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.

128 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.


    • This is intended as a concurrence to Henry’s most recent comment, but who knows where it will end up.

      Around a fifth of the Green electorate consistently vote 1 Green 2 Liberal. That appears strange within the structure of the party system, but there’s actually no reason why someone cannot support both environmentalism and market liberalism. One of the great advantages of STV (including its M=1 subset) is that it empowers and discloses constituencies who are otherwise invisible to the polity. Single-choice voting (including its M>1 subsets) simply cannot do that.

      As far as I know the Greens have never posted a GVT for the fifth of their electorate that second preference the Liberals. The chance of them doing so in the foreseeable future is approximately the same as hell freezing over.


  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).


        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.


    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.


    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.


        I really like your idea of the revocable early vote.


        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.


      • Manuel

        The rusted-on voter is just someone that democracy has to live with. I am still in therapy after the last NSW legislative election where I had to choose between the Nationals and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party because one of them was going to get my effective preference. Rusties will vote rusty no matter what voting arrangements are made.


      • Important to distinguish “early pre-poll voting by in-person attendance ballot,” which also takes place under the watchful eye of election administrators (just before election day) from “postal voting”, which by definition doesn’t (and is also by definition conducted before election day*).
        Some commentators don’t distinguish the two and assume that legitimate concerns about impersonation and pressuring apply to all forms of pre-poll early voting.
        * At present. It is conceivable if if voting by Internet becomes adopted widely, you could have what are effectively electronic postal votes cast at home; it would be possible to insist these all be cast on Election Day only – or, less draconian-ly, that any cast before a certain time Election Day can be revoked and replaced by the voter, the way that students can upload their assignment via TurnItIn long before the due date but can then replace it with a more polished draft, with the latest version lodged pre-deadline being the one that gets marked.
        Such a system would be diametrically in the opposite corner of the matrix from pre-poll attendance voting; impersonation and pressure would remain risks but last-minute “October surprises” would not (or would be reduced to the same 10-hour, one-day window as we have now, which is deemed tolerable).


  7. Pingback: Election days and early voting | Fruits and Votes

  8. Saw this recently:
    Miranda Spencer, “Voting While ‘Mentally Ill’: A Legacy of Discrimination. Archaic legal and practical barriers to voting are arbitrarily enforced to disenfranchise people judged ‘mentally incompetent’.”
    Mad In America.(25 October 2020), https://www.madinamerica.com/2020/10/voting-mentally-ill/
    I am a simple-cutoffs fan (ie, the cost of a rule includes the cost of administering and interpreting it, as well as the costs it causes and those it fails to prevent) so I am not persuaded that one needs to disqualify voters on the basis of mental disease or defect. If someone has enough acuity to mark twelve squares on an Australian Senate ballot, or to ink a dozen circles on a US long ballot, that seems proof enough they are lucid to vote. (The other way around – if Stephen Hawking is lucid enough to indicate his preferred candidates by blinking his eyes, even if he can’t physically mark a ballot – should also count).
    Yes, there is a risk that the occasional Britney Spears might be capable of selecting candidates and marking their names on a ballot but doing so in a way that spells out “C-T-H-U-L-H-U” rather than consistently on the basis of ideology or character. Against that risk must be balanced the realisation that someone who is capable of flying a USAF aircraft, and therefore lucid by any legal test for competence, can still end up believing QAnon. I say err on the side of inclusion.


    • Life is too short to re-litigate the undue burden placed upon thousands of supporters of the Christian Democrat/ Family First/ Motor Enthusiast/ Anti-Daylight Saving/ One Nation Quintuple Alliance Popular People’s Front who must now number a whole twelve squares (TWELVE! What the hell is Australia becoming, North Korea?!) instead of one, but I do wish to withdraw my snark above in using Ms Spears as an example of “crazy adult”, since it is becoming increasingly clear that she may (and, lawyer hat on, may) have been misrepresented in the media: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-23/the-moment-free-britney-fans-have-been-waiting-for/100231194


  9. The campaign to remove micro-parties from upper houses in Australia continues. The Western Australian government has used the election of a candidate to the Legislative Council from 98 primary votes to establish a process for electoral “reform”. The election of eight major party candidates from even smaller primary votes has occasioned no hysteria at all – of course – telling us, yet again, that the purpose of the “reform” is not democracy but the removal of outsiders from representation. You can find submissions at https://www.wa.gov.au/government/document-collections/submissions-wa-electoral-reform. Mine is F59. I am not quite a minority of one in not falling for the hysteria. There are also John Watt (J106) and Tom Hoyer (I84). J105 is also worth a look for other reasons. I expect that more submission will appear as I know Malcolm Mackerras has made one and the prominent figures who argued for the Senate “reform” will surely turn up. Of course, it’s a done deal as three of the four panel members stated their views before they were appointed to the panel – that’s why they were appointed. I still made a submission as the historical record should show that not everyone fell for it.

    This “reform” will leave Victoria with the best system in the country. The Labor government here has so far resisted attempts to rig the system, but the campaign continues.


      • Thank you. It seems a few submissions have turned up since I posted my comment. There are still some numbers missing from the sequence, so maybe there are more still to appear.


      • hschlechta,

        I don’t think you’re beating a dead horse. I am doing so. I am the one with the minority view. But you are right to say this topic has bene well covered on this site. Equally, it is well covered in my submission.

        But the point about preferences isn’t minor. Australia has compulsory voting. You cannot legally refuse to vote because none of the four, five, six or whatever candidates on offer is your first choice. If follows that, if your first choice is excluded, your duty to choose from those still in the contest remains: you cannot logically refuse to express a further preference because none of the four, five, six or whatever candidates remaining on offer is your second, third of whatever choice. It is simply wrong tell one group of voters, those who vote below the line, that their duty extends to five further candidates and another group of voters, those who vote above the line, that their duty extends to only one further candidate. It is even worse to declare the first voter’s vote informal because it marked only four further preferences below the line while accepting the second voters’ vote as formal because it marked only 1 above the line for a party with only two candidates in it. It’s not hard to count to 12 or even 5 as in Victoria.


      • The ballot is secret, so you cannot force anyone to cast a certain number of preferences. All you can do is disenfranchise them if they choose not to do so.

        If elections are supposed to be representative, then forcing people to vote for people that they don’t like and that don’t represent their views, out of fear they’ll disenfranchise themselves and thus be unrepresented if they don’t, is absurdly undemocratic logic. It also feels more than a little contrived to have originally forced preference flows from minor parties toward the major parties against the will of the voters, which is exactly the thing you’re complaining about.


    • Mackerras’ is already there (F60). I’m wondering why J105 is so notable; it seems pretty common sense. I think its attitude toward the threshold is hyperbolic (Australian GVT STV is already a hybrid system, STV is inherently strategic, and an easy solution would be to apply the threshold not on first preference votes, but at the first point a candidate must be excluded).

      Personally I think it’s absurd to compare preference flows within candidates of the same party to GVT-induced preference snowballs, particularly considering that snowball in question happened in a malapportioned region with 16% the population of the largest region. Trying to claim above-the-line votes are “primary votes” only for the first candidate on the list rather than votes for the candidates en banc is true only in the most technical sense possible and is a misrepresentation of the vast majority of voters’ intentions.

      I think almost no one considers the elimination of group voting tickets undemocratic in the slightest, and if voters want their preferences to flow to Daylight Savings I’m sure they’ll figure out how to write a 2 above the line like they already do in federal elections.


