The Tally Room Wed, 11 Sep 2019 23:30:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 6127899 No names above the line hurt independents Wed, 11 Sep 2019 23:30:08 +0000 The Senate race in the Australian Capital Territory often promises to get interesting, but never really does. The quota for election in the ACT is just over one third of the total formal vote, and the two seats have been split evenly between Labor and Liberal at every election since the ACT gained seats in the Senate. This is despite Labor consistently outpolling the Liberal Party (and outpolling them by quite a lot when you factor in preferences from other parties).

The Greens have often targeted the Liberal seat, and have driven the Liberal vote down, but have not quite pushed them far enough to win the seat. In 2019 there was a spirited Greens challenge, but also a challenge from an independent group led by Anthony Pesec.

Pesec aimed to fill a similar space to centrist independents in Liberal seats like Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth and Zali Steggall in Warringah, aiming to pull away Liberal voters alienated by Liberal senator Zed Seselja’s position on the right wing of his party.

Pesec ended up falling a long way short of winning the Senate seat, polling 4.7%, compared to 32.4% for the Liberal ticket and 17.7% for the Greens. But the result was marred by voter confusion over the lack of any group name above the line for Pesec’s group. In addition to reports about voter confusion, there’s evidence in the election results to suggest the electoral rules hurt Pesec’s vote, and should make us consider what we can do to improve ballot paper design so it doesn’t happen again.

If you run for the Senate for a group nominated by a registered political party, you get to include your party’s name above the line.

If you are an independent, you don’t get anything identifying you above the line, beyond the letter that represents your group (in Pesec’s case, they were Group C).

There are multiple cases in the past where independent groups were hurt by this policy. It appears that Pauline Hanson missed out on a seat in the NSW upper house in 2011 thanks to her running as an independent: quite a few voters attempted to vote for her below the line, but their vote did not count as formal.

It appears that the problem was worsened in Pesec’s case as there were seven groups running above the line, and the official ballot instructions tell you to “number at least 1 to 6”. Since every other group had a party name, it was easy for voters to assume that Pesec had either withdrawn or was not a group that could validly receive an above-the-line vote. At least one case of this confusion was reported by Riot Act.

This confusion can be clearly seen in the breakdown of above- and below-the-line votes for each group.

Group ATL votes BTL votes BTL %
G (Labor) 84,274 22,056 20.74
A (Liberal) 76,827 10,665 12.19
B (Greens) 34,389 13,466 28.14
C (Pesec) 4,224 8,380 66.49
E (UAP) 5,403 727 11.86
F (Sustainable) 3,269 1,194 26.75
D (Anning) 1,818 643 26.13
Ungrouped 2,896
    Below-the-line votes made up less than 30% of the vote for any other group, but made up almost two thirds of Pesec’s total vote. Pesec polled 2% of the above-the-line vote, and 14% of the below-the-line vote.
        The ACT has a relatively high

below-the-line vote 

    • overall: it was second only to Tasmania in 2016 and 2019, and had the highest rate in the country from 2004 to 2013. This can be partly explained by the relatively small ballot paper, but also because of the Hare-Clark voting system which is used for the local assembly, and requires voters to mark the boxes of individual candidates.
    It’s possible that Pesec voters were discouraged from voting for him entirely when they did not find his name above the line. It’s also possible that those voters found his name below the line and chose to vote that way. I reckon it’s a mix of the two. I don’t think Pesec would have polled 14% across the board if the ballot was less confusing, but I reckon he would have polled better than the 4.7% he actually received.
    • There’s also interesting evidence that voters were confused when you look at flows of preferences from other parties.

Kevin Bonham calculated the preference flows to Pesec from other parties. Pesec positioned himself as a centrist candidate so you’d expect him to gain preferences from Labor and Greens voters ahead of the Liberal Party, yet that didn’t happen. Over 60% of above-the-line preferences from both Labor and the Greens placed Liberal ahead of Pesec, yet below-the-line voters for Labor’s Katy Gallagher and the Greens’ Penny Kyburz preferred Pesec 75-23 and 86-13 respectively.

    Similar evidence can be seen in the cases of independents Craig Garland in Tasmania and Hetty Johnston in Queensland, although not as severe as in the case of Pesec.

So what’s the answer?

Firstly, we should acknowledge that this problem creates a strong incentive for independents to form political parties rather than running as an independent. It’s really easy to form a political party in this country: you just need 500 members to sign up. You don’t even need those signatures if you are a sitting federal MP. Once you have registered a party you don’t need any local nominators, or even a local candidate, to run candidates – you just need money for the nomination fee. So an independent can register a party and run candidates all over the place.

Meanwhile you need 200 nominators to run two candidates for the Senate (which you need to get a box above the line).

So we could consider reforms that simultaneously make it harder for parties to nominate large slates of candidates en masse while making the playing field more even for independents running in the Senate to discourage the creation of fake parties that are really just fronts for an independent.

