The book of the 2019 election – now out

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The definitive academic take on the 2019 federal election has been released today by ANU Press. Morrison’s Miracle features 36 contributors covering every angle of the election, including the big policy debates, the political parties and the results.

This is the latest in a long-standing series – now up to 17 books about successive federal elections.

I’ve got a chapter in the book covering the results in the House of Representatives. This is a follow-up to a similar chapter I wrote for the 2016 book, Double Disillusion (although it’s not all the same stuff).

You can download the book or individual chapters for free from the ANU Press website, or order a copy.

Podcast #36: Eden-Monaro preview

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Ben is joined by Stewart Jackson from the University of Sydney to preview this weekend’s federal by-election in the seat of Eden-Monaro.

You can subscribe to this podcast using this RSS feed in your podcast app of choice, but should also be able to find this podcast by searching for “the Tally Room”. If you like the show please considering rating and reviewing us on iTunes.

Big jump in postals as Eden-Monaro votes in a pandemic

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We’ve entered the last week of early voting before this Saturday’s by-election in the south-east NSW seat of Eden-Monaro. We have quite a bit of data about who is casting an early vote, and it tells us that there has been a big increase in postal votes, but it looks like the increase in pre-poll votes will only be slight.

The AEC publishes daily statistics on the number of postal vote applications received per day (not the number of actual postal votes which have been returned: many of these votes won’t arrive until after the election, and voters are not obliged to use a postal vote after making an application). They also publish statistics on the number of votes cast at each pre-poll centre per day. These statistics cover up to the end of Friday 25 June.

Turning 16 WA seats into 15

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Western Australia is on track to lose the sixteenth seat it gained at the 2016 election. This will trigger a redistribution before the next election, and will have knock-on effects across the state.

Only one of Western Australia’s 16 electorates has enough voters to still be above-quota once the seats are reduced to fifteen, and that one seat sits quite far above the quota.

Pearce now has almost 125,000 enrolled electors, while no other seat has more than 110,000. Pearce contains 31% more voters than Tangney.

After the fold I’ve included a map showing the population statistics in each existing WA electorate.

Where to put Victoria’s 39th seat?

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The latest ABS population figures for December 2019 were released yesterday, and they confirmed what we have suspected for some time. Victoria will gain a 39th seat at the next election, while Western Australia will lose its 16th seat and the Northern Territory (barring any legislative change) will revert to a single electorate.

In this post I will focus on how the addition of a 39th seat will likely shake up Victoria’s electoral map, including an interactive map showing each seat’s variation from quota. I will return on Monday with a similar analysis for Western Australia.

Mail-only elections for NSW councils – not so fast

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There was a story in the Sydney Morning Herald last week about how the NSW state government is considering a switch to postal voting for all voters at the 2021 local council elections.

These elections were originally scheduled for September 2020, but were postponed by twelve months in the hope of avoiding the pandemic.

Things are looking pretty good in New South Wales now, and unless the disease manages to re-emerge it seems likely that full-scale council elections could be held in September 2021 without major disruptions to the electoral system (although I’d expect some basic hygiene practices to remain in place for a while).

While such a change could be necessary during the heart of a pandemic, it seems far from necessary for an election due in 15 months. Moreover I think moving away from using polling places sends a message about council elections being less important and not worthy of the transparency, privacy and security provided by voting at a polling place.

Will the NT lose one of its federal seats?

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I have been meaning to write a post about the impending determination and possible solutions to the likely merger of the NT’s two federal seats. Antony Green put together a long and interesting piece yesterday explaining how the current formula short-changes the territories, and suggests an alternative formula which would produce a better result, as well as some background on where our current system comes from. I’m going to quickly run through this issue for those who don’t have time to dive in deep.

I wrote about this likely outcome in August last year. It looks likely that Victoria will gain a 39th seat, Western Australia will lose its 16th seat, and that the Northern Territory will revert to just one electorate, after gaining a second seat at the 2001 election.