      • Christopher,

        Thank you. It wasn’t there when I looked. I see that Malcolm Mackerras has decided to support the Senate system for WA, despite vehemently opposing it since it was first proposed, on the grounds that if he backs it for WA its chief proponents, Antony Green and Kevin Bonham, will back his system for Victoria. I think that won’t happen. Once WA falls, which it will as this inquiry has a predetermined outcome, all forces will be directed against Victoria. It will then depend on the resolve of the Victorian Labor government. That government has already taken the biggest backward step for electoral democracy in the state’s history by changing local government voting to reduce the chances of the Greens winning local council seats, so it is unlikely to change the Legislative Council voting system to increase the Greens’ chances of winning the balance of power, which, despite all the hoo-ha, is what this issue is all about.

        Thresholds are incompatible with STV systems as they remove candidates who may end up with more support than candidates allowed to remain in the contest.

        Malapportionment is a separate issue.

        I think you are right to say that almost no one considers the elimination of group voting tickets undemocratic. That just shows how successful the campaign of hysteria has been. Group voting tickets dramatically reduced the percentage of informal votes in Senate elections and thus improved the representativeness of the result. The only problem was that the demand for all preferences to be completed below the line intimidated voters into voting above the line. All that was required to fix that problem was the introduction of optional preferences after a certain number below the line, as in Victoria.

        Allowing preferences above the line is discriminatory because it imposes a different standard for votes to be formal on different classes of voters. Thus, a person who puts1 above the line in a Senate election for a party with two candidates has expressed only two preferences yet has cast a formal vote, but a person who puts 1-5 below the line has expressed five preferences yet has not cast a formal vote. Both voters should have to meet the same standard.

        The more preferences that are required, the fewer votes that will exhaust and the more proportional the system will be. The more preferences that are required, the more often voters will make mistake sand the more votes that will be declared informal. The rules need to find a mid-point. I think 12 is a reasonable number for compulsory preferences. It follows that the group voting ticket should also stop at 12 preferences as a voter who put only 1 above the line should not have more say in the result than one who puts the required 12 preferences below the line.


      • This topic has been discussed at some length before on this site, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but with regard to the fears that preferences above the line are somehow “discriminatory”, this seems like an extremely minor concern impacting only those voters who have strong preferences between the candidates of small parties that only nominate two candidates and no preferences about any other candidates or parties. Particularly given that there is no hard-and-fast rule for how many preferences is “correct”, as you rightly state, and that these reforms all take place in a context where voters have been told for 40 years to number only one box above the line.

        This should be traded off against the benefit of allowing voters to indicate preferences amongst parties more easily when they are largely indifferent about the identity of individual Senate candidates (as many Australian voters are), rather than choosing from amongst the restricted menu of options offered by group tickets (if we assume that active and deliberate choices are being made in this area, which I think is inaccurate) or pointlessly numbering boxes for individual candidates in party order to satisfy the demands of a few STV purists.

        Matthew, I think Maley is completely right. Thresholds would be a risky solution, and thankfully they have been rejected so far, largely because optional preferences above the line have achieved their stated purpose in every jurisdiction which they have been implemented: the Daylight Savings-antivaxxer-libertarian-animal rights-green-cannabis legalisation-shooter alliance is more fragile than was expected.


      • I do think the point on untried hybrids is a little ironic considering that group voting tickets were themselves an untried hybrid when they were introduced and that ultimately all election systems have to be introduced somewhere for the first time.

        I agree that they are unnecessary if the GVT snowball is eliminated and that removing them could reduce the possibility of a snowball that is actually the preference of the voters from happening (that is, I do imagine there is a significant constituency of voters whose sincere preference is “give my vote to anyone that isn’t Labor, Liberal, or Green”). However, I don’t think they’d be the end of the world in terms of democraticity, and I also feel like they’d ultimately have little effect without GVTs—I don’t know what the lowest share of the primary vote of a candidate who was elected in an STV election that didn’t use GVTs was, but I’m certain it’s nowhere near 1%.

        I tend to think of GVTs as a hybrid between party list systems and STV, to think of the below the line option as a variant on ordered lists where voters have a remote though real possibility to overturn the list, and to think of the Senate system almost as operating more as a variant on Droop largest remainder than as a real STV election. In the context of party list systems, I think a 1% threshold is un controversial provided it is applied at the party level and not the individual candidate level.


      • Christopher,

        There are many examples of candidates being elected in an STV election without group voting tickets from less than 1 per cent of the vote. In 1949, Albert Reid of the Country Party was elected as a senator from NSW with 12,940 initial votes (0.5 percent); John Gorton of the Liberal Party was elected as a senator from Victoria with 1,510 initial votes (0.1 per cent); Archibald Benn of the ALP was elected as a senator from Queensland with 2,109 initial votes (0.3 per cent) (http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/a/australia/, which gives percentage results to one decimal place). In 1980, Bruce Childs of the ALP (with 3,605 initial votes or 0.1 per cent), Douglas Scott of the National Country Party (with 4,922 initial votes or 0.2 per cent) and Kerry Sibraa of the ALP (with 5,009 initial votes or 0.2 per cent) were all elected as senators from NSW.

        The fat that they were elected via preferences within their party is immaterial because STV is a candidate-based system, not aa party-based one. In some cases, a candidate is elected on preferences from a candidate of a different party but within the same group as when the Liberal Party and the Country Party put up joint tickets.


      • Perhaps I could have been more precise. I meant from parties with less than 1% of the vote; of course preferences are going to flow within Labor and the Coalition from the top of the list to the bottom.


        • Actually preferences do not always flow from the top of the list to the bottom. Senators have been elected out of the order recommended by their party. In the ACT and Tasmania Robson Rotation makes any notion of the top of a list irrelevant.


      • Yes but those votes are still staying within the party for the vast majority of voters. Robson rotation changes the order a party’s candidate appear in, but those candidates still appear grouped together and in the same column on every candidate’s ballot, and even within other STV systems which don’t group by party the vast majority of preferences flow within the party’s entire ticket rather than leaking or exhausting.

        What is the smallest share of the first preference vote a party has received in a non-GVT STV election that resulted in the party electing someone?


    • That makes sense. It’s low but not absurdly low (40% of a quota, I think?). Hardly the same thing as Muir or Dropulich or whoever the Daylight Savings lot elected. I definitely think there should be more discussion about whether or not to prefer large or small STV constituencies where that is the only proportional chamber (I’d personally go with smaller multi-member constituencies for the lower house and a single large constituency for the upper house, but no one has yet copied my desires), both in WA and beyond, but I think whatever one’s feelings are on that it’s hard to call 1.8% + transfers an unrepresentative snowball.

      I would definitely push back at claims that STV in Australia is “candidate-centered.” The system is theoretically candidate-centered, but so is FPTP in Canada and the UK and Ruth Ellen Brosseau sure as hell didn’t win her seat in 2011 by wowing the voters with her French rhetoric. For all intents and purposes it has operated as a semi-open list system with a unique largest remainder method, and that applied before GVTs as well as after.


      • The chips really are stacked against Senators who want to run meaningful BTL campaigns. They represent large constituencies, raising campaign costs and making it hard to build meaningful relationships with constituents. Strict party discipline makes it hard for Senators to carve out an ideological niche without bucking the party line so frequently that they get thrown out. It might be nice if voters cared a great deal about who their Senators were, but there is little reason for a rational and time-poor voter to bother. These problems are exacerbated for state upper houses, where members are even less prominent.


      • I think it is polite to reply to people who reply to me, but I also understand that someone has to have the last word and it does not have to be me.

        I am certain that I am right in speaking up for the micro-party voters, but I accept that I am not going to convince other people who are also certain that they are right. I can remember as an experienced school timetabler attempting to explain to the principal, the curriculum coordinator and my intended replacement some basic timetabling principles (i.e., ones that other experienced timetablers would understand) and getting nowhere. As a former DLP candidate, I am used to being in the minority. That’s just how it is.

