates of parties polling fewer first preferences than the threshold should or should not be counted for the purposes of determining the quota: their submission is unclear on that. (The choice could make a difference to the result, though it’s possible they don’t realise that.)

    Their proposal is a silly idea, for at least two reasons. First, if their other proposal for optional preferential voting above the line is adopted, that will really kill off preference harvesting, so there really wouldn’t be a need for any sort of threshold. Secondly, a scheme which would, in effect, treat your vote as informal if you voted for a candidate of a party which didn’t reach the threshold, would seem to have a very good chance of dying a messy death in the High Court, not just because of the doctrine laid down in McKenzie’s case, but also because of the more recent line of High Court reasoning that is decidedly hostile to legislation which can effectively disenfranchise people without a compelling reason.

  • 33
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    31

    Tighter party naming rules are the thing to aim at the LDP.

  • 34
    Michael
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    A model of preferential above the line voting which required voters to number every square above the line, as advocated by The Nationals in their JSCEM submission, would be wide open to abuse, other things being equal. If any group, party or non-party, could have a square above the line, voters could easily have to fill in well upwards of 20 above the line squares to cast a formal vote. On the basis of the informal vote at the Bradfield by-election some years ago (with 22 squares to be completed), this would take us back to the days of 10% plus informality for Senate elections. And it would be far worse at the next Senate election, since hordes of people would certainly still just place a 1 in one square. In addition, people would plainly be forced to express preferences they didn’t really hold, which is supposed to be one of the problems with ticket voting, isn’t it?

  • 35
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Monday, April 28, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    34

    Tighter requirements for gaining an ATL box would go a long way to reducing the number of groups.

    Tighter rules on political party registration are assured (mainly larger membership required but also other measures).

    Requiring a minimum number of nominators (enrolled to vote in that state), say 25 per candidate, for registered parties to get a candidate on the ballot paper would reduce the number of micro parties and an increase in the number of nominees required for non-party candidates to stop a jump in those as party registration becomes harder would be good.

    Requiring candidates to be enrolled to vote in the state for which they are standing may also help around the edges.

    Removing registered preference ticket also removes much of the advantage (preference negotiation for those without HTV card organisation and the ability to snowball a win) of having a voting group.

  • 36
    Philip Griffiths
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Say I wanted to vote pirate and preference green, would the greens lose my vote, assuming the suggested 1.4% threshold was not met by the pirates?

  • 37
    Geoff Powell
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Submission 181 to the JSCEM by anon. is worth a look. It emphasizes the High Court’s evolving interest in protecting
    the constitutionally mandated “system of representative and responsible government” … to provide a substantial constraint on what electoral legislation can properly be enacted.

    Could well be from the pen of Catherine Helen Spence in its call for effective voting.

  • 38
    Edward Boyce
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    The key takeaway from the submissions is that Labor, Liberal and Greens all advocated abolishing group ticket votes, and bringing in optional preferential voting for above the line votes. That should be the main change to the Senate voting system, unless those parties can’t agree on the details of implementing it.

  • 39
    lefty e
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I maintain that any proposal not to distribute preferences of those voting 1 for sub-threshold parties would be found unconstitutional. Further, I doubt it would be an especially tough case for the applicants – I really cant see why the LNP are bothering with that brainfart, which will go nowhere.

  • 40
    lefty e
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    The key takeaway from the submissions is that Labor, Liberal and Greens all advocated abolishing group ticket votes, and bringing in optional preferential voting for above the line votes. That should be the main change to the Senate voting system, unless those parties can’t agree on the details of implementing it.

    Lets hope so – registered tickets are a national embarrassment, and especially so now the micro-parties’ preference ponzi scheme has become a cottage industry.

  • 41
    Chris Curtis
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Most of the proposed changes to the Senate voting system are undemocratic and unconstitutional. They are no more than attempts by the insiders to make sure the outsiders don’t become insiders.

