Chris Davis resigns from Stafford

Stafford1-2PPLast Friday, embattled former LNP minister Chris Davis resigned his seat of Stafford in the Queensland state parliament.

Davis had served as Assistant Minister for Health for the last two years, but had come into conflict with the Premier and senior ministers over a number of issues, and was sacked as a minister two weeks ago after speaking against government policy.

Last Thursday, Davis voted with Labor, KAP and PUP members of Parliament against the Newman government’s laws demolishing restrictions on donations and election spending in Queensland, and followed that up by resigning from Parliament the following day.

Stafford was won by Davis off the ALP in 2012 with a 14% swing, and he was left with a 7.1% margin. Stafford covers parts of the northern suburbs of Brisbane. After the ALP won the Redcliffe by-election this year, Labor’s candidate Anthony Lynham would have to be favoured to win a Stafford by-election.

While there has been speculation about Campbell Newman not calling a by-election, and leaving the seat vacant for the next nine-ten months until the general election, that would be unprecedented, and it seems most likely that Newman will follow convention and call a by-election.

I’ve prepared a guide to the Stafford by-election, which you can click through at the following link.

Read the guide to the Stafford by-election

Throwing the game in Epsom

I’m well on my way to preparing the maps of New Zealand’s electorates for the guide to the September election – yesterday I finished half of the general electorates (32 out of 64, plus 7 Maori seats).

The most interesting electorate I’ve worked on is the seat of Epsom in Auckland’s inner east.

Epsom is a very conservative, wealthy electorate, covering suburbs immediately to the east of the Auckland city centre. On the party vote, the National Party overwhelmingly wins the seat, with 64.5% of the party vote in 2011. Labour came second with 15.6%, followed by the Greens with 12%. But the seat produces a very different result in the vote for the local MP.

To win ‘list seats’ in the New Zealand Parliament, you need to either poll 5% of the party vote, or win at least one electorate seat. For parties polling below 5%, or in the difficult area where it is unclear whether they will pass the 5% threshold, winning an electorate seat can be critical to winning seats in Parliament.

The right-wing ACT party, who have been in a governing alliance with the National Party since the 2008 election, have used the seat of Epsom at every election since 2005 to ensure the party stays in Parliament, despite falling well short of 5% of the national party vote.

At the last three elections, ACT candidates have argued strongly for National voters in Epsom to cast their candidate vote for the ACT candidate, in order to allow the party to win seats in Parliament, and at the last two elections the Nationals have implicitly endorsed that strategy.

There is a very clear trend in election results in Epsom of National voters switching to vote for ACT on their candidate vote, but also of centre-left Labour and Greens voters flocking to the National candidate in an attempt to stop ACT from winning the seat.

The NZ Electoral Commission releases data breaking down the relationship between the party vote and the candidate vote, and allows you to see how many voters for each party then voted for each candidate, and vice versa. This data is released on a national level and by electorate. It allows you to see, for example, that 44% of those who gave a party vote to the Green Party then gave their candidate vote to Labour.

In Epsom, there is a very strong trend where 61% of National voters voted for the ACT candidate. In contrast, 56% of Green voters voted for the National candidate, as well as 37% of Labour voters.

You can also see this trend very clearly on the map. On the party vote, the National Party vote is higher in the more conservative east of the seat, further away from the Auckland city centre. Yet on the candidate vote, the National Party vote is higher in the west of the seat, where there are more party votes for Labour and Green.

The following maps illustrate this point. The final map shows the difference in the National vote between the party vote and candidate vote. In many booths in the east of the seat the National vote dropped by over 40%. Yet in the west of the seat, the National vote increased by 11% in one booth, and only dropped by less than 10% in other booths.

In 2011, this strategy of centre-left voters casting a tactical vote for National in order to block ACT failed, with John Banks winning the seat. But the party’s prospects had fallen so low that his win didn’t bring in a single list seat for the party. The party has changed leaders and Epsom candidates again in the last year, and we’re yet to see whether ACT will be given another lifeline in Epsom in 2014.

National party vote in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

National party vote in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

ACT candidate votes in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

ACT candidate votes in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

National candidate votes in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

National candidate votes in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

Difference between National party votes and candidate votes per booth in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

Difference between National party votes and candidate votes per booth in Epsom at the 2011 general election.