        The people who create an issue, whatever it is, have the advantage of framing the discussion by the way they present it to people who have never before given it a moment’s thought. This issue was created by the Greens because the ALP successfully preferenced Steve Fielding over them in 2004. They were able to do this by pretending there was something significant in his low primary vote even though dozens of candidates had been elected from low primary votes since 1949 without any controversy. The media, being given to gullibility, jumped on board, and the issue has rolled on ever since.

        I think I have covered most of the points raised here in my various submissions and realise there is not a lot to be gained by repeating those point.

        The WA panel will recommend the Senate system, the Greens will move to concentrate their efforts on the last democratic hold-out, Victoria, and I will do what I can to strengthen the spine of the Victorian Labor government to resist and to get the federal ALP to promise to undo the Senate system that I and others eventually convinced it to vote against.


      • Yeah but the issue isn’t really the low primary vote; that might be a pretext but in itself its not problematic. It’s that there is no way that most Labor voters preferred Family First over Greens, and yet in order to vote 1-6 Labor 7-12 Greens they would have needed to fill in dozens of superfluous boxes.

        Forcing voters to choose between a cumbersome election process to express their true preference or an easy one that doesn’t (particularly when many of them may not realize just how out of line a GVT is with their sincere preferences), even with the Victorian reforms that only require partial preferences, is not “democratic” in any sense of that word.

        If the Daylight Savings Party had started on 98 and then received sincere later preferences from a quota worth of voters, that would be one thing, but I think given the almost universal negative reaction to that result, with not anywhere near a quota worth of the population defending it, this is a result of an electoral system overturning the will of the voters when a system that would respect their will is available, and therefore is indefensible.


  10. The report of the Western Australian expert committee into electoral reform has presented its report. It proposes abolishing group voting tickets, and also abolishing districts. All members of the Legislative Council will be elected from one statewide district, thus removing the rural malapportionment that currently exists. There will also be no staggering of terms, meaning that all thirty-six members of the Legislative Council will be elected in one go. I believe this will be the highest-DM STV election, at least for directly elected seats, in any jurisdiction ever (I checked the 1925 Irish Senate election but that was for 19 seats only).


    • Thanks, still reading. I wonder why they went for 36 instead of 35? Even-numbered chambers are generally a bad idea.


    • Are they proposing Senate-style party tickets, or are they proposing candidate-based STV with 36 seats?

      Not sure if you’re considering the NSW Legislative Council to be STV (I would), but they elect 21 at a time statewide, don’t they?


      • Recommendation 2 is:


        blockquote>2. That Group Voting Tickets be abolished and replaced with Optional Preferential Voting for the WA Legislative Council with voters instructed on the ballot paper as follows:
        • For voters Above the Line, to mark one or more squares.
        • For voters Below the Line, to mark a specified minimum number of squares. As
        explained in Section 3.1.6 of this Report, this number will depend on the number of candidates being elected.



        The senate no longer uses GVTs. I would prefer they’d gone with Hare-Clark, and I think there is a case for districts, at least in remote areas, but this is a great improvement.


      • I think Hare-Clark with M=37 would be quite impractical. Just managing the Robson rotation would be a challenge.


      • Hare-Clark denotes a districted system with reasonably low magnitudes. The districting principle was written into the Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Act 1994 in the ACT. They formerly had 2 districts where M=5 and 1 where M=7. They now have 5 districts where M=5.


  11. I missed the fact that others had already update this thread, but here’s what I have written anyway.

    The WA panel did recommend the Senate system, but it also recommend that the state be one electorate, with either 36 members elected every four years for four-year terms or 18 members elected every four years for eight-year terms. The government has decided on 37 members, to be elected every four years. The uneven number is to allow the presiding officer to have a casting vote.

    While the hysteria about candidates not from major parties winning from tiny primary votes was victorious on the voting system, the effects will not be so unjust because the quota is so low and micro-parties will not automatically be shut out, which of course was the whole goal of the original Greens-inspired campaign. You can find the government announcement at https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2021/09/Electoral-Equality-Bill-introduced-into-State-Parliament.aspx.

    The group voting ticket that covers several parties is to be replaced by several group voting tickets, one for each party. Voters are required to mark only one preference above the line but may mark more. If they mark only one, that preference may flow to five, ten, 20 or even 30 candidates below the line, but they will all be members of the same party. By contrast, to vote formally below the line the voter must mark 20 preferences. They may also be in one party, but if a party runs only five candidates the voter will have to go outside that party to reach the formal 20 preferences. It is the duty of the citizen to choose even from unpalatable offerings. The principle behind compulsory voting and the compulsory marking of preferences is the same: the voter must choose at every stage from the available candidates even if they are all terrible. The voter who puts only 1 above the line is ignoring his or her duty to choose from unpalatable alternatives, a choice that cannot be made in Legislative Assembly elections. Furthermore, a voter who puts 1 above the line for a party with only five candidates will have cast a formal vote, while a voter who goes to the trouble of putting 1-19 below the line for ,say, three different parties, will have cast an informal vote. That is unjust.

    Under a whole-state lectorate, table 3 in the report shows that 27 candidates ( 21 Labor, five Liberal and one Greens) would be elected from very small primary votes, those being all the candidates except the first on each ticket. Opponents of GVTs pretend that a preference passed from a candidate of one party to another candidate of the same party has more value that preference passed from a candidate of one party to a candidate of another party. This is contrary to the whole point of the single transferable vote.

    The panel claims to want to maximise voters’ control over their preferences, yet it ignores two obvious steps to increase this, both in my submission. The first is to increase nomination fees for candidates after the first in each group, so that parties would run only the number of candidates they believed could win, thus reducing the total number on the ballot paper and making filling in squares less daunting for the voter. The second is to provide a how-to-vote app so that voters can work out their preferences at home and ensure that they are formal.

    The government is particularly duplicitous. If it wanted to encourage people to vote below the line, it would have discouraged parties from nominating many more candidates than can be elected. I am thinking of the ridiculous ALP, LNP and Greens nomination of 12 Senate candidates each in Victoria in 2016. That is why I proposed increasing nomination fees for each extra candidate in the group and making the return of the nomination fees dependent on a different level of support depending on how many candidates were in the group. Instead, under Section 49 of the Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill 2021, the nomination fee is capped at $10,000 for the whole group, no matter how many candidates are in it. This is was undoubtedly inserted to save the Labor Party money. It can now run 20 candidates for $10,000 instead of $40,000. So can the Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens and everyone else. So, the ballot paper will be clogged with candidates, making it far more daunting to vote below the line.

    The only feature that saves this “reform” from being the unmitigated disaster that the Senate system is is that the quota will be so low that that small minorities will still be able to gain representation despite the appalling features in it and the hysteria that produced it. The voting system is disgraceful, but, unlike the Senate, voters are not to be lied to and the very small quota means that micro-parties still have a chance of representation unless those who form them are so silly as to form dozens in a Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea madness. In other words, it will be up to small groups to put minor differences aside and unite in order to gain representation. If they are unable to do so, it will be on their own heads.

    In summary, the voting system is unfair to voters but the representation that results from that system may not be so unfair if small groups are able to unite and thus take advantage of the small quota.


  12. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is conducting its usual election review. There are over 1,200 submissions so far. I suspect many are pro forma ones from various lobby groups, but I do not have the time, energy or inclination to go through them all to find out. My submission, which is – surprise, surprise! – on the Senate system, is No 383 at https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2022federalelection/Submissions. That of Malcolm Mackerras, also a vehement opponent of the new system, is No 5.