    That a senator is elected from a tiny initial vote is neither here nor there as no one is elected until they reach the quota – 14.3 per cent for a senator from a state. The starting vote is irrelevant. We know this as the tiny starting votes of the No 2 and 3 candidates of the major parties are not to be subject to the same treatment.

    Voters already have all the control they want in choosing who ends up winning seats in the Senate as they can freely choose to vote below the line if they do not want to choose their preferred party’s preference order.

    Voters have not accidentally elected a couple of senators at the last election. They freely chose to vote above the line, knowing that they were selecting a set of preferences chosen by their party. If they did not want to do that, they did not have to. They could choose their own preferences by voting below the line.

    We were told after the 2013 election that people were horrified at who got elected because they did not know where their preferences would go and that they would not risk it again by voting for the micro-parties. Yet, the only test of that hypothesis has been the WA Senate election, and the vote for the micro-parties increased. People are quite happy that they do not know where their preferences go. We know because even more of them voted for micro-parties not knowing who would be elected in the end. Those who voted for micro-party A and ended up helping micro-party B don’t care.

    The changes proposed – thresholds, a ban on below-the line preferences, a ban on micro-parties being allowed to pass preferences on, a ban on micro-parties being allowed to receive preferences – are undemocratic, arguably unconstitutional (under Section 7 of the Constitution, which demands that senators be “directly chosen by the people”) and designed to give the Greens almost a lock on the balance of power in the Senate. While I am not surprised that party machines would try to make our voting system less democratic, I am surprised that the major parties would be so dumb as to increase the power of the Greens for the obvious pragmatic reason that it is better, whether you are a Coalition or a Labor government, to have different partners to choose from in the Senate.

    The only change needed to the Senate voting system is to allow preferences below the line to be optional after, say, 20. If the aim is to genuinely empower the voter rather than cynically advantage the existing big players, this is what the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters would recommend.

    My submissions (nos. 131 and 131.1, available on page 7 of the link William has given) expand upon this argument.

  • 42
    Graeme
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t read too much into McKenzie’s case. It was a single judge politely dismissing a litigant in person, whose real gripe was that as an independent candidate he was discriminated against because he couldn’t have a GTV and was relegated to after the groupings.

    McKenzie tried to argue that the section of the Constitution that says the ‘qualifications of a Senator shall be the same as for an MHR’ meant that Senate elections had to be individualised, the way single member house seats are. But that section clearly just means that the qualifications to be a senate candidate must be the same as to be a house candidate (hence the current proposal to avoid out-of-state Senate candidacies by changing the rules to require Senate and House candidates live in the State in question. No Tweed Heads types to run in the Gold Coast seats!)

    All Chief Justice Gibbs really said, in a one liner, was to agree for the sake of argument that electors at Senate elections were electing individual senators. If the ballot offers a BTL option, it can offer what it likes ATL.

    The original intent of the key constitutional mandate that parliamentarians be ‘directly chosen by the people’ was not to exclude different voting systems. It was to exclude a US style indirect choice of Senators, which the original US constitution said were to be ‘elected’ by each US state legislature. This was controversial even in the States throughout the period of our federation debates, and was snuffed out in 1913 in favour of ‘direct election’.

  • 43
    Michael
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Graeme @ 42: I have a sentimental interest in McKenzie’s Case, as I am quite possibly the only bludger who was sitting in the High Court through the entire hearing and judgement. I’m sure you are right, but I wonder whether the High Court might nevertheless find McKenzie a useful precedent if presented with a challenge to a new provision which clearly deserved to be struck down on democratic grounds.

  • 44
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Chris Curtis@41

    Voters have not accidentally elected a couple of senators at the last election. They freely chose to vote above the line, knowing that they were selecting a set of preferences chosen by their party. If they did not want to do that, they did not have to. They could choose their own preferences by voting below the line.

    We were told after the 2013 election that people were horrified at who got elected because they did not know where their preferences would go and that they would not risk it again by voting for the micro-parties. Yet, the only test of that hypothesis has been the WA Senate election, and the vote for the micro-parties increased. People are quite happy that they do not know where their preferences go. We know because even more of them voted for micro-parties not knowing who would be elected in the end. Those who voted for micro-party A and ended up helping micro-party B don’t care.