It would be as simple as allowing an independent group to either feature the name of their lead candidate (“Anthony Pesec”) or the surnames of their first two candidates (“Pesec/Kent”) to appear above the line.

You could go further and allow independent groups to nominate some words to represent themselves above the line, as is permitted in South Australian state elections, but that isn’t strictly necessary, and you could argue that independents should only be able to use their names, not a quasi-party name that hasn’t been properly registered.

You could then pair that reform with changes that remove the right of federal MPs to circumvent party registration requirements (hello Fraser Anning), and also change requirements for parties to register candidates. Rather than raising ever higher nomination deposits which are a barrier to some genuine parties but not to well-heeled individuals (hello Clive Palmer), we could instead require party candidates to have some sort of local nominators’ signatures to run in any electorate.

These changes would protect the rights of independents and small parties, while reducing the incentive to register unnecessary parties and making it harder for a party with no local support to run a large slate of candidates.

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Breaking up the Senate? Why it’s such a bad idea Mon, 09 Sep 2019 23:36:05 +0000 The Australian reported on Sunday about an idea from Queensland LNP senator James McGrath that would see the Senate broken up so that senators represent “provinces” within each state. While details are scarce, this proposal would see the end of proportional representation in the Senate, would likely wipe out all minor parties and would see one-party rule in the Senate, largely replicating the results of the House of Representatives.

The idea is obviously self-serving and is very unlikely to go anywhere, but it’s such a bad idea that I think it’s worth explaining why it’s so bad. I also had a go at modelling what Senate elections would look like under such a system.

Firstly I’m going to define the proposal. The journalist seems confused about the idea, suggesting that legislation would not be needed to “forcibly change the make-up of the Senate”, but then quotes Senator McGrath who specifically proposes “breaking the states into provinces and having two senators elected across six provinces within each state”. So I’ll assume the proposal would be to draw up six “provinces” in each state, with each province electing one senator per election for a six-year term, with two senators representing each province.

I don’t believe such a proposal would be unconstitutional, but it would most definitely require legislation.

So this would firstly end the system of proportional representation used to elect the Senate since 1949. It would likely result in no more Greens, independents or other minor parties winning seats in the Senate. While a handful of crossbenchers have won seats in the House of Representatives, most Senate provinces would be larger and there would be a smaller number of districts. Even in inner-city Melbourne I don’t believe the Greens would be in a position to win a province which would cover more than six House electorates.

While this would require a certain number of senators to represent specific geographic regions, it wouldn’t necessarily improve the voting power of rural voters. But it would help the Nationals, who have a concentrated vote and benefit from single-member electorates to win a disproportionate number of seats.

Nationals who have been suggesting this change have been full of talk about “representation” and “diversity” but such a change would strike a significant blow to diversity in most ways. Proportional voting systems tend to elect more women, more members of ethnic minorities, and of course representatives of a broader range of parties. Indigenous Australians are significantly more well-represented in the Senate, and we are much closer to gender parity in the Senate.

Of course rural voters already have the option to vote for rural candidates if they wish, and they often do. A change to the provinces would reduce their options, and mean that their vote would be less likely to matter, potentially living in a safe Liberal or Nationals seat. The Nationals choose to reduce the choice for rural voters by running a joint ticket with the Liberal Party, but the choice is still there.

It’s worth noting that the Senate provinces, particularly in the big east coast states, would be massive and populous. When I made an attempt at splitting New South Wales into six provinces, I ended up with three provinces covering Sydney, plus a fourth stretching from the Central Coast halfway up the north coast, with a fifth province having to stretch from Campbelltown and Sutherland past the ACT to the Victorian border. The sixth, the province likely to elect Nationals senators, would likely stretch from Tweed to Albury. I don’t know how a senator could be any more capable of representing regional voters in that province then they are now in being one of twelve representing the whole state.

I decided to have a go at estimating the impact on past elections. My model is very simple. I split up House of Representatives electorates dating back to the 2004 federal election into six provinces per state. Except in the case of New South Wales from 2010 to 2013 and Queensland since 2010, the number of seats in each state has never divided evenly into six. Where seats needed to be split between provinces I simply distributed the votes of each seat evenly. Like I said, it’s a simple model. But it gives you a sense of how real House of Representatives votes would translate into these massive electorates.

I also assumed that the two senators each for the Northern Territory and the ACT would effectively be elected by the two electorates these territories were each covered by (at least until the last election in the ACT). So that means I assumed Labor would win both ACT senate seats, and that Labor would win the second NT senate seat in 2004, 2007, 2016 and 2019.

I also assumed that no minor parties or independents would win, and thus based the results solely on the two-party-preferred vote.

Election ALP seats LNP seats ALP total LNP total
2004 15 25
2007 26 14 38 38
2010 21 19 43 33
2013 16 24 34 42
2016 24 16 37 39
2019 19 21 39 37

The result looks quite a lot like the House of Representatives, but with some important differences, mainly down to the whims of arbitrary single-member electorates and the weighting of votes that favours the three smaller states. The overlap of Senate terms also means that election results had impacts over longer periods.