    The Victorian election has just produced another interesting Legislative Council, and the cries of the “reformers” are loud, as always. The vote count is low so far, but Labor is currently predicted to have 15 seats; the Opposition, 13; and t various minor parties, 12. You can find interim predicted results at https://www.abc.net.au/news/elections/vic/2022/guide/lc-results. I will be making the usual submission to the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee.


    • Chris, I don’t want to be accused of beating a dead horse, but given that you will be probably the only person to submit a comment in favour of group ticket voting to the Victorian inquiry, I have to ask – what empirical evidence is there for the statement that “Some may argue that the votes of Others should not be aggregated because the parties and independents in that aggregation have different ideologies. If the previous system allowed them to gain representation their differences in ideology did not matter to their voters.”?


      • hschlecta,

        I would, in typical Aussie fashion, address you by your first name, but I do not know what it is, so please excuse me.

        I have read so many statements to the effect I claim over the past 18 years that I have just absorbed it as an indisputable fact, but I did not note any specific ones, so I will need to conduct a search to find them. I will have to think about the search terms I use as “group voting tickets” and “above-the-line votes” will not bring up the very specific quotations I need. Nonetheless, I accept the challenge, but it will take me some time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hschlecta,

        I do apologise for the time it has taken me to get back to you. It has been very difficult to come up with search terms to find the relevant comments because they are obviously not worded exactly as your quotation from me: “Some may argue that the votes of Others should not be aggregated because the parties and independents in that aggregation have different ideologies.” I have now done the necessary research. I think there is limit on the number of links I may give in a post, so I have given title references.

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        [Chris’s] view would be democratic if voters ticked a box labelled micro-party. They didn’t.
        What happened was that those who voted for a micro-party had their voted directed to not just parties with similar aims, but to parties with totally irrelevant aims to what the person voted for, and to parties with the opposite aims.
        Does Chris really believe that those who voted for the Shooters and Fishers in 2004 in Northern Metropolitan wanted to elect Fiona Patten from the Sex Party? Thanks to preference whispering they did.

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        The low primary rate for the Greens would, on a proportional basis, give the Greens 4 seats in the upper house. Last I heard they were only getting 1.
        As I think I’ve said, anyone voting for
        Hinch, Hudson 4 NV, Aussie Battler Party, Sustainable Australia or Transport Matters
        are preferencing the conservative parties of the Liberal Democrats and the Shooters, Fishers and the extreme right of the Australia Liberty Alliance (ALA) before any of the ALP, Greens, or Liberals.
        The ALA are so bad that not only the Greens but the ALP and even the Liberals put the ALA last.
        It is also questionable that someone voting for an issue micro-party would want to highly preference another issue party which deals with a totally unrelated issue.
        when they have less than 3% of the vote.
        (“Coalition pares back losses in late counting, as predicted chaos eventuates in upper house”, The Conversation, 25/11/2018)

        I agree that it is just as Victorians voted, but I suspect it is not as they intended. You are are assuming the various and disparate micro parties are a block. Druery thinks so too. But does the public at large?
        (“Safeguard our democracy by voting below the line”, “If you want to avoid a ‘democratic shambles’, vote below the line” (online title), Adrian Beaumont, The Age, 19/11/2022

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        Two reasons Group Tickets are wrong Robbbie:
        Firstly, it isn’t like parties preferencing each other.
        For example if you voted for Hinch, Hdson 4 NV, Aussie Battler Party, Sustainable Australia, or Transport Matters then the group ticket had Australia Liberty Alliance (ALA) above Labor, Liberal or Green.
        The ALP is so bad that not only the Greens put them last, but so did the ALP and the Liberals.
        Also unrelated niche parties are preferencing each other.

        Daniel Cotton:
        The problem is that parties are not preferencing others in order of like-mindedness. Instead you might see a right wing micro preference a left wing micro and vice versa, and the greens are doing particularly badly on preference deals precisely because they have a significant vote!

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        The Guardian also reported that in most upper house regions the ALP preferenced the micro party which Drury and arranged to be most likely to win ahead of the Greens.

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        Though I’m not a supporter of either Liberal or ALP those elected were elected democratically because it was what those who voted for them intended.
        This is not the case with the micro-parties as almost all who voted for say Transport Matters of Sustainable Australia would not have wanted their preferences to go to the Shooters or Australian Liberty Alliance.
        (“Victorian upper house greatly distorted by group voting tickets”, The Conversation, 11/12/2018)

        “But yes, it should be fixed, people vote for one thing and end up with another.
        (“’Hire me and get into parliament’: the preference whisperer’s message”
        (on line title), The Age, 15/12/2018)

        Michael Wilbur-Ham:
        No Chris, those who vote for most micro parties have a very good chance of NOT getting what they think they voted for.
        This is because the preference whispering has many micro parties directing preferences to parties of the opposite political stance to themselves before they preference Green, ALP or Liberal.
        So, for example, if you vote 1 above the line for Fiona Patten’s Reason party in the Western Metropolitan Region you will be voting for the Liberal Democrats (a predominantly conservative party who are not yet convinced climate change is real) before your vote gets to Green, then ALP, then Liberal.
        If you vote 1 in that region for Hinch, the Aussie Battler Party, Sustainable Australia or Transport Matters then you may help elect a Liberal Democrats, a Shooter, Fisher & Farmer, or The Australian Liberty Alliance (ALA).
        (“Turnbull; chaos likely in Victorian upper house”, The Conversation, 20/11/2018)

        Antony Green:
        GVT elections attract so many parties because the preference deals turn the contest to fill the final seat into a lottery. Micro-parties agree to ignore their ideological differences and swap preferences with each other ahead of the larger parties in a tactic that has become known as ‘preference harvesting’. The tactic gives one of the participating micro-parties a chance to get lucky and be elected to the Legislative Council for four years with a key vote in the balance of power.
        (“Voter Preferences set be Ignored at the 2022 Victorian Legislative Council Election”, Antony Green’s Election Blog, 2/10/2022)

        Yes and crucially who they are preferencing. Preference whispering works on math, the parties don’t preference on ideological grounds, shared values and aims, just doing preference deals to maximise chances. If they get in most will just pursue negativity, blocking things. A sensible citizen will vote below the line allocating their own preferences. Voting above the line in the Victorian system hands your preferences to the party you vote for.
        (“Will the magician and his bag of tricks win out?”, “Will Dan the magician and his bag of tricks outsmart the minor parties?” (online title), Sunday Age, 23/12/2022)

        This is not an exhaustive list, but I think it is long enough to illustrate my point.


  13. I’d like to take the opportunity of exceeding the link limit by including some other information. The most recent election has led to an outpouring of grief at the loss of Fiona Patten, an uber-Woke representative of the once Sex now Reason Party, and her replacement by Adem Somyurek, who voted for all the “Woke” policies of the Andrews government and was a cabinet minister in it but who defected to the new DLP. You should note that Ms Patten polled a lower primary vote than Mr Somyurek and that I have not seen a single complaint about the election via group voting tickets of two Legalise Cannabis Party MPs or the single Animal Justice Party MP. These comments illustrate the point that much of the opposition to group voting tickets is not based on principle but on dislike of some of those elected under them.

    By most accounts, the Andrews Government and Fiona Patten worked very well together and Andrews expressed what appeared to be sincere respect for her. Now she has lost her extremely well earned place in the chamber to Adem Somyurek – and I think its a fair assumption there’s plenty of bad blood between the Andrews Government and Adem. True enough that Somyurek will be virtually irrelevant in the next term – but he’s still likely to stir up trouble for the Government at any opportunity.

