The Tally Room http://www.tallyroom.com.au Fri, 22 Nov 2019 04:19:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.12 6127899 Podcast #28: Polling after the federal election http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39024 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39024#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2019 21:30:19 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39024 This week I’m joined by Kevin Bonham to discuss the failure of Australian polls at the 2019 federal election and the limited improvements in transparency by Australian pollsters since that election.

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.

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You can’t just legislate ‘fairness’ in our voting system http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39021 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39021#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2019 23:40:54 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39021 The South Australian Liberal government failed on Tuesday in its attempt to restore the “fairness clause” which used to apply to SA state redistributions. The clause was an attempt to ensure the “correct” winner in state elections by requiring the redistribution commissioners to draw boundaries that would give a majority of seats to a party that won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote.

The clause was introduced by a state Labor government via a statewide referendum in 1991, and was then abolished by the outgoing state Labor government in 2017, shortly before they lost the 2018 state election.

The clause is based on a false premise: that you can require “fairness” between major parties in a system of arbitrary winner-take-all contests which is by its very nature unfair. If you want a fair voting system, you need to look to proportional representation systems.

Since 2002 there have been three elections where Labor has won power despite losing the statewide two-party-preferred vote.

Mike Rann’s Labor government won power in 2002 with 23 out of 47 seats, and just over 49% of the two-party-preferred vote. Labor then won the 2006 election comfortably, but then won a solid majority in 2010 despite losing the two-party-preferred vote. In 2014, Labor fell one seat short of a majority and managed to stay in government, despite polling only 47% of the two-party-preferred vote.

The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has tried valiantly to enforce the fairness clause (with the exception of the redistribution before the 2014 election, where the EDBC effectively gave up on trying to meet the fairness criteria), which has led to quite dramatic boundary redrawings, but the clause is based on a false premise.

Not every seat will swing in the same way at an election. So you can’t predict how a statewide vote total would play out based on the previous election’s pendulum. Not only that, but differential swings are often systemically consistent: one party will do better in marginal seats potentially due to a swathe of MPs with new personal votes or a better campaign mechanism. The lack of uniformity does not wash out.

All electoral analysts understand this when we look at a classic pendulum. It’s a useful tool but it is a blunt instrument. It certainly is not precise enough to be legislatively mandated to dictate electoral boundaries.

The fairness clause led to much larger proportions of the state’s voters moving between electorates at every redistribution, breaking the links between MPs and their constituents. It often punished successful MPs who had built up local popularity with a dismembered electorate. It also required the commission to prioritise political balance over numerical balance, leading to smaller numbers of voters in some electorates than others.

It’s impossible to produce a “fair” result under a single-member district system, because it is fundamentally not a fair system. It consistently under-represents minor parties, and the seat balance between major parties is only tangentially connected to their relative support. One party can consistently overperform their vote if their voters are distributed in a more efficient pattern around the state. If one party has a handul of electorates with massive majorities while the other has smaller majorities spread over more seats, the latter party will usually win close elections.

We see this in the case of the US House of Representatives. While there is a shameful gerrymander which has boosted the Republicans, they have also benefited from the sorting of voters which has given Democrats some colossal majorities in urban centres. In the case of South Australia, the Labor vote is simply more evenly distributed.

The fairness clause also relies on the assumption that the voting system is dominated by two parties. Imagine that Nick Xenophon’s SA Best had won a sizeable number of seats, which briefly appeared possible. How would you ensure a “fair” single-party winner when three parties are winning significant numbers of seats? You simply couldn’t do it.

You can’t have a fair result in the single-member-district system. This system by its nature under-represents minor parties and tends to produce single-party majorities. If you want a fair result, you should instead look to a proportional representation system. That would do a better job of representing the Liberal and Labor parties fairly, but it would also bring in other players. The current Liberal government wants to have its cake and eat it too: they want the system to require relative fairness in relation to Labor while locking out other players. It doesn’t work like that.

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New data – NSW 2019 election results http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39016 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39016#respond Thu, 24 Oct 2019 00:00:11 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39016 I’ve added a new dataset to my data repository. This dataset covers the entire results of the 2019 New South Wales state election.

The dataset includes voting figures at the polling place and electorate level for both houses, including two-candidate-preferred and two-party-preferred data for the Legislative Assembly.

It also includes full lists of the candidates in both houses and a list of polling places including the address and geolocation of each booth. These lists include unique IDs to be matched to the voting data.