The Coalition did very well in 2004, and would have likely won a large majority in the 2004-2007 term. Labor took back ten Coalition seats in 2007, producing a perfect tie in the Senate. That would have been interesting.

The 2010 election results were much closer, but combined with the 2007 Labor landslide produced a large Labor majority in the Senate, which was replaced by a large Coalition majority following the 2013 election.

The Coalition’s majority was cut to the smallest possible size after the 2016 election (ignoring how a double dissolution would change things – see below), but the most interesting result was after the recent election. The LNP would have won a majority of seats in 2019, but combined with Labor’s 8-seat majority in the 2016 results, Labor would have gained a slim majority in the Senate, facing off against a majority for the Coalition in the House.

This system will often produce majorities for the governing parties, which many people would see as a negative. But it can also produce solid majorities for the opposition, which would be difficult to resolve.

As for a double dissolution, it would be a complete mess. Let’s assume that each province would elect two representatives under the voting system used at the moment to elect senators in the territories. Almost every province would produce a result of one each for the major parties, and there would be very few regions where a seat would even be in play.

Two-seat electorates under proportional representation are dreadful. Unless they are very slanted, both major parties would win one seat each. You’d need a major party to drop below one third of the vote for there to be potential for someone else to win. It’s called “stasis” and can be just as bad, or worse, than the safe seats that exist under the single-member voting system.

Across 36 provinces in six elections (216 individual elections), the two-party-preferred vote for one of the major parties exceeded two-thirds of the total vote in just three cases: Labor cracked 70% in the inner-city Melbourne province in 2007 and 2010, and the Coalition exceeded 67% in the southern rural province in South Australia in 2004. Even in the large North Sydney province (which needs to include parts of Parramatta or Blacktown to meet the population quota) the Liberal Party polled over 63% just once over these six elections.

So the most likely outcome at a double dissolution would be a tie, with a handful of very lopsided provinces creating the potential for one side to win two seats and thus win a majority. Hardly a sensible way to decide an election.

The proportional representation system we have in the Senate actually works pretty well, since the elimination of group voting tickets. There is meaningful representation of a variety of minor parties, but the quota is high enough that you don’t have a massive array of microparties. Some would argue for abolishing above-the-line voting to increase the importance of individual candidates, but the Senate does a pretty good job of representing diverse interests.

The Nationals can whine about the Senate being a “chamber of objection”, but that reflects the fact that no major party has won a majority in a federal election for many decades, so the proportional system does not give the government (elected with the support of a minority of voters) complete power. The one thing holding back the representativeness of the Senate is the malapportionment between states which was a necessary part of the deal under federation. So far the proportionality is pretty good despite this malapportionment, but it would be a lot worse if the Senate was elected through single-member electorates.

The proportional system we have is a feature, not a bug. It was first proposed under the first electoral bill in 1902, after being used to elect Tasmania’s senators in 1901. It was subsequently legislated in 1949, and over more than half a century has produced a wide array of different Senates, but generally has worked pretty well at counterbalancing the House of Representatives while still allowing stable government. While there are minor tweaks I would make (such as my next post), it is not the part of our federal electoral system that is most in need of a fix.

One final side note: NSW Nationals senator Perin Davey sensibly dismisses the idea to change the Senate voting system but instead focuses his attention on the House of Representatives. She mourns the increasingly large size of rural electorates as they become a relatively smaller part of Australia’s total population, and suggests a cap on the size of electorates.

It used to be quite common to have different population quotas for urban and rural electorates, but has been mostly eliminated, most recently for the Western Australian Legislative Assembly about a decade ago. Severe malapportionment remains in place for the WA Legislative Council, and there is a small amount for very large electorates in Queensland and Western Australia.

While it is understandable to be concerned about the size of electorates, and I don’t see any problem with granting extra transport, staff and office resources to MPs representing those areas, we really shouldn’t be modifying population requirements. Ultimately any move to shrink the population requirements for rural seats reduces the value of the votes of other Australian voters, many of whom have their own challenges. Why not also allow for less populous electorates in Western Sydney areas with higher levels of poverty, where people may need more help from their MP in dealing with government services?

If you are concerned about the growing size of electorates there is only one solution: increase the size of Parliament. This doesn’t require any constitutional change. The Parliament can simply legislate to increase the number of senators per state to 14, which would add roughly 24 more seats to the House of Representatives, since the House quota is related to the size of the Senate. This would lock in the third ACT seat and second NT seat, and also add numerous extra electorates to every state.

The Parliament was last expanded in 1984, so it’s about time.

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Exhausted votes in the Senate drop in 2019 Sun, 08 Sep 2019 23:45:57 +0000 Opponents of Senate voting reform in 2016 focused a lot of attention on the danger of votes exhausting – which happens when a voter hasn’t marked a preference for any of the remaining candidates.