    I bloody hope this is enough of a lesson for Andrews to reform GVTs.

    Tim Allardyc:
    To be TRULY representative, we need to abolish above the line voting AND rotate candidate order randomly on ballot papers like they do in Tasmania and the ACT.

    THEN we would get upper house members who truly represent us AND we could throw them out & replace them with members of the same party

    This way we would (hopefully) have no Moira Demming, Bernie Finn David Davis, George Crozier, Adam Somyurek (plus other useless Labor MPs that we NEVER hear from such as Sonya Terpstra. I have never once heard from her) as well as Samantha Ratnam.

    Voters could truly pick them members

    Fiona Patten has been fantastic. We get Somyurek instead. What a farce our electoral system is if this turns out to be the outcome of preference harvesting.

    Alexander Peron:
    There’s something about our current “democratic” electoral system that’s quite sick; replacing Patten with Somyurek? How saddening.

    Something is seriously wrong with the Upper House voting system To lose an excellent politician to a disgraced politician in Somyurek is a bad outcome.

    Wrangling a result
    The people have spoken, and the ALP retains government in Victoria. Meanwhile, in the upper house, the preference wranglers have whispered, resulting in the loss of one of the most accomplished members, Fiona Patten (“The age of Reason comes to an end as Patten concedes defeat”, 13/12). What a loss – you were the voice of reason Fiona, and will be sadly missed, but you can be proud of your record.
    Lucy Y. Niu, Mount Waverley
    (The Age, 14/12/2022: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/albanese-must-stand-up-to-energy-companies-20221213-p5c5un.html )

    Group voting
    Only Premier Daniel Andrews can explain how and why he let the Legislative Council’s preferential and counting system stand and so enable newly re-elected MP Adem Somyurek into Victoria’s upper house. He was not just a bystander for this outcome.
    Mark Riley, Brunswick
    (The Age, 15/12/2022:
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/a-mother-s-son-harry-s-story-is-also-his-to-sell-20221214-p5c680.html )

    Democratic limits
    What brilliant news: “Green numbers quadruple as upper house sways to the left” (The Age, 15/12). In my opinion, however, there are two significant problems with the way MPs are elected to the Legislative Council in Victoria – the most obvious being the ability of candidates with little voter support being able to pay a fee of $55,000 to a preference whisperer to arrange preference deals. …
    Michelle Goldsmith, Eaglehawk
    (The Age,16/12/2022: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/my-delight-in-watching-scott-morrison-held-to-account-20221215-p5c6j6.html )

    Using the system
    The disheartening loss of Fiona Patten to Adem Somyurek in the upper house (“‘Unfinished business’: Patten vows to keep driving change”, 15/12) could be viewed as an example of how the people have spoken.
    But given Somyurek’s record of Labor branch stacking and the DLP’s hiring of “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery to help get him over the line, it instead appears to be an example of how the political system can be legally gamed.
    Paul Miller, Box Hill South
    (The Age,16/12/2022: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/my-delight-in-watching-scott-morrison-held-to-account-20221215-p5c6j6.html )

    I have no idea which particular others will win seats: it’s a lottery that depends on preference deals. But Labor’s failure to do anything about this system could lead to far-right parties winning seats that they do not deserve.
    Safeguard our democracy by voting below the line
    (“If you want to avoid a ‘democratic shambles’, vote below the line” (online title), The Age, 19/11/2022, Adrian Beaumont: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/if-you-want-to-avoid-a-democratic-shambles-vote-below-the-line-20221117-p5bz78.html

    Effective advocate
    Fiona Patten will be a loss to state parliament. In her time in the upper house she has been an effective advocate for social equity and positive change. Her collaborative and pragmatic approach to negotiation will be missed. Let’s hope she recovers her health and is able to make another tilt at rejoining the legislative arena.
    Bob Malseed, Hawthorn
    Intelligence gone
    Fiona Patten’s defeat in the recent election is a significant loss to intelligent debate in the Victorian parliament. It is made worse by the fact that her replacement is a person with a reputation for backroom dealing and views that do not align with most people. Yes, as she notes, he may “be largely irrelevant in the 60th parliament anyway” but it is us, the taxpayers, who will be paying his generous salary and pension benefits for him to be irrelevant for the next four years.
    Brian Glass, Montrose
    (The Age, 17/12/2022: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/gas-giants-look-in-the-mirror-20221216-p5c6zp.html

    It makes me wonder about the workings of our upper house electoral system when we lose such an intelligent voice as Fiona Patten.
    Peter Venn, East Bentleigh

    Below are comments re the predicted loss of Fiona Patten in 2018, which did not end up occurring.

    Gym Bunny:
    Agree, it’s not democratic that 2 anti-Uber candidates with a tiny fraction of the vote get into parliament when other candidates with reasonable support miss out. Would be good to have Fiona continuing to contribute to public policy

    Les Hawken:
    She lost her seat after instituting 21st century policies into this state because the voting process in the upper house encourages people to make a simplistic choice (above the line) and allows minor parties to gain a seat with a minuscule percentage of the vote. The Upper House system needs to be changed to more accurately reflect the will of the people, not the candidate who can make the best preference deals.

    Di Keller:
    Derryn Hinch replacing Fiona Patten, what a travesty. 😦

    Fixing this broken voting system that allows preference whispering should be one of the returned government’s highest priorities. Despite the self-congratulatory description of Victoria as the most progressive state , it lags behind other states and the Federation which have fixed the anomaly. Sad and outrageous that Fiona Patten lost her seat to a Human Headline candidate.

    Johnny B Bad:
    “So sad if Fiona Patton loses her seat. We certainly need a voice of reason in Parliament instead a disgruntled Taxi driver”
    (The Age on line, 27/11/2018: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/preference-deals-pay-off-for-microparties-and-wipe-out-greens-in-victoria-s-upper-house-20181124-p50i5m.html)

    This needs to be outlawed immediately. I now have a particularly dim view of Derryn Hinch.
    (The Age, 27/11/2018: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/massive-payday-looming-for-preference-whisperer-20181126-p50ih5.html)

    It is obvious that the complaints about the group voting tickets come from people who do not like those who have been elected.


      • Thanks for the link. Kevin Bonham does complain about Legalsise Cannabis, but his complaints are of a different nature. He is not angry that Legalise Cannabis got in because he is opposed to them, whereas the complaints I give above are from people who are angry that someone they didn’t like got in.


        • I think it is obvious that “If the previous system allowed them to gain representation their differences in ideology did not matter to their voters. from the fact that voters chose the group voting ticket when it was easy not to. There was a lot of publicity about and public criticism of Glenn Druery’s preference activities just before the recent Victorian election, yet the proportion of voters who voted above the lone hardly moved, from 91.1 per cent to 90.5 per cent (according to the Kevin Bonham link you gave). It is safe to conclude that nine in ten voters are quite happy with or relaxed about how their parties allocate their preferences. If they were not, they would take the five seconds necessary to put five preferences below the line or the 10 seconds necessary to put 10, and so on. Obviously, those few who vote below the line are not so happy and choose their own allocations, but it is not logical to assume that those who voted above the line really wanted to vote the same way as those who voted below the line.


        • I don’t think that’s obvious at all, Chris. It might surprise Fructovoters, but most people pay very limited attention to politics, aren’t familiar with group voting tickets, and certainly didn’t examine the 40 page document available at polling places. I’ve had personal experience explaining exactly how group ticket voting works to a senior journalist who frequently writes on politics. What we do know is that when voters are actually asked to copy down orders from political parties (in the form of HTV cards) their follow rates for those cards are a fraction of ATL voting rates. If that doesn’t plant the seed of doubt in your mind, I guess nothing will.