There’s a number of elements in this dataset which are not easily accessible elsewhere.

The NSWEC publishes the two-candidate-preferred booth results for every single combination of candidates in every seat. This is great but it means if you want to access booth results for anything larger than one seat you’ve got to click through to every seat, select the right match-up and stitch the data together. I’ve done that for you for two-party-preferred (Labor vs Coalition in every seat) and the two-candidate-preferred match-up between the two candidates who came in the top two.

The NSWEC also published a spreadsheet with the total primary votes for each group for each polling place, but did not break down the votes within each group for each candidate. I’ve done that by pulling this information out of the massive raw preference file. In addition I’ve done the work of matching all these voting figures to unique IDs matched to geolocation information, which will save you a lot of time if you’re doing mapping.

This dataset is free for all, but I’ve also got a larger repository which now includes the results of the 2011 and 2015, containing pretty much the same data as 2019, which can be accessed by those who sign up to support this website via Patreon.

The public data repository includes the results of the most recent election in every state and both territories, as well as the last round of council elections in New South Wales and the City of Brisbane and by-elections in New South Wales and Victoria in the last term.

The private data repository stretches back to cover every election since 2011, plus the 2010 Tasmanian election, a number of earlier Queensland and City of Brisbane elections and the 2011-12 New South Wales council election.

I hope you’ll find this stuff useful and will consider signing up to support this website if you can do.

I thought I would try and put together a map which wouldn’t have been easy to make without this dataset. This map shows the difference between the upper house and lower house vote for Labor, the Coalition and the Greens (on three separate maps). Booths where the lower house vote was higher are coloured more brightly. The Coalition and Labor lower house votes tended to be higher in their heartland areas: the north shore for the Coalition and areas south of the harbour for Labor. The Greens did better in the upper than the lower house in their strong north shore booths, but the lower house vote far outstripped the upper house vote across Balmain and Newtown (which can be seen very clearly on the map).

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Brisbane City – final boundaries http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39013 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39013#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2019 00:00:05 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39013 The final ward boundaries for Brisbane City Council were released last Friday. These boundaries will apply for next March’s council election.

The changes from the draft boundaries were relatively mild, although it was enough to push Doboy from being very marginal for the LNP to becoming a notional Labor ward.

10% of the city had been transferred into a new ward on the draft boundaries: this drops to 8% on the final boundaries, with a number of 2016 boundary lines restored.

Amongst the marginal wards, the LNP did best in Coorparoo, where their margin is now 3.8% (compared to 3% in 2016, and 2.4% on the draft boundaries). The draft boundaries had pushed this ward to the south-west as far as Ipswich Road, but this area has now been returned to Moorooka. Instead Coorparoo has maintained Camp Hill in its north-eastern corner.

The LNP margin in Doboy was reduced from 4.3% to 0.04% on the draft boundaries. Further changes have flipped the ward to a notional Labor margin of 0.3%. This increases the number of notional Labor wards from five to six.

It should, however, be noted that Labor was on track to flip at least two more wards if the voting system was changed to compulsory preferential voting. This change has now been dropped by the Palaszczuk government.

This table shows how these boundaries change the margins in the Brisbane City Council wards.

Ward Party Old margin New margin Change
Bracken Ridge LNP 10.6% 10.6% 0.0%
Calamvale LNP 14.7% 14.2% -0.6%
Central LNP 8.2% 8.1% -0.1%
Chandler LNP 24.6% 22.3% -2.3%
Coorparoo LNP 3.0% 3.8% 0.9%
Deagon ALP 3.7% 2.9% -0.9%
Doboy ALP -4.3% 0.3% 4.6%
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% 4.1% -0.7%
Jamboree LNP 19.1% 17.4% -1.7%
Macgregor LNP 13.7% 14.9% 1.2%
Marchant LNP 8.3% 7.6% -0.7%
McDowall LNP 15.2% 15.2% 0.0%
Moorooka ALP 13.7% 14.8% 1.1%
Morningside ALP 6.6% 5.7% -0.9%
Northgate LNP 1.7% 1.7% 0.0%
Paddington LNP vs GRN 5.8% 5.7% -0.1%
Pullenvale LNP vs GRN 18.1% 18.0% -0.1%
Runcorn LNP 8.0% 8.7% 0.7%
Tennyson IND vs ALP 26.3% 25.0% -1.2%
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% 15.9% -0.6%
Wynnum-Manly ALP 11.6% 11.6% 0.0%

This map shows the margins of the new wards, but you can also toggle the layers to overlay the 2016 and 2020 boundaries.

