Electing the Australian Senate by “provinces”

I learned recently that a Queensland Liberal National Party Senator proposes to elect the Australian Senate by “provinces”. Apparently this means six districts per state, each having two Senators, one elected at each regular election.

Yes, as the headline on the linked item says, it is a bad idea.

48 thoughts on “Electing the Australian Senate by “provinces”

  1. We tended to use ‘province’ to mean ‘upper house electoral district’ at one time. It’s a dreadful idea, but the terminology shows he’s probably done some at least some homework on it.

  2. And I thought Australia had moved on beyond gerrymandering. Will they be mandating that provinces be assigned to zones too?

  3. One of the more absurd reasons given for having two regional Senate seats outside Melbourne was that it would result in the election of Aborigines even though the existence of the current 12 Victorian House of Representatives seats outside of Melbourne has not already done so. It is equally absurd to believe that having two regional Senate seats outside Sydney would result in the election of Aborigines when the existence of the current 17 NSW House of Representatives seats outside of Sydney has not already done so, and so on.

    However, there is certain poetic justice in this Senate proposal. The Greens, who happily got the Coalition to rig the Senate voting system to get rid of the micro-party competition for the balance of power, would lose all their Senate seats if each Senate electorate had only one senator each elected at each election. However, while such a fate would be karma, the change would still be wrong. The Senate, having multi-member electorates elected by the single transferable vote, has been more representative of the Australian people than the House of Representatives for 70 years now. We should keep the states as single electorates for the Senate and undo the Coalition/Xenophon/Greens changes to the electoral system. On the same principle, we should oppose any attempt to impose the undemocratic Senate system on the Victorian Legislative Council the Victorian government’s retrograde proposal to remove proportional representation from almost all Victorian councils.

    Both the Victorian and federal electoral matters committee have received submissions on voting systems. They are at https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/emc/article/4239 (Mine is no 40) and https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2019Federalelection/Submissions (mine is no 62). I have made one on local government “reform”, but it does not appear to be publicly available. I am happy to share it with anyone who wants it if a way can be found to put people in touch with me. You will see from the submissions to the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee that the state Liberals have, like their federal colleagues, fallen for the Greens’ campaign. More worrying is the fact that the state Labor submission does not address the issue, suggesting it may be about to fall for it too.

    • You really think letting voters pick which candidates they want to support is less democratic than the lottery of group tickets and preference whisperers?

      • Mark,

        If you read my submissions, you will see I don’t think that at all.

        Voters have always had the right to pick the candidates they want. Insofar as they were intimidated into not doing so by the number of preferences required, the solution was to make preferences below the line optional after a certain number, not to remove group voting tickets.

        There was never any lottery. There was a precise mathematical system for ensuring the candidates with most support won seats.

        The new system is dishonest in that the AEC is required to tell voters that they must mark 1-6 above the line or 1-12 below the line for their votes to count, but, under Sections 268A and 269 of the Australian Electoral Act, marking 1 above the line or 1-6 below the line is to be counted as if it were formal.

        A comparison of the 2013, 2016 and 2019 percentages of informal votes shows that the new system, despite claims it was to empower the voter, has reduced the percentage of voters whose votes count. In 2016, the real informal vote, as opposed to the “savings provisions” informal vote, more than tripled on 2013’s.

        A comparison of the 2013 and 2019 election results shows how much the move to above-the-line preferences has made the Senate more unrepresentative of the way people vote. The distortion rate was 14 per cent in 2013 and 36 per cent in 2019.

        The new system has one purpose only, to give the Greens the balance of power, by treating micro-party voters as inferiors.

      • I skimmed your submission. I rather lost focus after you seemed to repeat the claim that a certain level of support for minor parties entitles them to that level of representation, no matter who the minor party representative is. As if voters supporting radical climate action wanted representation by the drunken hoons party.

        I am personally a fan of requiring as few preferences as possible. The current system is an improvement over the old by light years. What you call “dishonesty” I call an attempt to save as many ballots as possible. What you call a “precise mathematical system” I call sham agreements between parties with no political honesty behind them backed by a simple threat: let the party pick your preferences or see your ballot dumped as informal.

      • Chris

        I am sorry but your concept of a ‘real’ informal vote defies logic. I agree the savings provisions are silly and legislatively clunky. However, it is drawing a very long bow tor scare that votes which were cast and counted in the scrutiny were in fact not cast and counted in the scrutiny.