The rate of exhausted votes was relatively low in 2016, but that didn’t stop exaggerated claims about exhausted votes being a problem before the 2019 election.

The voting system does make it much easier to exhaust your ballot, as a side-effect of making it much easier for voters to mark their own preferences rather than relying on the discredited system of group voting tickets. Yet this problem was significantly reduced by a policy of encouraging voters to number at least six boxes above the line or twelve boxes below the line (which was what AEC staff were meant to tell voters, was printed on ballots, and was advocated for on most how-to-votes).

So what happened in 2019? Exhausted vote rates went down nationally, although the rate did increase in two states.

State 2016 2019 Change
NSW 7.28 5.58 -1.70
VIC 5.17 6.95 1.78
QLD 4.25 3.90 -0.35
WA 3.59 2.02 -1.57
SA 2.03 2.26 0.23
TAS 2.81 1.88 -0.93
ACT 0.04 0.10 0.06
NT 0.00 0.00 0.00
National 5.08 4.77 -0.31

The exhaustion rate depends on a number of factors: the number of candidates and groups (the more boxes on the ballot paper, the more you need to fill out to minimise the exhaustion risk), the number of seats to be elected, and the partisan balance at the conclusion of the count.

The ballot paper was much smaller in 2019, in part due to the half-Senate election. The rate of just-vote-1 ballots remained very low (although it went up slightly) with most people still marking 6 preferences on their Senate ballot.

There was a substantial increase in the exhaustion rate in Victoria and a small increase in South Australia. The rate dropped in the other four states, in particular in New South Wales and Western Australia.

While exhaust rates were consistently higher in bigger states, where a larger ballot meant that a standard six preferences would be less likely to ensure a vote that didn’t exhaust, it appears the trends may have something to do with who was standing at the final round (ie. candidates who were either elected without distributing their surplus, or were the last candidate to be excluded).

The Greens were still standing at the end of the count in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, while Labor’s Lisa Singh was still standing in Tasmania. But there was no Labor or Greens candidate in the count at the end in Victoria and South Australia.

One Nation were still standing in five states at the end of the count. In South Australia the last three candidates were Liberal, United Australia and One Nation. A left-wing voter wouldn’t have had many options. In Victoria, the last three were Liberal, One Nation and Derryn Hinch.

All of this analysis is based on the proportion of the total vote which has exhausted by the end of the count. Many of those exhausted votes would have already helped elect someone before exhausting, so even fewer voters would have had their vote exhausted without contributing to the election of a senator.

The overall conclusion is similar to in 2016: most votes helped elect someone, or ended up with the last candidate to be eliminated. As long as voters mostly mark multiple preferences, exhaustion rates will stay low. It will also help if ballot papers continue to shrink as we move further away from the group voting tickets era. The new Senate system is working reasonably well to ensure that most votes count.

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Below-the-line rates go up in 2019 Mon, 02 Sep 2019 04:48:56 +0000 This is the latest in my occasional series looking back at the final results of the 2019 federal election.

The 2019 federal election was the second election held under the new Senate voting system, which included changes to make it easier to vote below-the-line. The election saw the rate of below-the-line voting increase nationally, with particularly large increases in New South Wales and the ACT.

I previously discussed the reasons for the big surge in New South Wales in June. Namely the spike in support for Liberal candidate Jim Molan. I’ll return to the ACT in a future post.

This chart shows the rate by state, and below the fold I’ll include the same information in a table.

I’ve also included a map below the fold showing the below-the-line vote for every booth in the country.

State 2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019
ACT 20.9 17.2 24.1 19.9 15.2 22.4
NSW 2.4 1.8 2.2 2.1 5.4 6.8
NT 10.3 7.9 9.3 8.1 8.6 8.2
QLD 5.2 2.7 3.1 3.0 6.1 6.6
SA 5.9 6.8 5.9 6.5 8.5 7.3
TAS 18.8 15.8 20.2 10.3 28.1 27.1
VIC 2.3 2.0 3.0 2.7 5.3 5.6
WA 4.2 2.7 3.1 3.8 5.5 5.3
Australia 4.2 3.2 3.9 3.5 6.5 7.2

It’s interesting to look at which electorates had the biggest increase since 2016. It’s worth noting that I didn’t have the capacity to adjust the 2016 below-the-line rates for redistributions, but it’s not relevant for most of the top areas.

The two ACT electorates in 2016 both recorded just over 15% voting below the line. The three ACT seats recorded rates of 26.6% (Canberra), 19.9% (Fenner) and 20.8% (Bean), which makes Canberra the seat with the biggest increase, with Bean second and Fenner equal third with Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah.