Finally, you can download the Queensland ward boundaries file here. It now includes the final boundaries from 13 of the 17 councils undergoing redistributions, with the latest inclusion coming from Ipswich, where the existing ten wards have been replaced by four two-member wards.

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QLD council elections 2020 – ward redistributions http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39007 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39007#respond Thu, 17 Oct 2019 00:00:41 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39007 I’ve posted a few times recently about the Brisbane City Council ward redistribution, but it’s not the only Queensland council redrawing its electoral boundaries.

A total of 17 councils are undergoing redistributions during this council term in the lead-up to next March’s election.

So far 11 of these 17 councils have finalised their boundaries. The draft boundaries have been published for the other six (including Brisbane) and I would expect them all to be finalised fairly soon.

I’ve partly been absent from the blog recently because I’ve been pulling together Google Earth maps of these 11 councils. These are now finished, and can be downloaded from the maps page. The 2020 file includes the draft Brisbane boundaries and the final boundaries for the other eleven.

Redistributions have been held in every large urban council in the south-east (Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland and Sunshine Coast), as well as a handful of others, including Gympie, Rockhampton and Townsville. The other councils are Cassowary Coast, Fraser Coast, Isaac, Scenic Rim, South Burnett, Tablelands and Whitsunday.

We are still waiting for the final boundaries in Brisbane, Ipswich, Rockhampton, Townsville and Whitsunday.

I won’t go into any detail about what these changes mean but feel free to download the 2016 and 2020 maps and look at the changes if you know the area, and comment below about what you think they might mean.

I will be starting my 2020 ward map for New South Wales later this year, so if you know if your council is redistributing its wards let me know. I’ve started a spreadsheet listing the decisions here.

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Queensland government backflips on compulsory preferences for councils http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39010 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/39010#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2019 23:00:06 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=39010 The Queensland government has dropped the key piece of its council reform package, by abandoning plans to change the council voting system, a change that would have likely boosted Labor’s chances of taking control of the City of Brisbane.

The original package included a variety of other minor reforms, but included two changes to the voting system: introducing proportional representation for multi-member electorates, and requiring full preferencing for all council elections.

Compulsory preferential voting was a particular problem for proportional representation elections, and the government eventually dropped the plan for any PR from their legislation so that further “consultation” could take place.

The government was still pursuing plans for compulsory preferential voting for single-member wards, which would have likely produced a significant benefit for Labor in Brisbane City Council, where the only significant minor party is the Greens. I estimated that the change in voting system would reduce the LNP’s margin for the council by about 2%.

The Queensland government announced yesterday that they would drop their plans to shift to compulsory preferential voting after strong opposition from the Local Government Association.

While people will often judge voting system reforms based on whether it will help their side of politics, I’m very comfortable in saying that it’s a good thing that voters in Queensland election won’t be required to number more preferences than they want under threat of their vote being completely invalidated. So this is a good result.

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Victoria 2018 – Voter numbers keep rising thanks to enrolment boost http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38995 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38995#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2019 00:00:07 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=38995 The Victorian Electoral Commission has published more information about turnout at the 2018 state election as part of their submission to the inquiry into that election, with some interesting bits I wanted to pull out. In particular, there’s evidence that turnout dropped due to an increase in enrolment, but the proportion of the eligible population who have cast a vote is higher than at recent elections.

The turnout as a proportion of the enrolled population was the lowest in many decades, at 90.2%. With the exception of two elections in the 1940s, this was the lowest turnout since the introduction of compulsory voting in the 1920s.

Federal evidence suggests increased enrolment at recent elections has lowered turnout while still increasing the proportion of the eligible population who vote. Similarly it looks like the proportion of the voting eligible population who have cast a vote has increased from 84.5% in 2010 to 87.1% in 2018.

This is primarily explained by increased enrolment levels. 90.9% of the eligible population was enrolled in 2010, and this had increased to 96.6% in 2018.

The VEC points to two specific processes that had an effect on enrolment rates.

Turnout was lower for those who were enrolled in the “direct enrolment” process, where the VEC is able to enrol voters without a proactive enrolment application form using other government data. Of the 324,501 electors who were enrolled through this process since 2017, the turnout rate was only 72.2%. The direct enrolment program has expanded significantly since 2014, which seems to have had an effect of increasing enrolment and total voter numbers but depressing the turnout figure.