        Enid Lakeman described the Australian habit of compulsory preferencing as unnecessary. It is a non-trivial fact that no STV system outside Australia requires a minimum number of preferences.

        If your object is to avoid legislative clunkiness, which you call dishonesty, then the simplest rule is to require a single preference. That will not lead to more exhausted votes. In the Senatorial Rules, the common rule set used for the Irish senate, the Indian Rajya Sabha, and the pre-1980 South African senate, distribute a surplus in 2 ways. I have used the Third Schedule to the Irish Electoral Act 1923 as an example:

        (3) If the surplus is equal to or greater than the total number of papers in the sub-parcels of transferable papers, the returning officer shall transfer each sub-parcel of transferable papers to the continuing candidate indicated thereon as the voters’ next available preference:

        Provided that where the surplus is greater than such total number a sub-parcel shall be made of a number of non-transferable papers equal to the difference between the said total number and the surplus and the papers in such sub-parcel shall be set aside and not further taken into account and for the purposes of Rule 11 shall be described as non-transferable papers not effective and the remaining non-transferable papers also arranged as a sub-parcel shall be placed with the papers of the candidate deemed to be elected.

        The effect of that rule is to prioritise keeping transferable papers in the scrutiny for longer. which would significantly reduce the impact of non-transferable votes.

        If your object is to ensure diversity of opinion, then Machiavelli* gives us a method.

        As if almost an afterthought to an already complete constitutional order founded on the personal appointment and election of elite citizens, Machiavelli introduces the office of the provosts: a lottery-determined magistracy reserved for common citizens, which, like the tribunate in Rome, Machiavelli claims, will make this republic more perfect (DF 741). Machiavelli establishes the provosts as a subset of sixteen “Gonfaloniers of the Companies of the People,” an office originally associated with the popular militia during the guilds’ armed struggle with the magnates in the early Florentine republics (DF 742). These Gonfaloniers of the Companies eventually evolved into one of the Signoria’s formal advisory bodies. Machiavelli leaves open whether his reconstructed popular Gonfaloniers will be selected each year by city ward, by the guilds, by the Great Council, or by Leo himself as long as he lives. But Machiavelli insists that these popular magistrates, however they are appointed, must not belong to the signorial class; the grandi, citizens eligible to hold life-terms in the Signoria, must be excluded from its ranks (DF 742). Furthermore, Machiavelli declares that common citizens who serve as provosts must be prohibited from gaining rapid reappointment “such that the magistracy will be spread more widely throughout the city” (DF 742). Lottery will determine which of the popular Gonfaloniers will serve short, week- or month-long terms as provosts, attending the proceedings of the Signoria, sitting in on sessions of the Select Council, and participating as full voting members in the Great Council. It first appears as if the provosts are merely nonvoting “witnesses” to the proceedings of the two upper assemblies comprised of their social superiors. But Machiavelli soon insists that neither the Signoria nor the Select Council should be permitted to convene without provosts present (DF 742). Moreover, the provosts can delay enactment of decisions made by these bodies and appeal them to their more broadly popular, immediately subordinate councils.34 Machiavelli explains neither why provosts must be designated from among the Gonfaloniers of the Companies of the People by lottery nor why their terms in any particular body may be as short as a week. A plausible reason is that sortition prevents the ottimati in the upper councils from gaining advance knowledge of exactly which popular Gonfaloniers will be convocating with them as provosts, thereby thwarting any attempts on their part to corrupt or intimidate the provosts beforehand (cf., FH IV.17). Moreover, the provosts’ short terms guard against political cooptation while they serve among the ottimati in the Signoria and senatorial Select Council. Machiavelli clearly expresses a desire that as many nonsignorial citizens as possible take part in this office, which effectively serves as the people’s eyes and ears in both the republic’s executive committee and senatorial council and that explicitly wields veto or referral power over the policies proposed within them.

        McCormick. Machiavellian Democracy (p. 105). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

        So let’s have a body of provosts elected by random draw, say 1/10 of the house of representatives, with the ability to stay. by supermajority, laws other than money bills until the next election. Perhaps 2/3 would be required for a stay which would have to be renewed each month, and unanimity to send a law to referendum. Perhaps they could also vote on procedural questions as a way of diluting majority power and keeping the bastards honest. They would serve for 3 months, with 1/3 of them renewed every month. To prevent party capture they would be disqualified from parliament or offices in the gift of the executive for 2 legislative terms.