        • I know that most people pay little attention to politics and don’t examine the 40-page booklet on preference allocations. They are content to accept their party’s allocation. When they had to mark them themselves, we had a higher informal vote. I also know that most voters follow the how-to-vote cards of their parties when they have to mark them in lower house elections, though not quite at the 90 per cent rate. We do not have an intelligence test, an education test or a political awareness test for voters. We allow every adult citizen to vote. No system is perfect, but the above-the-line system increases the formal vote while preserving proportionality in the result. I don’t expect to convince you, but I did help convince the federal ALP when it faced the issue in 2016 and I hope to reinforce the state ALP’s view and convince the state Liberals when they face the issue next year.


  14. Chris wrote: ‘It is wrong to require the body charged with upholding the integrity of the electoral system, the Australian Electoral Commission, to tell voters that they must vote in a certain way when they need not…; 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.’
    All Australian STV jurisdictions require a minimum number of preferences. When Australians talk about “optional preferences” for multi-seat contests, we mean “no more are required than the number of seats”. (The NSW upper house requires 15, which is fewer than the number of seats [21], but still a large number in absolute terms – indeed the largest minimum fixed number of preferences required for any Australian direct popular election. [])
    By “fixed” I of course mean a specified number independent of how many candidates they are. A 1990 or 1993 Senate race with only 7 candidates for 6 seats would have required fewer preferences in practice than a Tasmanian Hare-Clark election for 7 seats at the same time. The largest fixed minimum of preferences for any election that I know of was for indirect NSW Legislative Council elections from 1932 to 1978, which required at least twice the number of seats, plus 1. For an ordinary periodic election for 15 MLCs, this meant a minimum 31 preferences, and casual vacancies for seats in the three non-retiring classes at times raised the ante even higher].
    That said, many (but not all) Australian jurisdictions mitigate the rigor of this rule in practice. Eg, the 1984-2013 Senate rules allowed a vote to be valid if 90% of candidates were numbered – this still meant double figures in practice, in some cases approaching triple figures – and if there were no more than 3 mistakes (repeated/ skipped numbers) if there were fewer than 40 candidates, otherwise no more than 4 mistakes. In the ACT, five numbers are required but as long as there is a unique first preference, a ballot with (say) 1, 2, 3, 3, 6 will be accepted as valid – it will just exhaust after the 2. Australia had this rule for the federal House of Representatives from 1984 to 1998. In some cases a single first preference will suffice after all.
    Chris is arguing that it is deceitful to tell voters they “must” number at least X candidates, sequentially, for a valid vote when in fact only a 1 and any (X minus 1) other numbers will suffice.
    Look, ideally the instructions should be worded something like “You must number at least X candidates for a valid ballot. Your vote will only be counted for its first consecutive preferences (1, 2, 3… etc). If and once any numbers are repeated or omitted, your vote will exhaust”. This would be technically accurate for, eg, the ACT system and I assume would address Chris’s complaint. It would also be treated as a giant nothingburger by 98% or more of Australian voters – including supporters of right-wing micro-parties who are prepared to refuse vaccinations or blockade Canberra for their beliefs but not, it seems, to write numbers in squares on a ballot-paper (go figure).
    From a jurisprudential point of view, there is no contradiction between an apodictic rule addressed to its subjects before the fact (“You must not drive over the speed limit”) and a casuistic rule telling public officials, after the fact, to take a more lenient approach (“Don’t ticket drivers who only went one or two km/h over for a few seconds”). In fact, here in Queensland the police use just such a margin of error, but they have resisted Freedom of Information applications seeking to reveal exact what the tolerance is. And you can see their logic. If the official rule is “60 km/h”, the police can overlook the occasional motorist here and there who drifts into 61 or 62 km/h. But if and once it is publicly announced that drivers can do 62 km/h without being fined, thousands of drivers will start doing that.
    The compromise combining “you should number at least X candidates, in unbroken sequence” with “all right, we’ll accept your first preferences and any unique, consecutive numbers following it” is aimed at minimising the number of ballot-papers that go in the waste-paper bin. Either thrown out as informal for having too few consecutive unique preferences that might hypothetically be counted, or thrown out as exhausted for having no more live preferences that could actually be counted.
    I don’t support de jure fully optional preferences (ie, advertising a 1 alone as sufficient) because – ironically – it leads to a de facto narrowing of voter choice. In Ireland, parties rarely run more candidates than they expect to win because they don’t want to split their vote, and in both NSW and Queensland single-seat full OPV led to Liberal and National supporters being denied a choice between the two conservative parties (in NSW the Coalition phased out three-cornered contests, and in Qld the two parties merged into one). A few extra seconds writing 2, 3, 4 and 5 on your voting-paper is trivial (doing this dozens of times is of course not, especially once the squares are in different columns in random order) but not having any candidate of your faction within your preferred party – or, indeed, any candidate at all of your preferred party – is a serious fetter.
    On the other hand, requiring too many compulsory preferences leads to the ridiculous situation that either 10% of the electorate have their votes chucked out for trivial mistakes in preferences that might never have been counted (eg NSW Senate contest in 1974) or, faced with a hundred names below the line, are nudged into “opting” for a party ticket to be safe.
    So: it’s not “deceitful” to have more lenient rules for officials counting votes after polling closes than for electors casting votes before polling closes, when any divergence is in favour of the individual voter (ie, including ballots that would otherwise be informal). I don’t see any conflict between “Meeting starts at 9 AM” and “all right, we’ll let you in if you arrive at 9:05”. That’s just the difference between apodictic and casuistic rules. One is a target to aim for, the other is a litmus for when you actually start punishing people with consequences.


    • Clarifying (before someone else calls this out): “In the ACT, five numbers are required but as long as there is a unique first preference, a ballot with (say) 1, 2, 3, 3, 6 will be accepted as valid – it will just exhaust after the 2. Australia had this rule *[combined with “a voter must number all, or all but one, of the candidates]* for the federal House of Representatives from 1984 to 1998. In some cases a single first preference will suffice after all.


    • Australians are guilty of a certain amount of electoral chauvinism, especially about the United States. In particular we are very harsh about Republican efforts to make voting difficult for the poor, the marginalised and the less educated. At the 2022 federal election, 802,337 Australians, 5.19% of the electorate, precisely the same group targeted by Republican voter suppression measures, were disfranchised by informal voting rules. I hesitated to write this for fear that it will engender a Republican passion for preferential voting with arcane informality rules.

      Preferential voting works perfectly well without a requirement for a minimum number of preferences beyond 1. The sole reason we have these rules is because they favour the major parties. They are a grave injustice that we should abolish.


      • Republicans already decided they don’t like preferential voting, what is called Ranked Choice Voting in the United States. They sued when it was adopted in Maine because their guy finished in first place and lost when preferences transferred. They are grumbling in Alaska when they lost a House seat to a Democrat twice in a year.

        They don’t like that Democrats and minor party voters can team up to deny a Republican a win.


      • Is there a concern about exhausted ballots denying a candidate an absolute majority of the vote? Albeit, preferential vote whether it is optional and/or mandatory ranking of the candidates is much better than a 2 round system because it saves on the cost of having two elections.


        • Preferences can exhaust just as easily in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, bit evidently their members of parliament don’t war up in a cold sweat worrying about the possibility. Enid lake man described the informality rules as completely unnecessary.