    Actually the vote for micro-parties (excluding Labor, Lib, Nat, Green and PUP) went down slightly in the re-election, in spite of there being more of them to vote for.

    As for the idea that voters can just choose to vote below the line, it’s not that simple. Firstly many voters are afraid to do this in case they make mistakes and invalidate their vote. Secondly knowing enough about the candidates to be confident you are doing the right thing about your vote is very hard work; people can spend hours getting a BTL vote. Thirdly voting BTL takes a long time and some people just don’t have that sort of time to spare. Many voters just naively assume that their party must know what it’s doing and are shocked to later discover their party has betrayed their views by preferencing the other side.

    Voting BTL – even just 1 to 20 – can’t be conceived of as a serious choice for everyone given the effort barriers involved.


    The changes proposed – thresholds, a ban on below-the line preferences, a ban on micro-parties being allowed to pass preferences on, a ban on micro-parties being allowed to receive preferences – are undemocratic

    I agree that those changes are undemocratic. But they are far from being the only changes proposed.

  • 45
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    44

    I agree about the PUP no longer being a micro party. With Ricky Muir`s cooperation they can have parliamentary party status and they have go a reasonable vote in the Senate in 2 different states (all be it not at the same time).

  • 46
    Disasterboy
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    i am somewhat concerned that the views of nearly a seventh (thirteenth in full senate) of voters get discarded in our quota system. To some extent thats a worse distortion of voters intent, than the group voting tickets. The final seat being elected by the majority of a remaining partial quota would at least mean such a final senator was more preffered by that ‘quota’. Making a seventh of senate voters ‘losers’ seems a little unnecessary for a multimember electorate. It just seems to be a way of making the HoR seems reasonable.

  • 47
    Disasterboy
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know if the ATL preferencing legislation proposed by the Greens allowed ungrouped candidates to be included? Is/was it really just making sure that what is obviously the voters intent is reflected as such? Its always baffled me, why such votes are not valid but for three possibilities
    1. Legislators had not considered that optional preferential can be completed by the group ticket votes, if we require complete preference flows. Rather than the whole ballot being filled in by the group flow, only the ones they choose to abrogate choice are preferenced that way.
    2. Moral vacuum
    3. Political brains not big enough to work out what to do with ungrouped candidates in ATL voting.

  • 48
    Chris Curtis
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Kevin,

    I include PUP in the micro-party total because that is what it was in 2013 and, while you can argue it has moved out of that category, I want to compare the votes of the same set of parties in both 2013 and 2014. Obviously, a few more people voted PUP because they saw it could win.

    I agree that it is not simple to vote below the line. That is why I have argued that preferences below the line should be optional after a certain number and that the AEC should have a website app enabling voters to devise their own formal HTV cardss which they can take to the booths.

    A number below 20 would be acceptable if the committee also accepted my proposals for increased deposit fess for candidates after the first two in any group. The aim is to ensure that preferences cover a number for groups and are not tied up in one group, where they end up having no influence on the result.

    The changes listed are not the only ones being proposed. They are just the worst ones – well, apart form some really weird no-chance-at-all ones in some submissions (e.g, setting limits on how many candidates could stand for each party based on how many seats that party had in the House of Reps in each state and making Australia one electorate).

  • 49
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    42

    It would have been interesting if the High Court in the McKenzie case had said that elections mean that the candidates are treated equally and thus ungrouped candidates must have their own ballot paper.

  • 50
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    48

    I doubt that there will be any legislative attempt to decrease the number of candidates groups put up in the Senate because the major parties do not want to encourage BTL voting and increasing the number of candidates a group has to run is a way of make getting a group harder and was a key part of the NSW anti-tablecloth reforms (partly due to a referendum entrenched constitutional minimum of 15 preferences for Legislative Council elections).

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