        *Machiavelli was a lifelong republican and suffered imprisonment for his beliefs. One serious theory is that The Prince was written as a poison pill or a joke. The advice in The Prince is actually not very good and if followed would have rapidly destabilised the Medicean monarchy. The Machiavelli of the Discourses on Livy, the History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy, and the proposed constitution submitted to Leo X is a convinced republican committed to restraining the power of the grandi.

      • Alan,

        It is wrong to require the body charged with upholding the integrity of the electoral system, the Australian Electoral Commission, to tell voters they they must vote in a certain way when they need not. If the Coalition, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team thought that 1 above the line and 1-6 below the line were all that were required to make a vote formal, they should have made defined a formal vote in that way, not pretend that 1-6 above the line and 1-12 below the line were required and then have a so-called “savings” provision that said they really weren’t. If, having decided that 1 and 1-6 were sufficient, they wanted to encourage further preferences, they could have included an instruction that said people “should” vote 1-6 or 1-12 but that their vote would not count unless they voted at least 1 or 1-6.

        The fact remains that requiring 1-6 above or 1-12 tripled the informal vote. In other words, the new system is less voter-friendly than the old one. Otherwise, there would be no need for a “savings” provision. Furthermore, the marking of 1 above the line can mean marking preferences for only two candidates be formal, while marking 1-5 below the line, two-and-a-half times as many candidates, is informal. That is discriminatory against the voter who makes the greater effort.

        There are very few STV jurisdictions in the world, so the fact that Ireland, Northern Ireland and Malta apparently do not require a minimum number of preferences is not an illuminating comparison. I presume that none of them has compulsory voting either. As I explain in my submission, the argument for compulsory preferences is exactly the same as the argument for compulsory voting: the duty to choose exists al through the ballot.

        I don’t know if I am correctly following the legalese that you quote, but it seems that the exhausted votes are just defined as not exhausted, but they still have no effect on the result.

        I am fascinated by your words on Machiavelli. I did not know any of that. It seems that the Greens have been successfully Machiavellian in getting the Coalition to change the rules to make it dependent on Greens in the Senate in the long run, a very foolish decision. Perhaps it is Malcolm Turnbull’s revenge on the party that so mistreated him.

        We’ve had some experience of provosts here in Nillumbik, under the modern name of the citizens’ jury. It was established by the current council to undermine the green wedge, but things did not go according to plan. To go into that would be a digression. I’m not looking for diversity as such, but for a system that encourages voters’ votes to count in proportion to the way they voted and allows them to express those votes in an efficient way; i.e. group voting tickets. I will follow up on that point in my reply to Tom.

      • Mark,

        The new voting system was designed to cut out the competition for the balance of power so that the Greens could have it. The tables in my submission illustrate how successful that move has been, not that the Greens are there yet. The micro-parties are not all the same, but they have been almost wiped out, leading to a significant under-representation of one third of Australia’s voters in the Senate

        As I explained in my response to Alan, the argument for compulsory preferences is the same as the argument for compulsory voting: the citizen’s duty to choose even from unpalatable options. The details are in my submission.

        The current system is a backward step in that it is dishonest, it imposes more discriminatory burdens on above-the-line and below-the-line voters, it has made voting less efficient, it has increased the real informal vote, it has led to a less representative Senate and it treats micro-party voters with contempt.

        The dishonesty is in telling something that is not true. The ballots could be “saved” by making the “savings” provisions that actual rules from the start.

        The agreements between the parties were not shams. They were made by each party which judged its own interest and voters were free to ignore them if they could be bothered. I always did.

        The removal of the threat of informality did not require the end of GVTs, just optional preferences below the line.

      • Tom,

        In that case, I’ll call on Lyle Allan of the PR Society and see if I can organise a GVT in my favour!

      • Chris

        What is your point? Savings provisions have around for centuries.

        3. A savings provision is “a provision the intention of which is to narrow the effect of the enactment to which it refers so as to preserve some existing legal rule or right from its operation”. See Halsbury’s Laws of England (LexisNexis 5th ed, 2012), vol 96 at [668].

        This particular savings provision is inelegant and clunky. However calling it dishonest is simply absurd. And in any case, even accepting your point, so what?

        I am not particularly interested in expressions like ‘legalese’, or the use of them to try and argue that a provision is the exact opposite of what it requires.