      • I posted this yesterday, but it did not appear:

        Australia has compulsory voting. (I know the secret ballot makes the law unenforceable.) It is your duty as a citizen to choose between Sam and Sally even if you don’t like either of them and wanted Su Lee, who did not stand. Equally, if Su Lee did stand, polled third and had her preferences distributed, it remains your duty as a citizen to choose between Sam and Sally even if you don’t like either of them. This also applies if your preferred candidate dropped out and left four, five or six or whatever candidates in. It remains your duty as a citizen to choose between them all. I accept that with 100 candidates most citizens will simply give up, so I accept the case for putting a limit on the number of compulsory preferences. In a jurisdiction with voluntary voting, there cannot be a duty to mark preferences because there is no duty to vote in the first place.


        • Chris

          Compulsory preferencing was introduced for federal elections in 1918. Compulsory voting was not introduced federally until 1924. The 1925 federal election was the first where it applied. It follows that your argument ‘In a jurisdiction with voluntary voting, there cannot be a duty to mark preferences because there is no duty to vote in the first place’ is contradicted by the history of preferential and compulsory voting in Australia.


        • Alan,

          I don’t think the history contradicts my argument. It reinforces another point I keep making; viz, that politicians will do what is to their partisan advantage instead of what is right in principle. Preferential voting was introduced because the two conservative parties were losing to Labor in three-cornered contest, as I’m sure you know, so naturally they forced their supporters to mark all preferences. They didn’t want Nationalist voters not preferencing the Country Party candidate or Country Party voters not preferencing the Nationalist candidate, so any that did not fill out all the squares on the ballot paper had their votes declared informal.


        • You said a thing is impossible. The history shows that it is not. Indeed long after 1924 enrolment and voting was not compulsory for indigenous Australians but filling out every square was. That continued until 1984/ Requiring a community with very high rates of illiteracy to number every square can only be described as showing a more than faintly repellent sense of statutory humour.


        • Alan,

          I said, “In a jurisdiction with voluntary voting, there cannot be a duty to mark preferences because there is no duty to vote in the first place.” I was speaking logically not legally.


        • ‘there cannot be’, your words, denotes impossibility. Australia adopted compulsory preferencing before it adopted compulsory voting. Australia was a jurisdiction that cannot be, according to your argument, between 1918 and 1924, and for indigenous Australians between 1918 and 1984. It must follow either that your premise is wrong, or that Australia did not exist between 1918 and 1984.


        • Alan,

          I thought pointing out the difference between a logical duty to mark preferences and a legal requirement to do so would be sufficient, but it is not, so I will start gain.

          Australia believes that it is a citizen’s duty to vote. If Peter and Paul stand and you want Mary, you cannot refuse to vote on the grounds that Mary is not on the ballot paper. Your duty remains however unpalatable the candidates are to you. By the same principle, if Peter, Paul and Mary stand and Mary gets the lowest vote, you cannot refuse to mark a second preference between Peter and Paul on the grounds that Mary has dropped out.

          In a jurisdiction with voluntary voting, you obviously have no duty to vote at all. If Peter and Paul stand and you want Mary, you may refuse to vote on the grounds that Mary is not on the ballot paper. You have no duty to vote in the first place. By the same principle, if Peter, Paul and Mary stand and Mary gets the lowest vote, you may refuse to mark a second preference between Peter and Paul on the grounds that Mary has dropped out. You have no duty to vote in the first place, so you cannot logically have a duty to choose among the candidates that remain after your first choice drops out.

          The law that once required compulsory preferences with voluntary voting was illogical. I accept that there was a legal requirement to mark all your preferences if you wanted your vote counted, but that is contrary to the principle of voluntary voting.

          Your duty to vote is your duty to choose from a list of candidates to run the country. That duty exists all the way through the ballot paper. It is not contingent on an acceptable candidate standing in the first place or remaining in the count. The practical difficulty of marking a huge ballot paper – which would not exist if my recommendations were accepted – means it is reasonable to make preferences voluntary after a certain number. It is also reasonable for the various electoral commissions to provide a website to help voters create their own formal how-to-vote cards, another of my recommendations that have been ignored for many years.


    • Tom,

      I had to look up “apodictic” and “casuistic”, so thank you for adding to my vocabulary. I appreciate the comparison with speeding, but I don’t think the issue is the same. It seems all that the election official needs to do is say, “Please number at least 1 to 6 above the line or at least 1 to 12 below the line” without any implication that the vote will not be counted if the voter does neither. The ballot paper can contain some extra wording; e.g., “Voters should number at least 1 to 6 above the line or at least 1 to 12 below the line. Votes will not be counted unless there is at least 1 above the line or 1 to 6 below the line.” That easily solves the problem of misleading instructions. However, it does not solve any of the problems in the system itself, which I do not feel the need to repeat.

      As you must be aware, I don’t support fully optional preferences either. I have been converted to a limit on the number of compulsory preferences by the sheer difficulty most people have in ranking 100+ candidates on a modern Senate ballot paper.

      I too ‘don’t see any conflict between “Meeting starts at 9 AM” and “all right, we’ll let you in if you arrive at 9:05”’, but while, if I were the running the meeting, I’d let the late arrivers in, it would start at 9:00am despite their absence.

      I have to think about your other post because it is not gelling in my mind.


  15. Chris, can I propose some move towards common ground…?
    If a polity uses “full ticket voting” as opposed to “team-group voting” — ie, a single 1 above the line preferences all candidates (Victoria), as opposed to a preference number for a team group preferencing all and only the candidates in that group (Senate, NSW and SA) — then the way the voting tickets are presented to voters has to change.
    Get rid of the charade of showing voters a sample ballot with all squares filled out. Instead, each voting ticket should list all the candidates preferenced in numerical descending order — yes, like a party list. Put the party’s or team’s own candidates in bold up the top. Make it user-friendly for the average low-information voter — ie, exactly the sort of person whom above-the-line voting is supposed to be meant to help — to digest and comprehend in reality.
    (Let’s face it, if we could use mechanical or computerised voting to generate printed STV or AV ballot papers, that’s the format we’d want them in. Univ of Qld student union council uses, or used to use, pads of ballots with numbered blank lines for its indirect elections — all votes being write-in in the narrower sense, ie for formally nominated candidates — and I was told by various Union electoral officers that these ballots were far simpler and quicker to count than printed general election ballots, even when the numbers were comparable, eg 63 councillors electing a Chair vs 60-70 Vet students casting ballots for their Faculty Representative).
    Then the idea that “15,000 ATL ticket-votes favoured the Animal Motoring Cristian Sex Party” would start bear some resemblance to the actual preferences of 15,000 living human beings. It would be something less of a legal fiction. (I also suspect we would start to see a sharp drop in above-the-line voting).
    “full ticket voting” = a single 1 is necessary and sufficient to preference all candidates (or at least, candidates from more than one team group) in an order pre-registered by the first-preferred team.
    “team-group voting” = voters number teams in order of preference, and each preference counts only for the candidates of that team, in the order they are listed on the ballot. (Alternatively you could devise a Robson-rotation version, where the team-votes credited to a team are used to equalise its candidates’ totals as far as possible).
    “above-the-line voting” = both of the above, in contrast to “below-the-line voting” for individual candidates. (To be pedantic, when WA adopted PR for its upper house in 1986, the “line” went vertically down the page instead of horizontally across, but same principle, you know what I mean).


    • Tom,

      I can see that what you propose for “voting tickets” – how-to-vote cards(?) – would clarify in the voter’s mind the preference allocation of each party. However, no party that I am aware of printed the full preference allocation on its HTVs when we had multi-party group voting tickets (as opposed to the single-party group voting tickets that we have now). If parties now did so, the HTVs would be as big as the ballot paper, which would be very hard to hand out and confusing to the voters once they got in the booth.

      If I have understood you correctly, printing ballot papers in the format you suggest would end the secret ballot as each voter would have to ask for the ballot paper that had his or her party on top.