Turnout was also lower amongst those who enrolled as part of the 2017 marriage law postal survey. 35,730 electors enrolled in the lead-up to the survey, and the turnout amongst that group was only 67.9%. It’s worth noting that this is a relatively small group compared to overall youth enrolment.

Interestingly, there was a big gap in turnout between younger and older voters who enrolled during the marriage survey. Those aged under 20 turned out at a rate of 91%. These would’ve mostly been voters who would normally get around to enrolling for a major election and did so before the survey since it was their first opportunity to cast a vote. Those electors who enrolled in the lead-up to the survey who were aged in their 20s had a much lower turnout – just 55.8% voted. Those people who had enrolled for the marriage survey after resisting enrolment for earlier elections appeared much less likely to want to vote in a state election.

    Overall the trend is consistent with what we saw in the federal election: higher enrolment levels make turnout look lower, but the proportion of the eligible population who are voting is going up.
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The pre-poll surge: what, exactly, is the problem? http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38997 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38997#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2019 00:44:31 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=38997 A parliamentary inquiry into the 2019 federal election has recently finished receiving submissions, and amongst other issues a number of commentators have bemoaned the growing numbers of voters casting their votes early.

Federal minister Paul Fletcher is worrying about how the volume of pre-poll voting may “erode the integrity” of our electoral system, while law professor George Williams worries about a “distorted election process”.

But I don’t see why it’s a problem if some voters decide to vote up to three weeks early, particularly considering that most of those voters cast their ballot in the final week.

Firstly, it’s worth clarifying the facts. Yes, pre-poll is open for about three weeks in federal elections. But most of the votes are cast much closer to election day.

Pre-poll voting has been increasing gradually since at least 2007, and is the primary cause of a big decline in the proportion cast as ordinary election-day votes (down to 54.4% of formal votes in 2019).

4.8 million votes were cast via pre-poll in 2019. Of these, about 2.6 million (54%) were cast in the final week, with less than 14% cast in the first week of voting. While there are more and more people voting early, most votes are still cast very close to election day.

When you factor in the different vote types and when pre-poll votes were cast, about 70-80% of votes were cast on the Wednesday before election day or later, with 75-85% cast in the final week, and 86-96% cast in the final two weeks.

This trend has largely been driven by the convenience of being able to vote on a wider range of days. It has likely contributed to a higher number of voters casting a ballot as a proportion of the eligible population, and it’s definitely popular with voters. I start from the position that this is likely a good thing, absent evidence that it’s a problem. So is there any evidence?

Williams explicitly refers to the “distortion” caused by voters casting their votes before key election moments:

The result is a distorted election process in which many people elect their representatives based on incomplete information. Much of the electorate cast their ballot before Labor released its election costings and Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched his campaign. The lack of information can prove decisive, especially in close contests where votes may have shifted if people were exposed to the full suite of policies and campaign gaffes, or where candidates were disendorsed.

Yet evidence suggests that large parts of the Australian population make up their mind well in advance.

The Australian Election Study has asked voters when they made up their mind since at least 1987, and at least 35% of respondents have said that they made up their mind before the start of the election campaign, and that rate was as high as 55% in 2007.

Numerous other polls have asked this question with different time frames, but it’s clear that it’s only a small minority of people wait until election day to make up their minds.

I don’t see why we can’t leave the decisions to voters as to when they vote. If they’ve long since made up their mind and know nothing will change their mind, why not let them vote early, even if it is simply for convenience?

Of course there is a risk that something may come to light after someone has voted, but that risk applies to all of us following election day. If an election-altering moment is postponed until the Monday after the election, none of us will be able to use it to influence our voting decision.

Fletcher bizarrely argues that pre-poll voting threatens the “integrity” of the system without explaining how. I would argue pre-poll voting does not pose any threat to integrity (unlike forms of voting used away from the polling booth, which may be necessary but are not ideal), but it does pose a threat to the integrity of the political parties’ media plans.

If there’s a problem with voters casting their ballot before parties release their costings, or hold their campaign launches, then parties should adjust to this new reality and move these events forward. It’s always been silly that campaign launches happen so late, and it’s always been a mark of disrespect for voters that parties hold back on major policy announcements for maximum impact. Parties have had years to adapt to this change. It hasn’t happened overnight.

(EDIT: A number of people have pointed out on Twitter that it also makes it harder for parties to staff pre-poll booths. A majority of volunteers are busy at work on weekdays so it can be harder to find people to cover multiple booths over multiple weeks. Still I don’t think that’s a good reason. Most voters still vote towards the end, so parties can cover most voters, if not all.)