      • Chris,

        You say “The micro-parties are not all the same, but they have been almost wiped out, leading to a significant under-representation of one third of Australia’s voters in the Senate”

        You can’t have it both ways. Just because one third of people vote for microparties doesn’t mean that they are voting for ANY microparty. Either you recognize that they aren’t the same and that voters aren’t going to rank them in the bonkers ways we’ve seen under the GVTs or you can claim that people really voted for a bizarre combination of far-right, far-left, far-out, and single issue parties that share nothing in common.

    • “We should … undo the Coalition/Xenophon/Greens changes to the electoral system”
      Speaking as someone who – I think it is fair to say- has put a lot of skin in the game fighting for voter-centred STV-PR in Australia over the past three decades, I say:
      Over. My. Psephological. Corpse.

      • Alan,

        Your considered comment deserves a detailed reply, but I am pushed for time at the moment, so I will return at the weekend Victorian summer time).

        Tom,

        I’ve been an advocate of STV for 50 years. The zeitgeist is with you at the moment, but that won’t make me give up. I think our argument is over “voter-centred”.

      • Chris, I can pull ahead of you in Hare-years if Alan voluntarily steps aside and lets his 95? 96? years of STV advocacy flow to me on the final ballot

      • Tom,

        The implication of your response is that you are voter-centred and I am not. Surprise! Surprise! I dispute this. Anyone who knows anything about STV knows that winning from a tiny primary vote is neither here nor there. The claims re Ricky Muir’s victory from 0.5 per cent were always designed to whip up hysteria among those who do not understand the voting system. I don’t need to explain why to you.

        That leaves us with the question of group voting tickets and voter-centeredness. GVTs are like package holidays. No one says they should be banned and everyone forbidden to go on holidays unless they organise their travel, accommodation, insurance, tours and so on separately. Package holidays are convenient. They save time. Similarly, GVTs are convenient. They saved the voter and cut the informal vote by two thirds. They are very voter-centred. Their removal has caused the informal vote to triple, a fact disguised by the “savings” provisions.

        Now, I agree that the choice between GVTs and the compulsory marking of 100 preferences below the line is unfair in that it intimidates voters into voting above the line, but the remedy, optional preferences below the line after a certain number, was always available. That remedy did not require the abolition of GVTs, but fairness did require restricting the number of preferences a GVT could express to the same number of compulsory preferences below the line.

        The only argument against GVTs made by anyone who understands STV is that voters choose GVTs that the critics do not approve of; i.e., ones in which the first party give preferences to a party that the critic thinks has beliefs that are too far removed from those of the first party. That is irrelevant if no one is intimidated into choosing that GVT. The voters are free to choose GVTs or not. If they choose one, they are trusting that their party has done a deal that is in the interest of that party. It is not up to the critic to say that such a preference flow should not be allowed.

  4. Chris, I think this is where we differ. I don’t see voting as a private recreation like taking a package holiday (or ordering a preset combo at McDonald’s, another analogy sometimes given). Rather, it’s a public trust, offering one’s individual judgement to go into the pot to produce a collective average, and it requires the voter to apply their mind to some minimal extent. Not, granted, by expecting them to number 100+ candidates they have never heard of (something we both agree on), but also not by handing their proxy vote over to Karl Bitar to fill out on their behalf. If called to serve on a jury, you can’t tell the judge “Whatever Juror No #1 decides, he seems to be the man with the plan” so you can skive off to the pub or beach quicker.
    GVTs that count preferences beyond the original party or parties the voter actaully numbered, also derive the polity of valuable information about actual, living, breathing voters’ political views. “95% of One Nation preferences flowed to Labor over LNP” or whatever means nothing if what actually happened was that Glen Druery sat down and filled out a GVT that ranked Labor over LNP and 95% of One Nation voters ticked the ATL square.
    I mean, really, how hard is it to fill out six squares with party names printed on the ballot paper? Why not enhance political accountability and transparency a notch or two by compelling the Glen Druerys to actually persuade voters to endorse their cross-party deals actively (with very minimal effort) rather than passively?
    Attempts to stretch the logic of actual-human-beings’ preferences to on-paper preferences get attenuated to the point of legal fiction when deemed preferences go to candidates the voters never actually numbered and to parties the voters never actually numbered either. Analogies with “Well, the second Liberal or third ALP candidate only got 1% too” don’t allow for the fact that, if we used SNTV, and if that party asked its supporters “Could everyone with surnames P to Z please number Hollie Hughes [1], so we win one more seat?”, those voters would probably comply – whereas asking Fred Nile’s supporters to lend all of their votes to Ricky Muir to get him over the line will get nowhere. In other words, voters are happier to transfer their votes within their preferred party than across it. It doesn’t mean they can’t vote cross-party, but if they do, they need to make this clear in black letters.

