Meanwhile, in Scotland…


Gordon Brown has had a bad year with by-elections in the UK. Four by-elections were held in two months in the summer of 2008. Labour lost the seat of Crewe and Nantwich to the Conservatives in May. Following the election of Conservative Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, his seat of Henley went to a by-election in June. Labour suffered an embarrassing result, coming fifth, behind the Greens and British National Party, polling 3.1%. Labour did not contest the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, triggered by the resignation of Conservative Shadow Home Secretary David Davis in protest over the Brown government’s counter-terrorism laws. Two weeks later, in late July, Labour suffered its worst blow, when Glasgow East, Labour’s third safest seat in Scotland, was lost to the Scottish National Party with a 26% swing. After four months relief, the voters of Glenrothes in Scotland go to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, following the death of Labour MP John McDougall from mesothelioma.

Brown was riding high in the polls straight after he succeeded Tony Blair in mid-2007 following the defeat of Labour in the Scottish parliamentary election. In October speculation grew that Brown would call a snap election, but following a negative poll Brown backed down. The last year has seen Brown miles behind David Cameron’s Conservative Party, while Labour has fallen further behind the Scottish National Party in Scottish polls for both Scottish and Westminster elections. May-July 2008 saw Labour lose two seats in Westminster as well as suffering many losses in council elections across England and Wales and the defeat of Labour in the London Mayoral election.

While it appeared that the SNP would be a favourite to win Glenrothes. It is much more marginal than Glasgow East, and lies close to the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, won by the Liberal Democrats off Labour in 2006. The local council is also run by a coalition of the SNP and Liberal Democrats, which has been rocked by statements made by council leader and SNP candidate Peter Grant regarding council policy. Gordon Brown’s performance in the polls has improved since the beginning of the financial crisis, with Brown’s internal critics in the party shelving plans to depose him as Prime Minister.

This will be the most significant by-election of Gordon Brown’s campaign so far. After a poor year, Brown has demonstrated that his economic abilities are still useful. Yet polls are yet to show Brown blunting Cameron’s advance. Alex Salmond is likewise dominant in Scottish politics. This is Brown’s best chance to strengthen his position, if he can manage to withhold the SNP tide. We’ll see what happens on November 6.

New Zealand update


New Zealand goes to the polls on November 8 to elect its national Parliament. New Zealand uses the Mixed Member Proportional system (which is best explained by Deborah at Larvatus Prodeo) which means that, in addition to 63 general electorates, and 7 Maori electorates, 50 list MPs are elected to “top up” parties who win less electorates than their share of the vote warrants. Parties must poll over 5% or win one electorate seat to be allocated list seats, and if a party wins more electorates than their share of the vote warrants, an “overhang” is created.

The 2005 election saw the opposition National Party recover from its 2002 collapse, winning 48 seats to the Labour Party’s 50. The Greens lost three seats, falling to 6, while New Zealand First lost 6 seats, falling to 7. NZF leader Winston Peters lost his electorate seat of Tauranga, but NZF managed to stay above the 5% threshold. The libertarian ACT Party (founded by former Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas) plummeted in the polls, and looked like losing all nine of its seats without an electorate seat, but a focused campaign by ACT leader Rodney Hide in the Auckland seat of Epsom saw him win the seat and bring one fellow list MP into Parliament with him. The Maori Party, founded with the resignation of Labour minister Tariana Turia, won four of the seven Maori seats of the Labour Party. United Future New Zealand fell from 8 seats to 5, while one of the two remaining Progressive MPs was defeated.

Labour formed a government with Progressive MP Jim Anderton, New Zealand First and United Future, with Winston Peters becoming Foreign Minister and UF leader Peter Dunne also taking a ministry. They also gained agreement from the Greens to abstain on matters of confidence and supply, guaranteeing the government a majority.

This campaign has seen an interesting development in New Zealand’s party system. Out of the six minor parties, four of them are committed to supporting one particular major party following the election. Jim Anderton, as the sole Progressive MP, has effectively become a bonus Labour MP, with his party having little chance of winning a second seat in the list seats. Indeed, Progressive’s party vote has collapsed so far that they may qualify for zero seats, meaning that Jim Anderton himself would fill an overhang. New Zealand First has been buffetted by crises and scandals, and National leader John Key has ruled out cooperating with the party. The Greens have announced that they will work with Labour after the election, after producing a policy checklist and then evaluating Labour and National against the criteria. On the other hand, ACT clearly are seen to favour National.

