22 Candidates in Bradfield


Candidates were announced today for the forthcoming Bradfield and Higgins by-elections, and an amazing twenty-two candidates have nominated in Bradfield. In Higgins, a more reasonable ten candidates have nominated in Higgins.The field in Bradfield includes nine Christian Democratic Party candidates after the party threatened to nominate as many as eleven. This must surely be a record for the most candidates nominated by a party in a single seat.

In addition there are candidates for the Liberal Party, Greens, Australian Sex Party, One Nation, Liberal Democrats, Democratic Labor Party, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, Climate Change Coalition and five independents.

The implications of this are dire for the conduct of the by-election. Compulsory preferential voting means that all voters will need to express a preference for every single candidate, including expressing a candidate between all nine Christian Democrats and many independents and political parties that few Bradfield voters would have heard of.

Voters who failed to express 22 preferences or make mistakes can have their votes declared informal, even if they express a clear preference. These voters may have voted for the Liberals or Greens, and their votes would never be passed on to another candidate, yet these votes would be thrown out for an irrelevant error.

I believe there is a rule which allows 10%  of preferences to make mistakes, which would allow a voter to make two mistakes in the Bradfield by-election. (Update: turns out you are only allowed to make one mistake. The 10% rule only applies to the Senate). Even still, you can expect a huge informal vote.

At the 2005 Werriwa by-election, there were sixteen candidates, and this election produced an informal vote of over 13%. The informal vote was higher than all candidates other than the winning ALP candidate, Chris Hayes, who polled 55%. No other candidate polled over 10%.

It’s not unreasonable to think that the informal vote could break 20% in the coming by-election. In addition, it will be extremely difficult for parties to produce how-to-votes that allow people to vote easily. Take the Greens for example. Do you use principle in preferencing, by putting One Nation last and trying to distinguish between all of the right-wing minor parties and independents, or do you simply produce a donkey vote HTV to ensure your voters have their votes counted?

The solution is very simple: some sort of optional preferential voting. I personally think that there is no justfication for tossing out a vote for expressing an invalid lower preference. If we cannot achieve full optional preferential voting, there should be at least a cap on the number of preferences that need to be expressed.

If it was said you had to number at least five preferences it would encourage parties to preference and would ensure preferences flow when there are a small number of candidates, whilst avoiding high informal votes in situations like Bradfield and where large numbers of candidates run in a general election (fourteen candidates ran in Greenway in 2007).

In addition, of course, another reform suggested by Antony Green should be adopted. This would be that, while parties are permitted to nominate multiple candidates, any additional candidates would be required to go out and get signatures from voters, just as independents are required to do.

I haven’t really delved here into the question of whether it makes sense for the Christian Democratic Party to run nine candidates. While it could result in a slightly higher total CDP vote due to each candidate getting the support of their own community, it’s undoubtedly going to hurt them.

They would have needed to spend $5500 $4500 on nomination fees, and it seems impossible that any candidates could individually poll the 4% needed to qualify for public funding. In such a large field of right-wing candidates, all of whom will be competing with an official Liberal candidate, you can’t see any of them doing particularly well.

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  1. I see where you’re coming from there Ben with the idea of saying voters should have to number at least five squares as one option, but I think that would, strangely, encourage some parties to actually field 5 candidates so that they don’t have to direct preferences to any other party. This happened quite a lot in the 2004 NSW local government elections, where, because rules stated that HTVs had to show preferences for at least two groups on the ballot paper, there were numerous instances of parties and groups fielding two tickets so that they could preference their own group and no one else. Whether they did so because the misunderstood how the electoral process worked (quite possible) or not isn’t really the point, the point was that it led in many areas to a lot more candidates running than should’ve been the case.

    Of course, the solution to that is to say that the instructions to voters remain to show all preferences, but merely that the vote can still be counted as formal if it shows at least five. Fully optional preferential would of course be simpler, though personally I do favour full preferential because I tend to think OPV ends up creating a quasi-FPTP system since many parties and candidates actively encourage voters to ‘just vote 1’, and many voters thus don’t think about the benefits of allocating preferences, but relaxing the rules on informality definitely needs to happen.