    • Yes, the comparison between a vote and a package holiday or meal is an absurd one. When I choose a package holiday, I directly experience the consequences of that choice, and as such have a strong interest in carefully scrutinising it. When I vote, however, the direct consequences of my choice to me are virtually zero (the probability that my vote will actually influence the result), so I can feel quite comfortable free riding off the presumed virtue of others.

      • “Absurd” is a tad stronger than a word I’d use to a fellow proporcionalista but I agree, the analogy isn’t close.

        “if I can sell my boat, why can’t I sell my vote?” BZZZZT! One of these things is not like the others…

      • I am in the “via media” position of supporting compulsory attendance (and enrollment) but voluntary voting (and preferences).This may seem inconsistent to both US-style libertarians and Belgian-style statist tankies, but there is a logic to it. As in administrative law, a decision-maker can and should be required to think about an issue to some minimal extent. Having thought about it, they can then decide either way.
        So: yes, compulsion to attend a polling booth, get one’s name crossed off, receive a ballot-paper, and place said ballot-paper in the official receptacle. No requirement to actually mark the ballot-paper at all, and ideally a great big “None of the Above” square which would be advisory-only in elections (as in Nevada [?]) but would have legal force as “no to all these proposals” in multiple-choice referenda.
        That way, you don’t end up with substantial demographic cohorts who lack the habit (or Bourdieu’s “habitus”) of voting, who opt out long-term from politics, and whose views are systematically not registered at the ballot-box. Also, the fact that the state positively invites your opinion enhances respect for all citizens. Rather than “grumble, grumble, if you insist on being a pest by indulging your ‘voting’ hobby, you can take four hours unpaid off work on a weekday, just as if you were going fishing”, the state tries to make it easier for you to at least think about whom to vote for.
        Semi-optional preferences fit this pattern of “nudge” libertarianism. “Number at least N candidates”, votes being transferable as long as there are unique sequential numbers (so “1, 2, 5, 5, 5” in Tasmania would be a valid vote but would exhaust after [2] – note that this is not “deceiving” voters if you word the ballot instructions carefully). That way you don’t bin large numbers of ballots before the count because they are under-votes or have mistakes, but you also avoid large numbers of votes exhausting, and (especially important when one observes the working of STV in Ireland and of fully-optional AV preferences in NSW and Queensland) avoiding an incentive for parties and coalitions to run only as many candidates as they expect to elect, which diminishes voter choice.
        “Electoral laws should encourage voters to think about their preferences” doesn’t mean voters should be compelled to number 100+ candidates they have never thought about; but it does, I submit, mean that voters should only have their ballots counted for candidates and parties they have actually thought about. Stretching the chain of presumed consent and delegation too far leads to legal fictions that are as divorced from reality as the notion that U2’s Bono is a Dutchman (which he claimed to be, for tax purposes).

    • GVTs are unknown outside Australia. Ditto minimum preference requirements. That can only mean, by Chris’ theory, that STV is a conspiracy against the public good everywhere in the world except Victoria and South Australia. Moreover the unanimous High Court judgment that arguments identical with those Chris here advances are not tenable can only indicate the lengths to which the global STV conspiracy will go to achieve world domination. How long can plucky little Victoria and South Australia hold out against these electoral Cthulhus, these intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic?

  5. The sequence of comments is mixed up, perhaps because I have clicked on the wrong buttons in some cases, so I will make this as consolidated new post.

    Alan,

    If every law in every country had a savings provision, it would not justify the AEC telling voters they must vote in a particular way when they do not have to. That is the dishonesty. My use of the term “legalese” was in reference to your quotation from Irish law, not the “savings” provision. If the law requires a voter to express only one preference above the line or only six preferences below, that is exactly what the voter should be told.

    I accept that GTVs and minimum preference requirements are unknown outside Australia, because you tell me so but so was the secret ballot in 1856. STV itself was unknown outside of Denmark in 1856. Good ideas have to start somewhere.

    My arguments are not identical to those rejected by the High Court at all. The High Court dealt with a constitutional objection. It did not rule on the suitability of the law. People can read the transcript for themselves.