National has dominated polling for most of the year, regularly breaking 50%, raising the spectre of a National majority government. Yet Labour’s advantage lies with its better relationship with minor parties. Out of the six minor parties in Parliament, only ACT and the Maori Party have not played a part in supporting the Labour government in the last three years. Polls suggest that the Maori Party is on track to win 6 or even 7 of the Maori seats, even though their party vote will only warrant electing 3 or 4 Maori Party MPs, meaning that an overhang will be created, increasing the number of seats needed for a majority. The Green Party has also been polling strongly, suggesting an increase in Green MPs after the election. ACT have hovered around their 2005 levels, although they hold out high hopes of winning a third seat for the returning Roger Douglas. United Future appears to be on track to only win one seat. New Zealand First appears on track for defeat, with the party struggling to poll above 3%. Without the seat of Tauranga, which appears on track to stay with the Nationals, the party will lose all of its 7 seats.

So what are the implications for post-election talks? The polling average website Curiablog currently predicts National winning 60 seats to Labour’s 45, with Greens winning 9, Maori Party 6, ACT 2, Progressive and United Future 1 each and NZF being eliminated. In this situation, National could form a government with the support of ACT and United Future. But if National’s vote falls any further, they will have to rely on the Maori Party in the balance of power. The Maori Party represents a strongly left-wing constituency, which has previously tended towards Labour. Polls suggest their supporters want the Maori Party to go with the Labour Party. The Maori Party also has a strong relationship with the Greens, who have committed to support Labour. Yet despite the indications that the Maori Party would be a natural fit with Labour, the party appears to be straining to find an excuse to work with National, with co-leader Tariana Turia appearing to favour a National government while her fellow co-leader Pita Sharples favours Labour. Yet it hasn’t been easy. National remains committed to the abolition of the Maori seats in 2013, while the Maori Party wants the seats entrenched, which would require a referendum of Maori voters to abolish them. Racial gaffes by National politicians such as Shadow Immigration Minister Lockwood Smith have also harmed the chances of National forming a government with Labour the Maori Party.

The trends lean towards the Maori Party holding the balance of power. While they may wish to support a stronger National/ACT government, they may well be forced to choose a Labour/Green government instead.

ACT results update


It seems that the ACT Electoral Commission is updating results every evening around this time (although I’m running on Wednesday night’s results. Each day they enter a certain number of booths worth of ballots into the computer, then they distribute the preferences for those booths, as well as all electronic votes (the vast majority of pre-polls, plus some election-day votes cast in the town centres of Gungahlin, Belconnen, Civic, Woden and Tuggeranong).

As of Monday night Caroline le Couteur was leading by 49 votes over her fellow Green Elena Kirschbaum at the key point in the count, when Elena was eliminated. Caroline then was 49 votes behind Liberal Jeremy Hanson for the last position.

As of Wednesday night, Elena is now 11 votes ahead of Caroline, and 101 votes behind Jeremy Hanson. Jeremy is also only 57 votes behind Liberal Giulia Jones, suggesting that she could be at just as much risk as Hanson.

So what does it tell us? First of all, it’s incredibly close either way. It appears that the split between Elena and Caroline could make the difference. It’s possible that Caroline performs better against Jeremy Hanson than Elena, meaning that if Elena leads over her the Greens chances could be slightly less.

Apart from electronic votes, all of which have been counted, votes have been counted in booths whose names begin in “A”, “B” or “C”, so obviously a lot is yet to be counted. But I’d point out that Campbell, where I scrutineered, was a very strong booth for Jeremy Hanson personally and a weak booth for the Greens generally. So it is better for the Greens if they are losing by 101 votes at this point.

Update: Antony Green in comments at Poll Bludger seems to have tonight’s result. Elena Kirschbaum has won the last spot on the latest count off Giulia Jones by 58 votes. This is gonna take forever.