The remaining seats in the top fifteen were the New South Wales seats of Mackellar, Cook, Berowra, Hume, Eden-Monaro, Bradfield, Hughes, Mitchell, Macquarie and North Sydney. With the exception of Eden-Monaro and Macquarie, they are all Liberal-held, and most are in three areas: northern Sydney, the Shire and south-eastern NSW. The Townsville-area electorate of Herbert was the only seat outside of the NSW or ACT to come in the top 18.

I haven’t been able to map out the change in below-the-line rates by booth, but the following map does show the overall rate in 2019. The top eight electorates are the eight seats in Tasmania and the ACT: the two jurisdictions were voters are required to choose between candidates in the state or territory assembly elections. The next-highest seats tend to be Liberal seats in northern Sydney (hello again, Jim Molan) or Greens-friendly inner-city electorates in Melbourne.

The map is colour-coded (darker blue means a higher below-the-line vote) with each dot sized according to the number of votes cast, but you can click on each booth to see the exact rate and the booth name.

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Voting system change boosts Labor and Greens in Brisbane City Fri, 30 Aug 2019 00:00:38 +0000 I posted back in March about the Queensland government’s proposed reforms to local government in that state. The reforms include a bunch of other changes to electoral finance and council procedures, but I focused on two proposed changes: introducing compulsory preferential voting for single-member elections, as well as introducing proportional representation with compulsory preferences for multi-member elections.

It appears that the latter point is not included in the legislation which was introduced earlier this year and was the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, with it being treated as “the subject of further consultation”. This solves the problem of voters being required to number an absurd number of boxes, but it means we’re stuck without any proportional representation in Queensland council elections for now.

The government is proceeding with the other key piece, which would switch from optional preferential voting (OPV) to compulsory preferential voting (CPV) for elections of mayors and for single-member wards (the map of which councils would be covered by this change is included in this post). This echoes the change made to the state electoral system prior to the 2017 state election.

This system change will most likely have the biggest impact in the City of Brisbane, Australia’s biggest and most important local council, where optional preferential voting has seen a lot of Labor and Greens votes exhaust rather than helping the other party, and where the LNP’s large council majority could be under threat.

By my estimate, I think a switch from OPV to CPV would flip three marginal LNP wards to Labor, while bringing about 2.3% closer to control of the council.

To calculate the change in preferences, I looked at how preferences flowed in the nine Brisbane-area electorates at the 2019 federal election. The AEC publishes preference flow data split up based on the voter’s first preference, whereas state election results do not separate preferences by first preference. About 83% of Greens preferences flowed to Labor ahead of the LNP in these seats.

Most preferences flowing in Brisbane City in 2016 were from the Greens. Only four candidates outside of Labor, LNP or the Greens ran for a council seat in Brisbane in 2016 (in four different wards). The redistribution spread those voters’ votes over nine out of 26 wards, but in most wards preferences would just flow from the Greens.

I assumed a preference flow of 80% to Labor for Greens voters, and 50% to Labor for the small number of independent or other minor party voters. There were four wards where the Greens outpolled Labor, and in these wards I assumed an equivalent preference flow of 80% from Labor to the Greens.

After applying these preference flows, this is how the margins for each ward changed:

Ward Party OPV old boundaries OPV new boundaries CPV new boundaries
Bracken Ridge LNP 60.6% 59.6% 57.4%
Calamvale LNP 64.7% 64.4% 61.3%
Central LNP 58.2% 58.1% 55.4%
Chandler LNP 74.6% 72.3% 69.7%
Coorparoo LNP 53.0% 52.4% 49.98%
Deagon ALP 53.7% 52.9% 54.3%
Doboy* LNP 54.3% 50.0% 48.8%
Enoggera LNP 54.8% 55.6% 53.4%
Forest Lake ALP 55.3% 55.4% 57.3%
Hamilton LNP 67.6% 69.7% 66.2%
Holland Park LNP 54.8% 54.0% 52.0%
Jamboree LNP 69.1% 67.8% 65.1%
Macgregor LNP 63.7% 64.8% 61.3%
Marchant LNP 58.3% 57.5% 55.2%
McDowall LNP 65.2% 65.9% 63.6%
Moorooka ALP 63.7% 63.7% 63.8%
Morningside ALP 56.6% 55.0% 55.9%
Northgate* LNP 51.7% 51.7% 49.5%
Paddington LNP vs GRN 55.8% 55.6% 53.3%
Pullenvale LNP vs GRN 68.1% 68.0% 64.0%
Runcorn LNP 58.0% 58.9% 56.5%
Tennyson IND vs ALP 76.3% 73.3% 73.1%
The Gabba GRN vs LNP 55.0% 56.8% 58.2%
The Gap LNP 55.7% 54.5% 52.6%
Walter Taylor LNP vs GRN 66.5% 65.7% 63.1%
Wynnum-Manly ALP 61.6% 60.5% 61.5%

The voting system change has a much bigger impact than the redistribution. Three wards flip to Labor: Coorparoo, Doboy and Northgate. Coorparoo comes out with a 2PP of 50.02% for Labor.

