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.
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.
Let’s compare Ricky Muir with like candidates, who benefited from being in first position. Ricky Muir polled 479 votes, or 0.0142% of the formal vote in Victoria. Ranking the 202 candidates who headed up a group, Muir came 125th. Apart from the Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich (who originally won in WA but missed out in the re-election), no other elected candidates were ranked as lowly. The next lowest was David Leyonhjelm, who polled 0.0364% of the NSW vote. Another twenty lead candidates were elected, and all twenty were in the top 28 lead candidates in terms of vote percentage.
Under the current system, all senators are elected based on above-the-line votes. It’d be nice if that changed, but that’s the current reality.
But there is a massive difference between a candidate who benefits from above-the-line votes cast for their own party, and someone elected on a mass of votes cast for parties other than their own. Voters for the Queensland LNP may not know Matt Canavan, but they can predict that their votes will go to elect LNP senators.
The proposed voting system still doesn’t require voters to know every candidate – but they need to know the parties, and choose to preference them, and then those votes can be used to elect those candidates on the party ticket – that’s honest, and it’s easy to understand. And if the voter wants to know which candidates will benefit from the party vote they cast, they just need to glance down below the line.