US08: It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but…


As an extra item for people to consider, Charlie Cook lays out how the metrics of the race show that Obama’s position is much stronger than what the polls say. The simple facts he lay out demonstrate Obama’s dominance and how John McCain will struggle to come close:

The metrics of this election argue strongly that this campaign is over, it’s only the memory of many an election that seemed over but wasn’t that is keeping us from closing the book mentally on this one. First, no candidate behind this far in the national polls, this late in the campaign has come back to win. Sure, we have seen come-from-behind victories, but they didn’t come back this far this late.

Well worth reading in full.

US08: Two weeks out


The United States will elect its 44th President in less than two weeks time, on Tuesday, November 4. You would have to say that Barack Obama is in a dominant position as we move into the final stretch. According to, Barack Obama holds 286 electoral votes, John McCain holds 157 and 95 EVs are considered toss-ups, although most “toss-up” states lean slightly towards Obama.

Senator Obama has been the clear frontrunner ever since he took the lead in the Democratic primary. Since the 2006 midterm elections delivered a victory to the Democrats, polls have leaned towards the Democrats for most of the campaign. Senator McCain briefly took the lead in the aftermath of the Republican National Convention, as Governor Sarah Palin dominated the media. Poor performances from Governor Palin, combined with the financial crisis, saw Obama open a gaping lead in the national polls and in the key states. This has begun to narrow in the last few days, although Obama remains well in front.

In particular, the electoral geography strongly favours Barack Obama. John Kerry and Al Gore each came only one state short of winning government, meaning that Barack Obama, assuming he can hold onto all the Kerry states, only needs to win one medium-sized Bush state to win the election. According to Pollster, every single seat won by John Kerry is in the Obama camp, as well as New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia. In addition, every single toss-up state voted for Bush in 2004. This means that the battle is being fought almost exclusively on John McCain’s territory, meaning he needs to win practically every swing state in order to come out on top.

Funding makes it even harder for McCain to compete. Barack Obama has demonstrated a phenomenal ability to raise money, including from gaining huge numbers of smaller donations, as opposed to larger donations from richer donors. In the month of September, Obama raised a mind-boggling $150 million. Over 3.1 million Americans have now donated to the Obama campaign, and the average donation still sits under $100 per donor. In contrast, the McCain campaign has accepted public funding, which will dramatically limit its spending power from August to November.

The last few days have seen a narrative emerging of conservatives turning on John McCain, some endorsing Barack Obama while many have criticised the McCain campaign’s strategy in the last few weeks. Many have expressed disappointment with the performance of Sarah Palin and how the decision to appoint her to the ticket reflect’s on John McCain’s ability to serve as President. This peaked with the endorsement of Barack Obama by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

With two weeks to go, Barack Obama looks in a very strong position, and very likely to win. While nothing can be ruled out, it will be extremely difficult for John McCain to overcome Obama’s massive advantage. The longest and most expensive election campaign in US history looks likely to end with a historical result, with Obama likely to win.

The Green tide?


Support for the Greens has increased markedly since the beginning of 2008. Newspoll has shown an increase in the party vote over the 10% barrier for the first time, recently reaching 13%. State Newspolls have the party polling over 10% in all mainland states, with the Tasmanian Greens over 20%. Recent elections in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and the ACT have all seen marked increases in votes for the Greens, and the Greens came close to winning the federal by-election in Mayo.

At this time last year, nineteen Greens sat in Parliaments across Australia. This has now risen to 25, with the election of two extra MLCs in Western Australia, two extra MLAs in the ACT and one extra Senator, and the defection of Queensland Labor MP Ronan Lee. This is well in excess of the numbers elected by the Democrats or the Democratic Labor Party. This compares to 8 MPs belonging to conservative minor parties such as the DLP, CDP, Shooters’ Party and Family First.

Following the Greens winning three seats and the balance of power at last Saturday’s ACT election, Poll Bludger and Larvatus Prodeo have begun debates about the future of the Greens. The question stands: are the Greens on a path to become Australia’s third force in the long-term, or is the high vote simply an expression of a protest vote against the major parties?