There is no inherent good reason why voters should all have to vote together on election day. In our modern society there is tremendous information out there about the political parties and candidates. Campaigns don’t really start on the day the election is called, and even then there is plenty of time to educate voters before voting starts to ramp up. “Tradition” is not a good reason.

Fletcher and Williams do make one technically correct point. It is true that the parliament has the power to make the decision about how much we encourage or discourage pre-poll voting. We could decide to make it harder to access pre-poll by more strictly enforcing the requirements or limiting the availability. But the parliament should consider the evidence we have from this evolving experiment: we’ve now been changing the way we vote for over a decade and things are working pretty well.

Pre-poll is working pretty well right now, and unless there are better arguments I don’t see why the federal parliament should act to make it harder for people to vote in a way that is convenient for them.

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Victoria 2018: informal voting trends http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38991 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38991#respond Wed, 25 Sep 2019 23:30:47 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=38991 The Electoral Matters Committee (EMC) of the Victorian parliament is currently holding an inquiry into the conduct of the 2018 state election, and as part of that process the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has provided a long and detailed submission into the election, and over the next week I’ll be blogging about a few of the interesting elements of this submission.

The submission provides the results of the VEC’s survey of informal votes cast for the Legislative Assembly at the recent election, showing how the shape of the informal vote has changed.

The informal rate has been steadily increasing at Victorian state elections, as can be seen in this chart from the VEC submission:

The Legislative Assembly informal rate has increased at every election since 1996, from 2.6% to 5.8%. The Legislative Council informal rate peaked in 2006, which was the first election to use the proportional representation system, before dropping to a plateau in 2010 and 2014, but it has increased again in 2018. The report puts the blame for the increase in the upper house informal rate down to the increased number of candidates but it doesn’t look like the survey covers the upper house. I wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign to encourage voters to mark their own preferences may have led to some more informal votes.

The most interesting part of the report breaks down informal votes cast at the 2014 and 2018 elections into categories based on the markings on the ballot (p68).

Informal vote type 2014 % 2018 %
Blank 30.3 1.6 27.8 1.6
Other intentional 19.2 1.0 11.4 0.7
Number 1 only 23.0 1.2 24.9 1.5
Numbers – insufficient 9.8 0.5 7.3 0.4
Numbers – sequence error 10.5 0.6
Numbers – other 2.6 0.2
Ticks/crosses preference 8.1 0.4 9.9 0.6
Ticks/crosses other 3.9 0.2
Writing – other 2.1 0.1 1.8 0.1

This table shows the breakdown firstly as a proportion of the informal vote, and then as a proportion of the total vote.

The VEC divides informal votes into those that appear to be intentional and those who appear to be accidental. The intentional informal votes dropped from 49.5% to 39.3%. This is still a drop when you factor in the increase in the total informal vote: apparently intentional informal votes dropped from 2.6% to 2.3%.

The increases were across the board, but hard to pick precisely because there appear to be more categories in 2018 than in 2014.

The VEC also published data breaking down types of informal votes by electorate (p106). This map shows the rate of apparently intentional informal votes, while it can be toggled to show the rate of apparently accidental informal votes. You can click on each seat to see the stats in each state, both as a proportion of the total vote and as a proportion of the informal vote.

There are some areas which tend to rank more highly in both categories: in particular suburbs with larger non-English-speaking populations. But I find it interesting that electorates with large ballot papers mostly rank highly amongst “accidental” informal votes.

Melton and Morwell voters had to choose from twelve and eleven candidates respectively, while ten candidates nominated in Bentleigh and Mordialloc. Melton and Morwell ranked third and fifth in the state for the rate of apparently accidental informal votes. Melton also ranked first in the state for apparently intentional informal votes, but the other three seats ranked much lower on this measure.

We’ve known for a while that very large ballot papers increase the informal rate, so it’s interesting to see how much of that increase comes from voters simply giving up, or unsuccessfully trying to vote. It seems that in Melton and to a lesser extent Morwell some voters looked at the ballot paper and threw up their hands, but the high informal rate was more driven by voters trying and failing.

I’m sure there’s more interesting trends in the electorate-level data, so please post your thoughts in the comments.

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No names above the line hurt independents http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38987 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/38987#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2019 23:30:08 +0000 http://www.tallyroom.com.au/?p=38987 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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