  2. I think we should have optional preferential voting in both the Reps and the senate, and situations like this demonstrate why. If the voters first choice is clear then their vote should exhaust when they have stopped expressing a preference. If people choose to ‘just vote 1’ then that’s their decision (even if it means later on they may be kicking themselves because they did have a preference between the final two candidates and didn’t choose to mark it down on the ballot paper).
    I feel really sorry for voters in Bradfield.
    I wonder what the CDP will do with their how to vote cards. Will each of their candidates have their own HTV, or will they have just the one with a lead candidate?

  3. Hey Ben, the image you’ve used for this post shows the post-redistribution boundaries, not the current ones, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t matter.

  4. Hmm, I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned that – just thought I’d show how smart I was. It really makes no difference – I’m just impressed with myself that I noticed that.

  5. I love the thought that the CDP were trying for 12 candidates and only got 9. With this kind of behaviour from its “strategists” and Nile retiring at the next election the CDP’s days are numbered.

    As for optional preferential voting… I’m not in favour. My experience at the 2007 NSW state election was that it meant the ALP how to vote cards could display the labor candidate in large bold type while any other preferences were shown in pale, small type. I had to point out to several ALP booth workers that these preferences even existed as they were verbally telling people to just vote 1.

    I think it is dangerous (especially for parties that only win seats on preferences) to erode the preferential voting system lest we end up with first past the post.

  6. Robert, from a partisan perspective OPV absolutely disadvantages the Greens. I did some calculations which showed that the Greens would’ve won Balmain at the last state election, and Port Jackson in 2003, if we had full preferential in NSW, and that was just with allocating the exhausted preferences in the same proportion as those which were directed – if Liberal prefs had flowed to the Greens at the same rate they did in the federal seat of Melbourne, where their HTVs directed as such, the Greens would’ve won more comfortably.

    It also has that problem from a voter education perspective, where the Greens and other minor party and independent candidates are constantly trying to convince voters that a vote for them is not a ‘wasted’ vote because the preferences can then flow on. Because OPV encourages the major parties to tell people to ‘just vote 1’, it makes it harder for the rest of us to get that message about how to use preferences across to voters. You’d think preferential voting was simple to understand, and presumably it certainly is to most voters, but yet still many who may otherwise vote differently feel the need to vote for a major party because of some sense that their vote is ‘wasted’ otherwise.

    Nonetheless, as Ben will no doubt point out, we shouldn’t be arguing these issues on the basis of self-interest, so that shouldn’t be a clinching argument.

  7. This is a difficult issue. I strongly oppose OPV (simply because any move towards FPP is undermining democratic principles not because I am a Green) but informal voting in situations like this is untenable also.

    First though, what is wrong with just restricting it to one candidate per registered party?

    Second, and correct me if I have it wrong, why can’t a vote be considered formal up until the voter makes their mistake? So if they correctly number the boxes 1 through to 18 but make a mistake with writing 19 and 20, why can’t the vote be valid until it has been redistributed for the 19th time?

    Third, surely there is some system of validating votes before a voter has left the booth?

  8. On your first point, if a party wants to nominate more than one candidate, the extra candidates should be forced to get 50 nominators as do Independents. All 9 CDP candidates were put forward without nominators, simply under the sgnature of the party’s registered officer, as any registered party is entitled to do. This right granted to regsitered parties should be limited so that only one candidate per electorate can be nominated under the registered officer’s signature.

    On yopur second point, that’s not allowed because Albert Langer advocated duplicating numbers when this did not make a vote informal, which means defacto optional preferential voting. Perhaps a ballot should be allowed to stay in the count if the incorrect preferences would not have been distributed. However, that disadvantages all candidates except those who finished first or second.

    On your third point, impossible without breaching the secrecy of the ballot.

  9. Yeah, I have always found this a difficult question. Optional preferential does tend to win the argument in many ways since it gives the voter more control, I just think that a much greater education effort is needed to ensure voters really understand how to use preferences, and to counter any misleading of voters by parties and candidates.

