The anti-democratic alternatives to Senate reform

Until Labor’s recent cynical turn against reforming the Senate, there was general agreement amongst the main political parties and electoral experts that something needed to be done to deal with the Senate. The number of candidates running for the Senate has skyrocketed, which has made it significantly harder for voters to vote (by making ballots bigger and making it harder to find who you want to vote for) and made it significantly harder for the ballots to be counted (as seen in the 2013 WA Senate count). It has also allowed minor parties on tiny votes to pile up votes and become viable candidates for election.

These aren’t the only reasons why Senate voting reform should happen, but they are the reasons why it’s so urgent and part of the reason why this issue has finally gained support from a major party after decades of major party indifference.

Apart from the current proposal, there have been a number of other “solutions” to these problems which, unlike the current proposal, do nothing to reduce the power and control of the major parties while making life harder for all minor parties, and would genuinely be bad for Australian democracy.

They should give fans of minor parties pause: there are alternative reforms which would make life much harder for small parties, and could be back on the table if the current proposal fails.

Read the rest of this entry »


Queensland council election – ward map completed

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 12.55.00 pmIt’s only nine days now until Queenslanders vote for their councils for the next four years (along with a referendum on fixed four-year terms for the state parliament), and I’ve finally finished my Google Earth map of the ward boundaries.

Sixteen councils have changed their divisional or ward boundaries since the 2012 election. Four of these are councils which have changed their external boundaries due to the reversal of a pre-2012 council amalgamation: Cairns, Tablelands, Sunshine Coast and Rockhampton. The restored councils which took in parts of those four, respectively Douglas, Mareeba, Noosa and Livingstone, will all elect their councillors at large without any wards.

The other twelve councils to change their wards are Banana, Brisbane, Bundaberg, Fraser Coast, Ipswich, Isaac, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland, Scenic Rim, Townsville and Whitsunday.

You can download the map here.

I’m now focusing all of my attention on preparing my guide to the 2016 federal election, with seat guides due to start appearing in April. I’ll likely return with a small amount of analysis of the results of the QLD election and referendum after March 19, but apart from that I’ll be keeping my head down working on the federal election.


Brisbane City Council guide finished

bcc2016-simpleVoters in Queensland will be voting on March 19 in local government elections, along with a referendum on fixed four-year terms for the state Parliament (which I’ve previously blogged about).

For the first time, I’ve put together a complete guide to the Brisbane City Council elections, similar to those I’ve done for state and federal elections.

The City of Brisbane is the biggest local government in Australia, with just over 1 million residents. The capital city councils in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide all cover a small inner-city section of the metropolitan area, but Brisbane covers a large expanse, more like big-city governments in places like London, New York or Auckland.

Read the guide.

Read the rest of this entry »


Senate reform – does exhausting votes help the party leading?

There’s been a lot of attempts by various people to predict the impact of Senate reform in terms of which parties will win and which parties will lose.

Some of this has been smart, and some of it has been quite dumb. Some has focused on the long-term tendencies, while others have been obsessively focused on the outcome under one narrow scenario where the Coalition wins a double dissolution comfortably, or freak out about outcomes that are just as likely under the current system.

I’ve generally tried to avoid getting too much into these questions. In general, I expect that party behaviour and voter behaviour will change in ways which are difficult to predict, and overconfidence in any particular outcome suggests that a person has an agenda to push (usually an anti-reform agenda).

(If you really want to have a better sense of likely outcomes, I can point you to Kevin Bonham, Antony Green and Adrian Beaumount‘s analysis. In short, both major parties and the Greens would have gained seats, in proportion to their vote, but the chances of a Coalition majority are not much greater than the current system.)

I wanted to specifically address a question raised in a bunch of places: does the left “splitting” its vote between Labor and the Greens disadvantage them relative to the Coalition, who run as a single ticket.

Read the rest of this entry »


JSCEM Senate reform inquiry – video highlights

I watched some parts of today’s JSCEM inquiry, and cut together a few short clips of interesting parts of the day. I thought I would post them on Youtube and here – if you have a section which you think was particularly interesting, let me know in comments and I’ll cut it and upload it.

Firstly, this 42 second interaction between Antony Green and Stephen Conroy about whether voters actively choose to vote above the line, or are ‘herded’ into it by a voting system that makes it much much harder to vote below-the-line. This is related to my blog post on informal rates amongst below-the-line voters.