The biggest change to take place before the swing to the Greens went into overdrive in January 2008 was the election of the Rudd government in November 2007. The Greens have suffered from progressive voters who sympathise with Greens policies voting Labor in order to defeat Liberal governments. Most voters do not fully understand the preference system, and this misunderstanding is encouraged by ALP politicians who tell voters that a vote for anyone other than the ALP risks a Liberal government. Labor governments tend to be markedly more conservative than Labor oppositions. This may also contribute to the Greens’ overall stronger performance in state elections, where they have been opposed to Labor governments.

So what sets apart the Greens from other minor parties in recent history, such as the Democrats and One Nation? The main difference lies in the development of the Greens. While the Democrats and One Nation rose to their peaks quickly (although the Democrats stayed at their relative peak for a long time), the Greens have slowly risen, gaining small swings at each election and gradually electing more members of Parliament. This has been accompanied by a reliance on a large grassroots membership, as well as much stronger presences on local councils and in state and territory parliaments. In contrast, the Democrats always had a relatively small membership base, with the party centralised on the Senate party room, with little in the way of local and state branch structures.

The Greens do not rely much on the Senate party room or its Senators. With over 10,000 members, an extensive network of local groups, local councillors and MPs in every parliament except the Northern Territory, the party is much less reliant on the performance of its federal representatives.

In particular, the New South Wales party relies much more strongly on the perfomance of its local councillors (now increased to 75 seats across the state) than on Greens Senators. The next generation of potential Greens MPs in NSW is largely composed of sitting or former councillors. This is particularly true of the seats of Balmain and Marrickville, where the Greens have tended to stand local councillors in an attempt to win the seats. The Greens also are growing on councils in Victoria and Tasmania. Two of Victoria’s three Greens MLCs are former councillors, with Greg Barber previously serving as Mayor of Yarra. With Victoria’s local councils slowly shifting towards a more favourable electoral system, the Greens should pick up more council seats in the November 28 election. In addition to giving Greens an opportunity to train up future MPs, councils give the Greens an opportunity to demonstrate competence in governing and to debunk

The Greens have also taken time to carve out a niche on the political spectrum to the left of the ALP, unlike the Democrats who struggled to attract progressive voters while maintaining a position at the centre of the spectrum and work constructively with all governments of whatever ideology.

While the Greens vote has increased, and current polls would give the Greens a strong chance of electing extra Senators in 2010, the Greens are looking towards winning lower house single-member electorates as the opportunity to cement their position as a third force. The Greens have had a number of close calls, polling strongly in the state seats of Marrickville (NSW), Balmain (NSW), Melbourne (Vic) and Fremantle (WA), with a number of other state seats also registering strong results for the Greens. The Greens came second in the federal seat of Melbourne in 2007 for the first time in a federal general election, although it is likely that a breakthrough will take place first in state politics. You would have to think that the Greens stand a very good chance of winning Balmain and/or Marrickville at the 2011 NSW election, and may finally get over the line in Melbourne in the 2010 Victorian election. If the Greens manage to win those seats they will have truly surpassed the performance of Australia’s historical minor parties.

So is the increase in the vote for the Greens a blip, or a long-term trend? It is true that the Greens have benefited from the poor performance of the major parties, but the major parties have been equally damaged by the rise of a credible party for people to cast a protest vote, even if the Greens are not yet seen as a credible alternative for government. There is no sign that those voters will turn back any time soon. Protest votes seem to be cast not so much against individual policy items or figures in the major parties but a culture of top-down control, arrogance and thuggery, something which is not likely to change anytime soon. Furthermore, once someone casts a vote for the Greens once, there is much less of a burden for them to vote for the Greens a second time.

The Greens’ performance in positions of balance of power, despite a media narrative which ignores history, has been relatively strong. While the Greens failed to hold onto long-term coalitions when they held the balance of power in Tasmania, the party managed to achieve parts of its agenda, and has survived the short-term decline that all minor parties suffer following a period supporting a government. Likewise, the Greens have generally acted responsibly in their time in the upper house balance of power in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. Sure, they don’t just do what the major parties want, but that is exactly why their voters elected them. The first experience of Greens in the Senate balance of power suggests that the Australian Greens are performing well in their role of handling the power responsibly while mapping out their own policy agenda.