Labor also gets closer to winning a majority overall, or at least depriving the LNP of a majority. There are currently two members of the crossbench, and the Greens are close enough in Paddington to factor that into swing estimates. The following table shows the swings needed to achieve changes in who holds the majority on council.

Scenario OPV old boundaries OPV new boundaries CPV new boundaries
LNP lose majority 5.7% 5.6% 3.3%
ALP + GRN gain majority 8.0% 7.5% 5.2%
ALP gain majority 8.3% 8.9% 6.5%
Lord mayoralty flip 9.5% 9.5% 7.7%

The uniform swing required for the LNP to lose their majority, for Labor and the Greens to win a majority between them, or for Labor to win a majority in their own right, all reduce by 2.3-2.4% with a change to the voting system. The swing needed for Labor to win the lord mayoralty drops by 1.8%.

All of a sudden the swing needed for the LNP to lose complete control looks quite achievable, at 3.3%. This would require to lose six wards. Three of these are wards where Labor would likely be leading under CPV without any additional swing, plus Holland Park, the Gap and Paddington (where the Greens are the main challenger). Even a 5.2% swing to give Labor and the Greens a combined majority doesn’t seem out of the question.

We don’t have any polling for the Brisbane City race, so we can’t assess whether such a swing is possible. Labor will have been out of power in City Hall for sixteen years by the time of the election next March, so I could imagine a change in the voting system being the impetus for a more serious threat to LNP control, and potentially a change in Brisbane.

Finally, this map shows the wards of Brisbane, coloured according to who would win under CPV, with the wards flipping to Labor marked in pink.

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NSW to raise council election costs to make private providers “competitive” Wed, 28 Aug 2019 22:56:13 +0000 New South Wales council elections are due in September 2020, which means that local councils right now are having to decide who they will contract to run their election.

This may seem strange to people not familiar with NSW council elections. In most states, all council elections are run by the state electoral commission. Yet in New South Wales, local councils can choose to either use the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) or a private contractor.

In this post I will run through some of the history of this quirk of NSW electoral administration, why I think it’s such a bad idea, and what looks set to happen soon.

The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) is due to hand down a final report, as early as today, in an inquiry into what price should be set by the NSWEC for conducting local government elections.

The IPART is considering a pricing structure which would increase the average cost by 62% compared to the last round of elections in 2016 and 2017. The IPART has justified this proposal in part because of a concern that private election providers have not been able to compete with the NSWEC under the current pricing structure.

But do we really want private election providers to be “competitive” with the NSWEC? Why would that be a good thing?

The ability of councils to choose who would run their election was implemented by the O’Farrell government in 2011, and first applied to the 2012 council election. It was driven by concern from local councils about how much the NSWEC’s costs had gone up at the 2008 election.

14 out of 150 councils opted out of the NSWEC service at the 2012 election. Five out of 81 councils did the same in 2016, and one out of 46 did so in 2017. So the rate of councils privatising their elections dropped from 9.3% in 2012 to 4.7% in 2016/17.

I’ve been on the record opposed to private provision of elections for a long time. The level of service provided for ratepayers, voters, media and observers is far lower when a local council uses a private provider.

In the past, private providers have been inconsistent about how they apply election rules, much less transparent about important information about the election, and publish election results in a much less accessible format.

There were also concerns about the conflicts of interest when local councils decided to run their own elections, which led to amendments to legislation this year by David Shoebridge requiring a local council to employ an outside provider rather than using their own general manager as returning officer (which is a small thing, but a good thing).

There are deeper problems with the concept that we would be going to private companies to run elections. These companies have far less accountability for their actions than a public commission with a track record and oversight. Running efficient and competent elections isn’t easy, and treating each individual council election as a separate election is a recipe for inefficiency and incompetence.

In my experience in the 2012 council election, when a single company was hired to run a number of Hunter-region elections, returning officers from the same company gave completely contradictory advice about what would be required for a how-to-vote to be registered, with no ability to appeal to a higher authority to make a final judgement. In contrast, while local NSWEC returning officers may sometimes make strange decisions, there was always the ability to appeal to the state office to ensure consistency.

I also want to push back on the IPART’s argument that prices need to increase to ensure that private companies are “competitive”. The goal of local election administration should be running the elections well. If the NSWEC can do this better (which is most definitely true) and more cheaply, that should be reflected in the costs. Private companies don’t have a right to business running public elections which should be the domain of the Electoral Commission.

The IPART report would also have the effect of reducing the state government’s subsidy of local government elections, when they should instead be increasing their contribution. Local council budgets are already massively under strain with limits on rate rises and increasing costs. State government takes responsibility for improving council governance in many ways, through codes of conduct, councillor training and occasionally sacking poorly-performing councils. Surely a well-run electoral process is a core part of well-run local government?