Go below the fold for three more videos.

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How much does an individual candidate’s vote matter in the Senate?

There’s a meme going around from a supporter of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party claiming Senate reforms are illegitimate because Ricky Muir polled more votes individually than a handful of other elected Senators.

Here’s an example:


I’ve previously discussed how difficult it is to cast a vote below the line. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of voters vote above the line. In 2013, 96.83% of formal votes were above the line – in other words, they were cast for a party’s preference ticket, not for any individual. A further 2.73% voted for candidates ranked first in their column. Only 0.436% of voters decided to cast a primary vote for any candidate not ranked first.

Since others seem to think there is value in looking at candidates’ individual below-the-line votes, let’s see what the data tells us. Read the rest of this entry »


Federal electorate map of NSW finalised

The AEC has released the final maps for the NSW federal redistribution today, after the decisions were first announced in January.

I had made a Google Earth map of my best estimates of the electoral boundaries in January, and these are largely accurate.

The only spots where I was incorrect were:

  • Hume/Eden-Monaro border
  • Grayndler/Reid
  • Hume/Werriwa
  • Fowler/McMahon

You can download the final map here.


Senate voting reform – the bill drops

So we now have the government’s legislation for Senate voting reform. You can read it here.

The key points are as follows.

Abolition of group voting tickets

From now on there won’t be any distribution of preferences beyond a single party group unless the voter marks it themselves on the ballot.

Introduction of optional preferential voting above the line

From now on you will be allowed to number as many boxes as you want above the line, and your vote will flow through each party group in ticket order.

The ballot paper will carry instructions saying the voter must number “at least 6” boxes above the line, although that would revert to being full compulsory preferential voting if six or less groups nominate.

Having said that, votes just containing a ‘1’ above the line will be formal, and there is no “Langer clause” which would prevent parties or other groups advocating for a person to number less than six boxes above the line.

No major changes to below-the-line voting

Despite JSCEM recommending optional preferential voting below the line, this bill only slightly loosens the requirements for below-the-line voting. You’ll still need to number most boxes for your vote to count, but you’ll be allowed up to five sequencing errors, up from the current three.

Party logos on the ballot paper

This one wasn’t expected! Presumably this is motivated by Liberal concern about confusion with the Liberal Democrats. It’s not unheard-of: New Zealand has party logos on the ballot.

Prohibition on being Registered Officer of multiple parties

This is to address the concern about David Leyonhjelm being the registered officer (who is the official who liaises with the AEC and nominates candidates) of multiple parties.

I will have some more commentary this evening about the political impact of the reforms, but feel free to use this post to discuss the reforms as they unfold today.

Update: No counting of Senate ballots

Unfortunately I missed one major change. The legislation proposes that Senate ballots are no longer counted and recorded in group totals on election night. Antony Green has looked into this.


Queensland council elections – map progress

Queensland goes to the polls to elect their local councils on March 19.

I’m currently working on my guide to the Brisbane City Council election – so far I’ve finished guides to ten wards out of 26.

The other piece of the puzzle is a complete ward map of Queensland, as I have done for every election since 2008.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get it done – moving house and taking some time off the blog over the summer slowed me down, and I’ve decided to prioritise finishing the Brisbane guide.

I’ve decided to post my partially-complete map. I’ve completed the boundaries for Banana, Isaac, Rockhampton, Whitsunday and Brisbane, but not Cairns, Tablelands, Townsville, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland, Scenic Rim, Sunshine Coast, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast.

I plan to finish this map before election day – but maybe not long before the election.

Download the map here.


How hard is it to go your own way voting in the Senate?

In the last few days, I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about Senate reform, and many times I’ve had people insist that voters make a choice to hand control of their vote to their party, and any voter should be able to vote below-the-line if they wanted to. These arguments often insist that below-the-line voting is easy, and stray into elitist arguments about ordinary voters being lazy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 9.41.46 am

Now there are multiple different reasons why voters lack informed choice when voting in the Senate, including how difficult it is to understand the impact of a GVT even when you’re an electoral expert, but I’m just going to focus on the idea that it’s easy to vote below-the-line, and thus voters have a reasonable option if they wish to opt out of the parties’ preference machine.

In short, approximately 30% of below-the-line votes end up in the informal pile, and as the number of candidates increase there is a corresponding increase in the overall informal rate, and a decline in the below-the-line rate. Read the rest of this entry »