While there is no long-term future guaranteed for any minor party in Australia, the Greens appear to be on track for further gains and a significant role in Australian politics for many years to come. The Greens are no flash-in-the-pan.

US08: Wingnut Congresswoman sticks both feet in her mouth


I haven’t written a full analysis post on any of the US House races yet, but just wanted to share this: arch-conservative Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District calling Barack Obama “Anti-American” and getting torn to shreds by Chris Matthews for the trouble.

In the following 24 hours, her Democratic challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg (yes, that is a real name) raised a mind-boggling $450,000 in donations in response.

US08: State of the Senate


In addition to the Presidential election and the House of Representatives, one third of the US Senate will be elected. In addition to the 33 “class II” senators last elected in 2002, two special elections will be held to fill casual vacancies in Mississippi and Wyoming, which means those two states will elect two Senators at this year’s election.

Following the 2006 election, the Democrats held 49 seats, the Republicans held 49 seats, along with two independent: Vermont independent socialist Bernie Sanders, who moved from the House to the Senate in 2006, and Al Gore’s former running mate Joe Lieberman, who lost the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary in 2006 over his support for the Iraq War, then went on to win as an independent in the general election.

Because Vice President Dick Cheney has the casting vote in the Senate, a 50-50 split would result in Republicans enjoying the privileges of the majority. Lieberman and Sanders both officially caucus with the Democrats, which allows Democratic leader Harry Reid to claim the majority.

While the House rules mean that the Democratic majority is sufficient to pass most Democratic legislation, the Senate makes it much more difficult. Recent convention means that you require 60 votes to block a fillibuster, which is threatened by the Republicans on most legislation, and has managed to block much of the agenda the Democrats took to the 2006 election. If the Democrats can win 60 seats, it will make it a lot easier for a possible President Obama to implement his agenda.

Senator Lieberman has moved much closer to the Republican Party during the last two years, culminating in his active endorsement and support of his friend John McCain in the presidential race and his speech at the Republican National Convention. Rumours suggest he will be expelled from the Democratic caucus following the election. I am working on the assumption that the Democrats’ numbers include Senator Sanders but not Senator Lieberman. Effectively that means they need to gain 10 seats to win the magic 60.

It’s also worth remembering when the current class of Senators were last elected. The 2002 election was in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, as well as being the first national election since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Republicans won 22 seats, against 12 seats for the Democrats. Such a low level of support for the Democrats makes it easy to expect them to win seats.

There are many, many, many polls flying around in the US at the moment, so I rely on the poll averaging website, although Real Clear Politics also performs this role.

To cut to the chase, the Democrats are currently leading, according to, in nine Republican-held seats:

  • Oregon – Held by Gordon Smith, who is running for re-election, Dems winning 46-41
  • Alaska – Held by Ted Stevens, running again while facing a corruption trial, Dems winning 48-46
  • Minnesota – Held by Norm Coleman, who won the seat in 2002 following the death of the sitting Democratic senator in the last days of the campaign, he is losing to former SNL cast member and radio host Al Franken 40-38
  • Colorado and New Mexico – Both states held by retiring Republican senators, cousins Mark Udall and Tom Udall, both sitting House members, are leading by solid margins in these two states over their Republican rivals.
  • New Hampshire – Sitting Senator John Sununu is losing 48-42 to the Democrat
  • Georgia – This has just flipped over to the Democratic side, with the Democrat leading by only 0.5%
  • North Carolina – Kay Hagan leading over sitting Senator Elizabeth Dole 46-41
  • Virginia – Former Governor Mark Warner is leading over his Republican opponent by 27%. Sitting Republican Senator John Warner is retiring.

Some of these are clearly very close. rates Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia as “toss ups”.

The only Democratic seat targetted by the Republicans, Louisiana, is strongly leading to the Democratic opponent, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has considered pulling out support in the state.

So clearly the Democrats are in an incredibly strong position. A few months ago, most considered the 60-seat majority only achievable in 2010 after reaching 55 or 56 in 2008. So can the Democrats win the full 60?

