Tasmanian Senate button-push – summary


I’ve got a piece prepared for the Guardian today which discusses the Tasmanian Senate result but I had some thoughts that didn’t fit in to include here.

Firstly, the challenge in winning a seat from below the line isn’t just in gaining enough primary votes to be a contender. On primary votes, Richard Colbeck looked like he was in a strong position to win a seat. He was actually on track to win the tenth seat at the point where there were 24 candidates still racing for the last four seats.

Neither Colbeck or Singh received a single above the line vote. Not one. Colbeck was knocked out before Bushby was elected, so he wasn’t able to receive any. Singh was elected just before Bilyk, on preferences from Colbeck.

Colbeck was successively overtaken by Bushby, then Bilyk, then McKim, then finally McCulloch. Singh only survived because she was close enough to a quota to stay ahead of the pack, and to limp across the line with below-the-line preferences.

As long as we have above-the-line voting, this will remain a significant hurdle for any insurgent candidate. Ideally, they need the candidates ahead of them to drop out of the race early to open up room for them to gain preferences, because it’s hard to see any candidate getting close to the much higher half-Senate quota on their own steam. Singh wouldn’t have won a seat if this was a half-Senate election.

The second thing to note is that preferences are critical. Before this election we relied on tremendous speculation about how an election might work under this new voting system. Some suggested that all votes would exhaust, and it would become a “first past the post” race. That has well-and-truly proven to be wrong. I’m personally surprised by how few votes exhausted in Tasmania, and how close the final seat was to a full quota.

Less than 2.8% of votes exhausted. The last seat went to a candidate on more than 80% of a quota. Over 85% of above-the-line votes were numbered 1-6. It appears that a similar phenomenon is taking place in other states, although you’d expect that more votes will end up in the exhaust pile in states with bigger ballots.

Considering this information we have, we need to assume that a lot of preferences will decide the last seats in every state.

Gee wouldn’t it be nice to have daily interim distributions of preferences, as they do in ACT territory elections!

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  1. Thanks for the update. It’s great to hear that so few votes exhausted. It will be interesting to hear if this holds true in larger states.

  2. I don’t see how the 2.8% exhaust figure can be correct – normally there is a “wasted quota” left at the end, so there must have been at least a quotas worth of votes that exhausted?

  3. Ahh yes of course, the ‘wasted most-of-a-quota’ is with McCulloch.

    (I’m surprised that they don’t continue the exclusions while the number of candidates remaining is greater than the number of seats remaining.)

  4. Ben said: “Gee wouldn’t it be nice to have daily interim distributions of preferences, as they do in ACT territory elections!” Quite… or perhaps we should say “wouldn’t it be nice if they PUBLISHED daily interim distributions” The urge to crank up the distribution software in the dead of night must be irresistible!

    The AEC has its little secrets. For instance, the TCP pairs chosen for a House election are chosen on at least the Thursday before – this is “Rehearsal Night” – the pairs are available to those who sign a deed poll in blood, promising not to reveal ANYTHING. As Donald said – “We don’t know what we don’t know” and perhaps we are better off for it.

    On the question of low exhaust rates, this must surely indicate that few people cast a “Just Vote 1” ATL for a Tiddler Party and that somewhere in their 1 to 6 ATL sequence, Tiddler voters included a Major? Tasmanians are odd though – I can say that because I am one

  5. Geoff was asking about people voting Just 1 ATL and indeed very few did. By far the most common was to vote 1 to 6 above the line and stop there. In this election the AEC has published every single senate vote for the states that have been decided, which is available at http://vtr.aec.gov.au/SenateDownloadsMenu-20499-Csv.htm. I don’t have figures for how many, but it is pretty obvious just looking at that data that this is by far the most common.

    If you really want to look through you can see a lot of fascinating information about how people voted, including how many voted both above and below the line and the usage of ticks and crosses to vote rather than numbers.

    I did quickly check NT and out of the 36517 ATL votes for ALP (the number won’t match the official tally because a number of those ATL votes also had a valid BTL vote and the BTL vote was counted instead). 103 were crosses or stars, 113 were ticks, 696 were just for the ALP (with a single 1, a tick or a cross), only 502 were a single 1 which is 1.3% of the ALP votes.

  6. Hi Ben, I had a look at your part 1 and 2 Senate numbers and they more or less end up where I do, with virtually a hung Senate. Your numbers give the coalition/conservatives (incl Hinch, One Nation) about 36, Jacqui Lambie gets 1, ALP and Greens together about 35, with Xenophon 3 and 1 unsure in WA i.e. whether it will be a Greens or conservative. If Jacqui votes with the Coalition they will have 37, and if the last WA seat goes to a conservative and not a Green, they might make it to 38, which is not 39, a majority out of the 76 in the Senate. If they get cooperation from Xenophon’s 3 likely Senators they can mine the national parks if they want to. After all they just got rid of the environment department. So it all hinges on how Xenophon votes assuming the other calculations about small party seat winners such as Hinch and One Nation are correct, which I differed from you on, but still ended up with 38 as the absolute maximum if everyone but everyone, but the Greens, ALP or Xenophon votes with the Coalition. Giving a hung Senate, with the balance of power to make or break legislation to the Xenophon party.