    There is no conspiracy. STV is an excellent voting system, but it applies in very few jurisdictions. In think you mean WA not SA as SA has changed its Legislative Council rules. Victoria may change its too. The Liberals and the Nationals have shown in their submissions that they want to hand the balance of power to the Greens, and Labor is silent on the topic in its submission, indicating that at the very least it is thinking about it. It is also trying to get rid of STV for almost all councils in the state, a consequence I believe of John Lenders’ no longer being in Cabinet. I’d provide a link to my submission on that topic, but there isn’t one. The earlier consultation on local government reform was long and public, but we got new minister for local government and everything changed: the four-years of consultation became irrelevant and submissions – who knows how many there were? – were no longer public.

    Mark,

    Voting for a micro-party is not the same as voting for any micro-party, but we know from the 2013 results that voters did vote for several micro-parties in sufficient numbers to get many candidates from them elected because it was easy for them to do so. In 2019, it was harder, so fewer did so and thus they lost representation. I know there are complaints about which other arties parties preferenced, but, as I keep saying, having optional preferences below the line was all that was need to deal with that problem. Experience in Victoria tells us that, even when voting below the line is dead easy, people prefer to vote above the line and are not troubled by the results. We’ve had four elections under STV so far, and the complaints don’t come from micro-party voters who say that their micro-party preferenced a micro-party they didn’t like.

    I looked at the final seat in each region with a micro-party MLC in 2014 and the total state vote for various micro-parties to see how upset the preferencing party voters were likely to be about the result; e.g., how likely is it that voters for the Australian Christians (1.03), the Country Alliance (0.68), the DLP (2.32), Family First (1.83), the Liberal Democrats (3.06), PUP (1.95), People Power (0.35) or Rise up Australia (0.52) are angry that Shooters and Fishers (1.65) won instead of the ALP, the Greens or the Liberals/Nationals in Eastern and Northern Victoria? That’s 13.39 per cent of voters in total.

    I don’t have a problem if a party does a deal with another party it has little in common with as long as voters are not intimidated into voting above the lime, which they are not in Victoria and would not be under my Senate proposal.

    Tom and hschlechta,

    I’m out of time. I will return tomorrow.

    • Tom and hschlechta,

      I apologise for the delay in responding. I have been tied up with other things, including making many posts on local news sites re Australia’s latest disappointing but predicted PISA performance, education being my main area of interest. I sometimes think I shouldn’t start these discussions.

      There are differences between package holidays and group voting tickets, but they are both conveniences. I see nothing wrong with convenience as long as it isn’t the result of intimidation. It could be under the old Senate system because of the compulsory marking of 100+ preferences below the line. It could not be under my proposal because only 12 preferences would be required below the line. – though they really would be required. I like the idea of empowering all voters to be included by allowing a single number to express a pre-determined order of preferences for those who want to trust their parties.

      It’s not the same as the jury because the preference flow is publicly available knowledge.

      I’m not going to convince you, but that’s not my aim. I just want my views on the public record. I convinced the federal ALP not to fall for the “reform”. I am now trying to convince the state ALP.

      I have to get back to PISA now.

      • Ah, the federal ALP! Long renowned for championing electoral systems that make MPs’ victories depend on their personal standing with voters and not merely on their favour with a small handful of party power-breakers.

        If you could convince those doughty STV stalwarts to support 1-in-one-square-conveys-full-endorsement-of-the party-secretary’s-Senate-preference-ticket, Chris, your arguments for it must have been very strong. Very strong indeed.

      • Tom,

        I just used logic – as per my submission – and realpolitik – do you really want future Labor governments held hostage by the Greens in the Senate? – and Labor saw the light.

        I didn’t do it alone. Australia’s premier psephologist , Malcolm Mackerras, is even more vehemently opposed to the new system than I, though he doesn’t support the old system either.

      • Chris

        Quite right, too. Frankly I’m astonished that you do not take your logic of whether a particular rule favours or disfavours the interests of a major party to its logical conclusion and simply advocate abolishing the senate.

      • Alan,

        My logic is not “whether a particular rule favours or disfavours the interests of a major party”. My logic is that the system should not be rigged to favour any party, in this case, the Greens. Equally, I opposed the reduction in the number of seats in the Tasmanian House of Assembly years ago by the Coalition and Labor, which was designed to cut the Greens out, and I am opposing the out-of-nowhere move by the Victorian Labor government to remove the single transferable vote from almost every council in the state, which is designed to reduce the number of Greens councillors.