Parliamentary committee aiming to end group voting tickets

The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released its interim report yesterday, which covered recommendations for how to reform the Senate voting system.

The Senate voting system has come under criticism for the system of group voting tickets producing bizarre results and creating very close races, and a proliferation of political parties making hard for voters to cast a formal, informed vote.

The proposals, in short, are:

  • Abolishing group voting tickets for Senate elections, meaning that parties can’t direct preferences automatically to other parties without the voting expressing a preference.
  • Introducing optional preferential above the line voting, so that voters can number boxes for parties above the line, with a minimum of one preference for a formal vote.
  • Only requiring below-the-line voters to number as many boxes as there are vacancies (2, 6 or 12). This will make it much easier to cast a formal vote below the line.
  • Tightening party registration processes:
    • Requiring parties to have at least 1500 members (up from 500)
    • Requiring parties to go further to demonstrate membership numbers.
    • Easier processes for a party to register for just one state.
    • Giving existing parties one year to meet the stricter standards.
    • Banning the practice of a person serving as registered officer of more than one registered party.

The committee also suggested that there is a need to restrict candidates to run in the state where they live, but didn’t propose a specific solution. The committee did not support the Liberal proposal for thresholds.

Overall, it’s a very good outcome. Abolishing group voting tickets and making it easier for voters to cast their own preferences, either above or below the line, is a good move for putting power back in the hands of voters. Preferences will still matter, but only when they are genuine preferences, and parties will only be able to influence their voters by giving them a piece of material with advice that the voter can choose to follow – no more automatic flows of preferences.

While the number of candidates and parties has reached an excessive level, I tend to think that the abolition of group voting tickets will reduce the draw for small parties to enter the ‘preference lottery’. Still, the restrictions proposed should still allow a large number of minor parties to stay registered.

The next challenge will be getting the legislation through the Parliament. The Coalition, Labor and the Greens all support the proposals, but it seems likely that most of the other crossbenchers in the Senate will be opposed. While their votes won’t be critical, life may be difficult for Tony Abbott if this legislation is being fought over when the new Senate comes in, and he will be looking for support from other senators.

JSCEM seems to have decided to deal with the Senate reform issue before going on to any other issues of electoral law later this year – perhaps they are hoping to pass the necessary legislation before the new Senate takes office on July 1.

Elsewhere: Antony Green deals with the proposed changes and models how previous Senate results would have been affected by the different voting system.

Tasmania LC 2014 – results wrap

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to follow results last night for the two Tasmanian Legislative Council seats that went to the polls yesterday. Tasmania’s upper house never faces the polls all at once – its fifteen seats go to the polls over a six year cycle, with two or three seats up for a vote every May.

This year, the two seats were southern Huon, where Paul Harriss stepped down earlier this year to run (successfully) as a Liberal candidate in Franklin at the Tasmanian state election, and northern Rosevears, where centre-left independent Kerry Finch was facing a challenge from the Liberal Party.

Finch easily faced down the Liberal challenge in Rosevears, while the race in Huon will be decided on preferences.

Keep reading below for more analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

JSCEM – move for Senate voting reform

The federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) held hearings yesterday in Canberra, where representatives from five political parties presented evidence on how to reform the Senate voting system, following previous hearings from experts and officials over the last three months.

Yesterday’s appearances, as well as late submission from the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party, saw both parties come out in support of the abolition of group voting tickets (GVTs), and the introduction of optional preferential voting (OPV) in the Senate. The Greens have supported the model for a long time, and the model is currently in use for the NSW Legislative Council.

The Nationals only supported abolishing GVTs if compulsory preferential voting was maintained, which would force voters to number a large number of boxes for their vote to count. That seems unlikely to fly.

Other proposals were made, including the Liberal Party coming out for rules requiring voters to show photo identification when voting. However it seems that JSCEM is planning to put off matters unrelated to the Senate voting system until later in the year, and is now focusing on changes that will effect the Senate.

The umbrella of changes affecting the Senate appears to include two broad approaches: changing the voting system, and changing rules around nominations and party registration.

In addition to the Senate counting system, three other major proposals were raised.

Read the rest of this entry »