The current formula determines a national quota dividing the total population of the six states by twice the number of state senators (144). This formula is the default specified in the Australian constitution (although the parliament does have some room to move by changing the formula). The same formula is used to allocate ACT and NT seats, but this is not fixed in the constitution and could be changed.

Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy has put forward legislation that would set a minimum number of electorates for the territory at two, thus averting the seat loss. But Antony has proposed another change which would slightly improve representation for the territories without setting a hard floor.

This formula can be problematic when a territory has a small number of electorates. There is a massive change in the average population per seat when you jump from one to two seat, or from two to three. The average population per seat will be much higher if you have 1.4 or 2.4 quotas of population than if you have, say, 40.4 quotas.

Antony recommends a formula called Dean’s formula.

In short, it allocates the number of seats to each jurisdiction which would bring the average population per seat as close as possible to the national quota.

In the case of the NT, this means that anything more than 1.33 quotas of population would qualify for two seats. A third seat would be allocated if a territory had more than 2.4 quotas. This formula gets pretty close to the current formula once a jurisdiction is allocated more than a few seats. It’s actually simpler than I thought it would be, and I think it could be a good solution.

SA redistribution – the starting statistics

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South Australia is currently undergoing a redistribution of its state electoral boundaries. The redistribution kicked off late last year, with the first round of submissions closing in April.

The Commission has released current population figures as of February 2020, and projected electors as of June 2022. Each electorate is required to fall within 10% of the average.

The data shows how electorates outside of Adelaide are consistently under quota and creates a dilemma for the Commission in drawing electorates in northern parts of the state.

Below the fold I have a map (similar to my NSW map from last week) and a breakdown of the quotas by region.

NSW redistribution stats released

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The next redistribution for NSW state electorates has just kicked off, with boundaries due to be redrawn for the 2023 state election.

The first stage of the process allows anyone to make submissions suggesting electoral boundaries, either making suggestions about a particular seat or the entire state. Suggestions are open from last Monday, 1 June, until 1 July.

The NSWEC has also published enrolment statistics for each electorate, and they point to some big population imbalances that will lead to some necessary shifts in electoral boundaries.

In particular, a series of outer suburban electorates are far above quota, and will require neighbouring seats to be adjusted, and likely the creation of one or two new seats in the area.

How the AEC is adapting Eden-Monaro for Covid

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The AEC has published its plan for how it will adapt the Eden-Monaro by-election to account for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the stuff will be familiar to anyone who has visited any public place in recent months. Social distancing rules will be applied at polling places and the ballot draw, and hand sanitiser will be available when you turn up to vote. There will be limits on how many people can be inside each booth which will likely extend lines for voting.

The AEC will only receive nominations by appointment (no more just rocking up to the office) and voters will be provided with single-use pencils when they vote (although bringing your own writing implement is encouraged).

The AEC will not conduct mobile polling at nursing homes, instead encouraging those inside to use postal voting.

The AEC has clarified that they do not have jurisdiction over campaigning outside six metres of the entrance to the polling place, and thus have not tried to impose any rules limiting the handing out of how-to-vote cards, although they put the onus on candidates and parties to abide by whatever NSW Health rules are in place at the time of the by-election. They have agreed to post a website link for each candidate as part of the candidate information on the AEC website, but they have not gone further as some have suggested by providing how-to-vote information in other ways.

Finally, they anticipate a big increase in postal and pre-poll voting. There was some chatter about possibly allowing pre-poll votes to be counted before 6pm on election night to speed up the publication of results (it’s worth reading Antony Green’s blog post on this topic), but this won’t be happening.

So you should expect a significant delay in results on election night, and if it is close we likely will need to wait a few days for pre-poll votes to be counted to get a better sense. A very close result may take weeks as postal votes can arrive up to 13 days after election day.

Finally, I recommend checking out Michael Maley’s paper for the Electoral Regulation Research Network about how electoral management will be affected by Covid-19. I haven’t had a chance to finish it but I’m looking forward to it.