        I have always been a strong supporter of the Senate. It is more representative of the voters than the House of Representatives:
        1970 Senate Vote% Seats Seats%
        ALP 42.2 13 41
        DLP 11.1 3 9
        Coalition 38.9 14 44
        Other 8.5 2 6

        1972 House of Representatives
        ALP 49.6 67 54
        DLP 5.2 0 0
        Coalition 41.4 58 46
        Other 3.8 0 0

        1974 Senate
        ALP 47.3 29 48
        DLP 3.6 0 0
        Coalition 43.6 29 48
        Other 5.5 2 4

        1974 House of Representatives
        ALP 49.3 66 52
        DLP 1.4 0 0
        Coalition 45.8 61 48
        Other 3.5 0 0

        1975 Senate
        ALP 40.9 27 42
        DLP 2.7 0 0
        Coalition 51.7 35 55
        Other 4.7 2 3

        1975 House of Representatives
        ALP 42.8 36 28
        DLP 1.3 0 0
        Coalition 53.1 91 72
        Other 2.8 0 0

        1977 Senate
        ALP 36.8 14 41
        Democrats 11.1 2 6
        Coalition 45.6 18 53
        Other 6.5 0. 0

        1977 House of Representatives
        ALP 39.6 38 31
        Democrats 9.4 0 0
        Coalition 48.1 86 69
        Other 2.9 0 0

        1980 Senate
        ALP 42.3 15 44
        Democrats 9.3 3 9
        Coalition 43.6 15 44
        Other 4.9 1 3

        1980 House of Representatives
        ALP 45.2 51 41
        Democrats 6.6 0. 0
        Coalition 46.4 64 59
        Other 1.9 0. 0
        (More figures are in my comments at http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?article=14427&page=0.)

        The other advantage of the Senate is that as only half the state senators are elected at each Senate election it smooths out temporary enthusiasms.

      • I don’t know why the figures are all over the place. They were lined up in columns in the box before I clicked on “Post Comment”.

      • hschlechta,

        It doesn’t concern me because it so easy to vote below the line in Victoria. It would concern me if voters had to choose between the party’s GVT and marking 100 preferences below the line, but they don’t. The voters who choose not to follow the party’s HTV and those who choose to follow the party’s GVT are not the same people. They are different people and have made different choices.

    • I would be more comfortable with group voting tickets if I believed that voters really were comfortable with parties determining their preference ordering. However, I find this hard to believe.

      In 2019 in Victoria, approximately 18.8% of Labor voters and 27.6% of Liberal/National voters followed the how-to-vote cards put out by their party. Virtually all voters attending a polling station would have been handed one of these cards, and would have thus known how their parties wanted them to order their preferences in the Senate. Nonetheless, the vast majority of voters rejected these orderings when they were placed on an equal footing with all other possible preference orderings. Compare these rates with the >90% rates of above-the-line voting in Victoria for the Legislative Council. Either you believe voters are dramatically more trusting of the state Labor and Liberal parties, or you accept that the effect of the above-the-line box is to push voters into following recommendations that there is no evidence they strongly trust.

      • hschlechta,

        The evidence that they trust their parties is that they vote above the line in the Victorian Legislative Council when it is dead easy not to.

        I was unaware of those Senate figures, but they show that in the Senate the same sorts of voters did not trust their parties when it was just as easy not to.

        In other words, we have two cases in which it is easy to vote your own preferences. In one case, voters chose to; in the other, they did not. In both cases, it is the voters’ choice.

      • Chris, does it not concern you somewhat that when voters are explicitly provided information about how the major parties would like them to vote, they are less likely to vote in accordance with them? It’s possible for a voter to follow a party’s preference ordering through the GVT mechanism while remaining totally ignorant of what that party’s preferences are, but it’s impossible to follow a party’s preference order on a how-to-vote card without knowing what those preferences are. It’s hard, in that context, to say GVT voters are exercising a similarly informed choice to how-to-vote card voters.

    • Rob,

      Yes, the Australian Senate system is a preferential party list system in that voters are told to preference the group voting tickets of each party and most do so rather than vote for the individual candidates below the line.