    Joel, on your first point, I think the suggestion of additional candidates needing to get 50 signatures will be enough of a deterrent to multiple nominations. The logistics of collecting so many signatures, remembering that you have to check the enrollment details of each of them to ensure they are correctly enrolled, would be beyond most micro-parties, even a more established one like the CDP.

    Totally agree with the second point.

    Third point is a good idea, except that some people deliberately vote informal because they don’t want to vote for anyone, and I think people must still be given that option, so you’d have to include a ‘none of the above’ or ‘no support’ box, but then I guess formalising that option has its own problems.

  10. On the first point I raised, I still don’t understand why a registered party should be allowed to have 2 or more candidates, whether they are required to have 50 signatures or not. Its simply an abuse of the system. I say again isn’t it more correct (and easier) to just simply restrict it.

    On the second, thank you Antony, that makes sense. It is essentially OPV by default and it does disadvantage everyone but the final two candidates. I take it back (given my stance on OPV).

    On the third, I was thinking more along the lines of electronic validation, rather than a person checking it. I guess this opens that can of worms over the efficacy of electronic voting.

    And Nick C, there were elections where I deliberately voted informally (blank) and wished there was a “None of the above” box. Maybe there should be this option.

  11. You can’t ban a party from running multiple candidates because you would essentially be preventing certain classes of candidates from nominating. You might ban a party from having its party name appear on the ballot paper more than once as the appearance of a party name is an administrative procedure unrelated to the right to nominate, as is the administrative procedure of allowing central party nominations.

    I don’t view multiple candidacy as automatically an abuse of the system. There is a long history in country electorates of candidates of the same party but from different parts of the electorate being nominated and I think this enhances the choices of voters rather than abuses democracy. And why should multiple nomination be banned but competing Liberal and National candidates be allowed?

    In my view it is not the nomination of multiple candidates that is wrong or should be banned, but the abuse of the central nomination process. Gaining 50 nominators from the electorate being contested is always the first hurdle a candidate must meet before being placed on the ballot paper. Registered parties are granted a waiver on this because they have established a national membership and are therefore given access to a central nomination process. However, this is a process designed to give single nomination of candidates in multiple electorates, not multiple nomination in single electorates.

  12. This is a difficult issue. I strongly oppose OPV (simply because any move towards FPP is undermining democratic principles not because I am a Green) but informal voting in situations like this is untenable also.

    OPV is not undermining democratic principles. That is silly hyperbole. If a voter doesn’t want to choose between two equally undesirable choices, why should they be forced to? (I for one left a few squares blank on both ballots at the last state election.)

    Compulsory preferential voting is a walking paradox. Its aim is to maximise the vote (at every point in the count); but the only way this can be enforced is by discarding votes at the beginning of the count.

    Third, surely there is some system of validating votes before a voter has left the booth?

    On your third point, impossible without breaching the secrecy of the ballot.

    I’m neither an advocate of electronic voting, nor a knee-jerk opponent of it. But the potential elimination of spoiled ballots would be one point in its favour.

  13. Public Candidates Forum this Friday at Killara High, 6-8PM – all Tally Roomers invited!

    7 candidates confirmed so far and more to come.

  14. A public forum with 9 CDP candates saying, ‘I agree with the other 8’ would be pretty funny/redundant. Hopefully only 1 candidate will represent the CDP.

  15. That’s an interesting point. If you’re organising a forum, do you give each CDP candidate equal time, or just allocate one block of time for the CDP equal to the time each other party and independent is getting, and leave it to them to decide which candidate/s speak?

  16. Polly wrote: I wonder what the CDP will do with their how to vote cards. Will each of their candidates have their own HTV, or will they have just the one with a lead candidate?

    My understanding is that Fred will have just one card, but it will use Robson Rotation methods to give equal weight to each of his 9 candidates. This means there will be 362,880 options and, at A6 size per option, the HTV will cover about 0.6 hectare and weigh 450 kg

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