Local councils have until October 1 to decide whether they will use the NSWEC, or will instead contract out to another election provider.

I have start putting together a list of each council and their decision, but so far I only know of nine councils out of 127. Seven have decided to use the NSWEC, while Lane Cove has decided to go elsewhere and Parramatta is undecided. You can see my list here.

If you happen to know how your local council has decided (or want to take the time to look through your council’s minutes) I would love to know the answer. While you’re at it, if your council has wards, can you find out if the ward boundaries are changing before the next election?

You might also want to consider emailing or calling your councillors asking them what they are planning to do, and urging them to be sensible and contract the Electoral Commission.

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NT redistribution – changes to a handful of seats in second draft Sun, 25 Aug 2019 23:30:54 +0000 I blogged about the draft boundaries for the Northern Territory redistribution before I took a break back in June. At the end of July, the NT Electoral Commission released a second draft (not a final map), which contained changes to the boundaries of five electorates. Because the changes between two seats were reasonably significant, this triggered another round of consultation, before a final map is released later this year.

I won’t go into depth about this map, because it’s mostly the same as the May map. There were changes in two areas.

There was a substantial exchange of population on the border of Katherine and Arnhem. The seat of Nelson also retracted slightly from the Darwin area, with this area moved into Karama and Fong Lim.

This map below shows the new draft in green, with the old boundaries in red and the first draft in blue. It’s zoomed in on Katherine by default.

This new map is now available for download as a KMZ file from the maps page.

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Brisbane City – draft redistribution margins Thu, 22 Aug 2019 00:00:13 +0000 The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) last Friday released the draft boundaries for the Brisbane City Council election, due in March 2020. I’ve now put together a map of the electoral boundaries, and I’ve also calculated margins in all 26 wards, as well as primary votes for the three main parties.

The changes have helped Labor in a couple of marginal LNP wards, but overall has not had a big impact on Labor’s prospects of gaining control of the council in 2020.

The Brisbane Times story last Friday reported that the redistribution would make the election much more competitive for Labor, but I don’t really see much evidence for this claim in the data.

The Central ward did shrink in size, but it had practically no impact on the LNP’s margin, reducing it from 8.2% to 8.1%.

The LNP’s margin in Doboy has been reduced from 4.3% to just 0.04%, making it very vulnerable to Labor in 2020. Apart from this one ward, the changes in most other marginal wards have been small.

Labor currently holds five out of 26 wards, alongside one Green and one independent. The LNP would need to lose six wards to lose their majority, or eight wards to give Labor and the Greens a majority.

On a uniform swing basis, a swing of 5.6% away from the LNP would see six wards flip, while 7.5% would shift eight wards. Prior to the redistribution, these figures were 5.7% and 8%.

It is, however, true that the shift from optional preferential voting to compulsory preferential voting, which is currently being considered by the Queensland government, would significantly boost the chances of Labor and the Greens in marginal LNP seats.

The Greens did strengthen their hold on their inner-city ward of The Gabba, increasing their margin against the LNP by 1.8%. The Greens only won in 2016 because they managed to overtake Labor. The redistribution has also helped the Greens in their efforts to fend off Labor, increasing the primary vote margin between the two progressive parties from 1.7% to 2.5%.

The Greens are also closer to overtaking Labor in Central ward, just 3.5% behind, compared to a gap of 4.2% in 2016.

Ward Party Old margin New margin Change
Bracken Ridge LNP 10.6% 9.6% -1.0%
Calamvale LNP 14.7% 14.4% -0.3%
Central LNP 8.2% 8.1% -0.1%
Chandler LNP 24.6% 22.3% -2.3%
Coorparoo LNP 3.0% 2.4% -0.6%
Deagon ALP 3.7% 2.9% -0.8%
Doboy LNP 4.3% 0.0% -4.2%
Enoggera LNP 4.8% 5.6% 0.9%
Forest Lake ALP 5.3% 5.4% 0.1%
Hamilton LNP 17.6% 19.7% 2.1%
Holland Park LNP 4.8% 4.0% -0.8%
Jamboree LNP 19.1% 17.8% -1.3%
Macgregor LNP 13.7% 14.8% 1.1%
Marchant LNP 8.3% 7.5% -0.7%
McDowall LNP 15.2% 15.9% 0.7%
Moorooka ALP 13.7% 13.7% 0.0%
Morningside ALP 6.6% 5.0% -1.5%
Northgate LNP 1.7% 1.7% 0.0%
Paddington LNP vs GRN 5.8% 5.6% -0.2%
Pullenvale LNP vs GRN 18.1% 18.0% -0.1%
Runcorn LNP 8.0% 8.9% 1.0%
Tennyson IND vs ALP 26.3% 23.3% -3.0%
The Gabba GRN vs LNP 5.0% 6.8% 1.8%
The Gap LNP 5.7% 4.5% -1.2%
Walter Taylor LNP vs GRN 16.5% 15.7% -0.8%
Wynnum-Manly ALP 11.6% 10.5% -1.0%

I’ve also included the below map. By default it shows the outline of the existing boundaries (red) and the proposed boundaries (green) but can be toggled to show a map of the new wards coloured by the incumbent party. Click on those coloured wards to see the primary vote and two-candidate-preferred margin for each ward.