  6. I’ve decided all elections should be on a Wednesday, and every election day should be a paid public holiday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday all coincide with religious observances. Monday and Friday would merely generate long weekends and encourage voters to skive off to the beach. Tuesday and Thursday have weaker forms of the same problems as Monday and Friday.

    Ideally election days should not coincide with climatic extremes (increasingly difficult in Australia) or school holidays. Equinoctial elections forever!.

    • The day-of-week issue can be dealt with by making advance voting simple and easy. Half of New Zealanders took this option in the most recent election.

      • Early voting is not a good solution. It should certainly be available, but elections where a large proportion of the votes are cast in ignorance of the whole of the campaign are undesirable. Ditto the problems with large numbers of votes cast outside the purview of electoral officials and under the eyes of family members. Ditto the ease of impersonation with early voting. Ditto the privatisation of the act of voting. Last but not least, early voting threats the death of the democracy sausage.

        More seriously, as Politico noted.:

        Why? For all its conveniences, early voting threatens the basic nature of citizen choice in democratic, republican government. In elections, candidates make competing appeals to the people and provide them with the information necessary to be able to make a choice. Citizens also engage with one another, debating and deliberating about the best options for the country. Especially in an age of so many nonpolitical distractions, it is important to preserve the space of a general election campaign — from the early kickoff rallies to the last debates in October — to allow voters to think through, together, the serious issues that face the nation.

        The integrity of that space is broken when some citizens cast their ballots as early as 46 days before the election, as some states allow. A lot can happen in those 46 days. Early voters are, in essence, asked a different set of questions from later ones; they are voting with a different set of facts. They may cast their ballots without the knowledge that comes from later candidate debates (think of the all-important Kennedy-Nixon debates, which ran from late September 1960 until late October); without further media scrutiny of candidates; or without seeing how they respond to unexpected national or international news events — the proverbial “October surprise.” The 2008 election, for example, could have ended differently had many voters cast their ballots before the massive economic crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers that September. Similarly, candidates often seek to delay the release of embarrassing information, or the implementation of difficult policies, until after votes have been cast. A wave of votes starting months before the election date makes this easier.

        The solution to long voting delays is to resource election administration better.

      • I’m no fan of mass early/absentee voting, but the problem with this argument is that it ignores the fact that many voters will back a given party irrespective of facts and circumstances, no amount of persuasion will convince them otherwise, and whether they vote early or on election day will make no difference whatsoever in the election outcome.

      • Like many things in elections, it’s a trade-off with no perfect solution. NZ Advance votes (as opposed to Postal) are made under the same physical conditions as Election Day voting, so most issues you list simply don’t apply. Personally I think the available early window should only be a full week (in NZ’s case it is two). With decent Election Day procedures, a week of advance voting would be a good compromise.

      • I disagree with you on this, Alan. We leave the process of information-gathering around election campaign largely up to voters: you can read carefully about each party’s platform, or you can vote for the party with the most amusing name. Voting without campaign information can potentially be a perfectly rational decision: I may not care about gaffes, or feel that any story that comes out in the campaign is likely to be fully fleshed out enough to change my point of view. Even if all votes were cast on Election Day, voters would not be voting with the same set of facts.

      • Voting should be as easily as possible. I genuinely wonder how many voters really need to wait for the latest information to make up their minds.

        But if new information is really a concern, we can always keep early voters’ ballots segregated in marked envelopes until polls close. If someone comes in and casts a new ballot, toss the old one. Once polls are closed, empty the early ballots out of the envelopes and into the same bins as the day of votes and started counting.

      • Errol

        I agree a week of early voting is reasonable, especially if the votes are cast in person at an early voting centre.

        Mark

        I really like your idea of the revocable early vote.

        Henry

        While it will always be true that all electors do not have the same facts, that is different from all electors having access to the same facts. The issue of access to facts has become a central problem of democracy with the development of ideological bunkers on the Internet where you can select your own facts (or more accurately have your facts selected for you by microtargeting). There is a whole lot more trickle-down than bubble-up on the Internet.

        I’m not sure of a longterm solution, although some signs are emerging like the deliberative process for initiatives in Oregon, and the referendum commission in Ireland. The Irish commission does not conduct referendums, it prepares one or more statements explaining the referendum proposal, the text in the relevant bill and any other information the commission considers appropriate. While that sounds an impossible task, both sides agreed, after the marriage equality referendum, that the commission had been fair to them. The UK Constitution Unit has made much more elaborate and deliberative proposals than exist in either Oregon or Ireland.

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