The most likely races to fill out the 60 are:

  • Mississippi B – where the Democrat is only 1.5% behind. Mississippi now has three House Democrats, as opposed to only one House Republican, and the largest African American population in proportion to the total population in the entire US. If that constituency comes out in large numbers to vote for Obama, this seat could flip.
  • Kentucky – Held by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats are behind by 4.5%. This would be a big blow to the Republican rump if their leader is defeated.
  • Texas – Senator John Cornyn is now just 6% ahead of the surging Democratic Rick Noriega.

If Obama keeps his dominant lead, with the Democrats also dominant in the House of Representatives, this handful of Senate races in solidly Republican states could be the races to follow on November 4, to see if the Democrats can complete their humiliation of the GOP.

Update 8:01pm – Wayne in comments has pointed me to this classic video promoting Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn’s re-election campaign. It looks like an episode of Deadwood.

This week in satire…


This will hopefully become a weekly post with mainly funny political videos. This week it will be a bit full, due to a backlog, but I’ll try and limit in the future to 2 or 3 of the best.

Sarah Palin’s second part on this week’s Saturday Night Live (sorry, this video starts automatically, if someone knows how to fix that let me know). Update – this isn’t gonna work, so I’m going to move the video below the fold. It’s the best of the lot, so check it out.

New Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal takes a page out of Sarah Palin’s book, taking over hosting duties.

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Jon Oliver discusses George W Bush’s legacy, in the wake of the economic crisis.

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Jon Oliver breaks down the stupid vote in the lead-up to the November election.

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John Stewart reviews the Canadian election.

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Fox News: “the world is unfair and we are mentally unstable”

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John McCain, like Frankenstein, loses control of his monster.

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ACT Election: the aftermath


So here’s where we are the day after the election.

Labor suffered a 9.3% swing against them, while the Liberals suffered a 3.7% swing and the Greens polled 15.8%, a 6.6% swing.

In Brindabella, Labor lost one of its three seats, resulting in two Labor, two Liberal and one Green. It appears that two sitting MLAs have been defeated by their own parties: Mick Gentlemen and Steve Pratt both came third, with a new candidate polling second.

In Ginninderra it appears that two Labor, two Liberal and one Green have been elected. The ABC website says that the second Liberal is at risk of losing to a third Labor, but I can’t see it. It really depends on the preference flows.

In Molonglo, it has become much more interesting. Three Labor (the three sitting Cabinet ministers), one Liberal (Zed) and one Green (Shane) have all been elected. The last two seats appear to be a contest between five people: Jeremy Hanson on 0.30, Giulia Jones on 0.21, Caroline le Couteur on 0.30, Elena Kirschbaum on 0.29, and Frank Pangallo on 0.31. A third sitting MLA has been defeated in Jacqui Burke, who was the fifth-polling Liberal.

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that one of the Liberals will win one of these seats, but either of them could lose. Also remember that Zed Seselja has 0.49 surplus, and 0.48 quotas cast for other Liberals. This should be enough to solidify the position of either Jeremy or Giulia, but would leave the other out in the cold. On the other hand, Shane Rattenbury polled 0.89 quotas. Considering the high vote for his fellow Greens, they should hold on long enough for Shane to be elected with preferences from other candidates, allowing most of the third Green’s preferences flow straight to the second Green. This would put either Caroline or Elena on almost 0.60 quotas. I find it difficult to see how the third Liberal could get above 0.5 quotas without non-Liberal preferences. It seems impossible that Pangallo, without fellow candidates preferencing him, can compete. Although his preferences could decide the race.

William Bowe at Poll Bludger has also pointed out that a lot of Gallagher voters may be feminists voting specifically for women. Considering that none of the other Labor women are in with a shot of winning, those votes could flow to the two Green women.

Overall, it could go any way. The two Green women are effectively tied in the race, which reflects the vast majority of Greens voters who cast a donkey vote down the Green ticket, evenly splitting their votes between the three candidates. This donkey vote also means that preferences should flow almost universally between the two women, assuming Rattenbury doesn’t use up many votes reaching quota.