I will be returning to Brisbane City Council regularly over the next seven months, including with a full Brisbane City ward map. If this is something you’re looking forward to please consider signing up as a Patreon donor to support this important but lower-profile work.

You can download the draft boundaries as a Google Earth layer from my maps page. I will be making a complete set of wards for all Queensland councils later this year.

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ACT redistribution finalised Mon, 19 Aug 2019 00:00:19 +0000 Along with the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Brisbane City Council, the ACT has also been redrawing its electoral boundaries for the local Legislative Assembly, with the boundaries finalised in July.

In this post I’ll share a map showing the changes to the electoral boundaries, along with my estimates of the vote percentages for the bigger parties in each electorate before and after the redistribution.

I was close to publishing the draft electoral boundaries and finalising my vote estimates back in early June right before I went on parental leave, but while I was away from the site Elections ACT announced that the final map would not feature any changes compared to the draft map, so that work can apply to the final version.

All five electorates were modified, with two seats gaining territory, two losing territory, and the seat of Murrumbidgee gaining and losing territory.

The Belconnen-area electorate of Ginninderra took in some territory from the Gungahlin-area electorate of Yerrabi, but these two seats did not exchange any territory with the remainder of the electorates.

The other three electorates all effectively shifted slightly north. The Tuggeranong-area electorate of Brindabella expanded north to take in half of the suburb of Kambah from Murrumbidgee. Murrumbidgee then shifted north to take in Yarralumla and Deakin from the central electorate of Kurrajong. This brings Murrumbidgee right up to Capital Hill and Lake Burley Griffin.

My redistribution vote estimates are my first test of a new formula I’ve used for distributing special votes in a way which reflects the different voting trends in different parts of an electorate. I might go into more detail about how this works down the track.

Labor received a boost in three out of five electorates, doing particularly well by picking up almost 1.4% in Kurrajong.

The Greens boosted their support in both of their current electorates but experienced no change in Ginninderra, their best prospect for winning another seat.

The Liberals did particularly well in Murrumbidgee, while they were knocked back badly in Kurrajong.

Pre-redistribution Post-redistribution
Electorate Labor Liberal Greens Labor Liberal Greens
Brindabella 34.06 41.50 5.39 34.59 41.04 5.61
Ginninderra 41.24 32.22 9.77 41.00 32.74 9.77
Kurrajong 38.48 30.99 18.76 39.85 28.82 19.76
Murrumbidgee 34.49 42.80 10.64 32.99 44.53 10.73
Yerrabi 43.92 35.83 7.09 44.55 35.64 6.76

You can download the Google Earth map file for the 2020 boundaries from my maps page, along with every ACT Legislative Assembly map dating back to the first electorates in 1995.

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WA redistribution – draft boundaries map Thu, 15 Aug 2019 23:30:56 +0000 The draft boundaries for the Western Australian state redistribution were released three weeks ago, but it has taken me some time to put together the map of the new boundaries, which are available for download now.

The commissioners implausibly managed to avoid moving an electorate from the country to the city despite a growing gap in enrolments.

Ten out of 59 seats were left with no changes. Most seats underwent small changes, with the most dramatic changes taking place in the north-east of Perth. The seats of Girrawheen and Mirrabooka were completely redrawn, with Girrawheen shifting south to take in much of Mirrabooka, and a new seat of Kingsway drawn in the northern half of Girrawheen. Kingsway is an unfortunate name for the new seat, being created right next door to the similarly-named Kingsley.

I haven’t yet done my own calculations about the new margins, but we can use William Bowe’s estimated margins, published at Poll Bludger.

William has one seat changing hands, with the Liberal seat of Hillarys, currently held by a 4.1% margin, turned into an effective dead heat with Labor just out in front. This seat was unusually close in 2017 thanks to the sitting Liberal MP running as an independent, and should be easily retained by the Liberal Party in 2021.

There are a number of marginal Labor seats where their position has been improved: from 5.8% to 8% in Balcatta, from 0.7% to 1.2% in Kingsley, from 2.5% to 4.9% in Burns Beach, from 1% to 2% in Jandakot, from 2.9% to 3.6% in Bicton, from 7.3% to 9.2% in Wanneroo, and from 1.4% to 2.3% in Murray Wellington. Labor’s margin in Joondalup has dropped from 0.6% to 0.1%.

You can toggle this map below to show the 2017 boundaries (red), the 2021 draft boundaries (green) or both.

You can download the Google Earth layers for both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council from the maps page, along with WA electoral boundaries dating back to 2008.

The final electoral boundaries are due to be published by the end of November this year.

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