    Welcome to South Australia. At least it’s not New Zealand, with Hinch in charge (what are my fellow Victorians thinking of?).

    What are the rules if it is 38 all, does the legislation just not pass? Or does the Senate leader matter?

  7. P.S. Did someone say the election was over? We are a good 3 weeks over anyhow! I reckon they should give a big jar of Smarties to whosoever of the many commentators actually pins the numbers down to the (nearest) last seat. I don’t reckon anyone got Tassie correct though. I had Coalition 4, ALP 5, Greens 1, Jacqui 1, and the last one to go to a minor party like One Nation or to the Coalition. Close but no cigar!

  8. Caroline, tied votes in the Senate are resolved in the negative. The President has an ordinary deliberative vote, not a casting vote.

    The new Senate would be wise to ensure that all bills passed this term require the positive assent of both houses for delegated legislation, since an ordinary disallowance motion that is tied will fail.

  9. Since the AEC published every vote, I decided out of curiosity to run a simulation of how those votes would have been counted if the number of senate positions available were different to the 12 available at this election. This may be of some interest to see how the vote would have concluded if this were a normal half-senate election or if it were decided to expand the senate to 14 members per state in the future – the rest are of purely academic interest. The counting program was put together pretty quickly, so at the moment it isn’t 100% correct as there appear to be some differences in it not excluding fractional votes and being more lenient in its treatment of partially-correct votes (e.g. a duplicated number) than the AEC is. Nevertheless it is very close and while it is possible the official method could produce a different result, I don’t think it is likely.

    The results are shown below. The parties always elect in ticket order except where indicated that Singh or Colbeck gets a spot out of order. It is an amazing job of Singh to get to a position where she would be elected in a 3-seat election ahead of number 2 on the ALP ticket – more on that below. And while she wouldn’t have been elected in a normal half-senate election – she would have been elected in a half-senate election in an expanded 14-member per state senate. Being elected in these smaller-seat election relies on eliminating the higher-placed ALP candidates early enough that she can benefit from above-the-line preferences from then on.

    Of course all these results assume exactly the same tickets and votes – in an election for a different number of vacancies either of those could be different producing a different result.

    Only 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 positions available elect the same senators as the first-elected senators in the 12-place election. The most important 6-place election does coincide which means that for Tasmania the order elected and recount methods should produce the same long-term senators (even though the recount method is slightly different to the count done here, it should still produce the same result).

    1 – ALP 1
    2 – ALP 1, LP 1
    3 – ALP 2 (inc Singh), LP 1
    4 – ALP 1, LP 1, GRN 1, JLN 1
    5 – ALP 2, LP 2, GRN 1
    6 – ALP 2, LP 2, GRN 1, JLN 1
    7 – ALP 3 (inc Singh), LP 2, GRN 1, JLN 1
    8 – ALP 3, LP 3, GRN 1, JLN 1
    9 – ALP 4 (inc Singh), LP 3, GRN 1, JLN 1
    10 – ALP 4 (inc Singh), LP 4 (inc Colbeck), GRN 1, JLN 1
    11 – ALP 4 (inc Singh), LP 4, GRN 2, JLN 1
    12 – ALP 5 (inc Singh), LP 4, GRN 2, JLN 1
    13 – ALP 5 (inc Singh), LP 5, GRN 2, JLN 1
    14 – ALP 5 (inc Singh), LP 5, GRN 2, JLN 1, ON 1
    15 – ALP 6, LP 5, GRN 2, JLN 1, ON 1
    16 – ALP 6, LP 6, GRN 2, JLN 1, ON 1
    17 – ALP 6, LP 6, GRN 2, JLN 2, ON 1
    18 – ALP 6, LP 6, GRN 2, JLN 2, ON 1, FFP 1

    The reason Singh gets through in a 3-vacancy election is that the higher quota (84790) means that there aren’t that many surplus votes available for the no-2 on the ticket and no-2 gets eliminated before Green, Liberal, One Nation and Jackie Lambie preferences are distributed, letting Singh benefit from above the line votes from that point on. Here’s the count at the point where the 2nd ALP gets eliminated:

    ALP2 13860
    ALP6 24224
    GRN1 43577
    LP2 17498
    LP5 15993
    ON0 14750
    JLN0 36517

  10. The way results are rolled out in Senate elections (at present) would create a big problem with doing daily distributions. ATLs are often rolled out into the total ahead of BTLs (which in the case of booth votes appear as Unapportioned but for non-ordinaries may or may not appear at all). For a case involving candidates, like Tasmania, it would only be representative if only booths and/or postcount groups that had been fully sorted were included. Even if candidate factors are ignored there are still issues, eg the Greens surge late as the BTL non-ordinaries are rolled into the count, so would presumably have been shown as losing up until that time.

    Really the interim presentation of the results is highly confusing for casual onlookers and creates a lot of work for those of us who know what’s going on, so I hope it can be improved for the future.

  11. Rather than a daily distribution, a dump of all finalised votes with the entire list of preferences like they publish later would be better. Then anybody could analyse it and make their own predictions.

  12. I think you could do some stuff with the results to make daily dumps easier to understand. For example, only include booths which are finalised.

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