      It is what you call “team-group voting” that I most object to because it imposes different obligations on different voters. I quote from my submission to the current federal inquiry:
      “In 2022 in NSW, anyone who voted 1 above the line for the Animal Justice Party and 2 for the Sustainable Australia Party cast a formal vote, even though that 1 above the line expressed preferences for only four candidates, Darren Brollo, Jodie Power, Georgia Lamb and Suzanne De Vive. Anyone who voted 1 above the line for the Animal Justice Party only cast a formal vote which was counted towards the result, even though that 1 above the line expressed preferences for only two candidates, Darren Brollo and Jodie Power. Yet, anyone who voted below the line 1 for Darren Brollo, 2 for Jodie Power, 3 for Georgia Lamb and 4 for Suzanne De Vive cast an informal vote, even though the exact same number of preferences were expressed as by the second voter and twice as many preferences as by the second voter. It gets worse: anyone who voted below the line 1 for Darren Brollo, 2 for Jodie Power, 3 for Georgia Lamb, 4 for Suzanne De Vive and 5 for David Shoebridge also cast an informal vote, even though more than twice as many preferences were expressed as by the second voter. This is outrageous. Those who go to the trouble of expressing preferences below the line, marking up to five numbers, do not get their votes counted, but those who put only a 1 above the line that expresses preferences for far fewer candidates do get counted. If this is not unconstitutional, it should be.

      “It is only fair that above-the-line voters be required to express as many preferences for individual candidates as below-the-line voters.”

      The duty imposed on each voter should be the same. That duty for the below-the-line voter is supposedly to express preferences for at least 12 candidates. Then it should also be the duty for the above-the-line voter to express preferences for at least 12 candidates. So, the instruction from the electoral official should be: “You may vote above or below the line. If you vote above the line you must put the number 1 only. If you vote below the line, you must put at least the numbers 1 to 12 to have your vote counted. You may put more. You may not put fewer.” The ballot paper would have the same instructions on it, perhaps with a little more information. This ensures that above- and below-the-line voters have the same duty and the same effect on the result. I cannot for the life of me see a single rational objection to this proposal. If there were a way to move to electronic voting machines that informed the voter when a vote was informal and why and that printed a paper ballot for the voter to view before depositing it, that would, I think, be a good idea.

      There is absolutely no mathematical justification for the number of compulsory preferences to have any relationship whatsoever with the number of positions to be filled.


      • Chris (C), sorry I wasn’t clear. I don’t mean printing ballot-papers as numbered “shopping lists” for voters to write in names. Ballot-papers can stay as they are. I was referring rather to the statutory obligation on the electoral commission, in “full ticket” voting jurisdictions, to publicise each ticket’s order. This is the crucial link that supposedly gives full-ticket voting whatever democratic legitimacy it has: that voters could look up the pre-lodged tickets to see where their vote is going, and say “well, if the ALP State Executive is sending my Labor-first vote to the DLP, those wise young men must have a very good reason for it.”

        Put it this way: if anyone proposed removing this requirement to pre-publicise preferences – allowing parties to lodge or change their ticket after votes are cast, say – there’d be a huge outcry and even a number of full-ticket-voting supporters would cry foul.

        So, what I’m saying is that the pre-publicised preference tickets should be in a user-friendly form that can easily be followed by the voter. A mock ballot-paper is not that form. A ballot-paper is set out that only because that is the most feasible way to present candidates to voters for marking votes (ie, write-in “shopping list” ballots are not practicable for direct popular elections in Australia). We pay Electoral Commission staff fairly well to comb through a McDonald’s place-mat of names for hours, following a 6 in one column to a 7 in another and so on. We do not pay voters to do this.

        Making the registered order of ticket-preferences transparent and user-friendly is especially important in elections with large numbers of candidates and groups, and where many voters are not politically sophisticated. Precisely the situations that full-ticket voting is supposed to cater for.

        There is no need to do this with team-group voting, because a number in the square above the line for a team-group only sends the vote to the candidates of that group, and it is abundantly clear from the architecture of the ballot-paper that, eg, Hollie Hughes is politically affiliated with Jim Molan. (This is the big reason why no one is bothered by the second-highest candidate of a team that polls 30% winning a seat with “only” 2% of first preferences in their own right). Whereas it is not at all clear from the way candidates are listed that, say, the Make Australia Christian Again Group and the Pornography Industry Lobbyists Party are part of the grand unified Glenn Druery Alliance. If a vote for one is going to be patched over to the other, and the ballot-paper does not make this clear, then the publicised preference tickets should be set out in a way that makes this transparent.

        This reform wouldn’t make me and others “like” full-ticket voting, but it would make it substantially less objectionable. I don’t see any downsides for FTV supporters who like FTV doing what it does, but if I have missed any, please point out.


      • “It is only fair that above-the-line voters be required to express as many preferences for individual candidates as below-the-line voters.”

        And where was this obligation between 1984 and 2013?

        (1) If by “express preferences” you mean “manually number separate squares,” then the disparity between the two was somewhere literally in the range of 100 to 1 before the 2016 reforms. Those reforms have reduced the “manual numbering” disparity to a mere 2:1 in relative terms.

        (2) On the other hand, if by “express preferences” you mean “make one or more marks on the ballot-paper that are interpreted, according to pre-defined rules, as implying preferences for certain candidates”… then I’m not really following your objection. You’re saying “Then it should also be the duty for the above-the-line voter to express preferences for at least 12 candidates.” Well, given that a team needs at least two candidates to get a square above the line, someone who writes six numbers above the line is automatically, ipso facto and by definition “expressing preferences for” at least 12 candidates.

        The problem is the two interpretations are a seesaw. If you are going to argue “It is unfair that someone voting for teams need only number 6 squares but someone voting for individuals has to number 12” – well, what’s the remedy? Making ATL voters number 12 squares means they are now numbering at least 24 candidates. You can’t equalise the two. But first, please be clearer about whether “express N preferences” means “manually number N squares” or “mark the ballot in a way that is construed as preferencing N candidates”.


        • ie, could everyone please try to use “numbering squares” and “preferencing candidates” consistently in these two senses (fingers crossed…) MSS, you are not only the host but also the arbiter of consistent terminology, please rule on this. (But did we ever sort out whether California’s “district magnitude” for Senators is 2.0 or, 1992 aside, 1.0?)
          PS: Purification of terminology, so desired by Confucius, tends to hit a brick wall when discussing electoral and parliamentary matters, simply because path-dependent traditional usage is so deeply ingrained.
          As GK Chesterton pointed out, the “Speaker” is the only member of the House who never speaks to a motion, and when private club rules say (eg) “the Chair may rule that the speaker no longer be heard”, this needs to be translated rather clumsily into “the Speaker may rule that the Member speaking no longer be heard” for a parliament.
          And in Australia, electoral legislation speaks of candidates having themselves “grouped” by mutual consent on a multi-member ballot-paper. (This statutory usage predates legal recognition of political parties by nearly five decades). Thus the ballot-paper refers to “Group A” and so forth, as well as (before 1984, instead of) designating it “The Liberal Party” column. All well and good but it then means we have the absurdity of all singleton candidates being gathered (usually at the end of the ballot-paper, of course) as the “Ungrouped”, er, group. Oxymoronic but there you have it.
          And even the hallowed “quota” is not the best term for PR systems – Lani Guinier tried to favour “threshold” in her work, precisely because she knew it could easily be conflated with “quotas” in the affirmative-action sense. (I once heard someone else say it reminded them of making slaves work, so it can offend left as well as right). Of course in non-STV PR systems the threshold may be greater than the quota (5% in Germany instead of 1/660th) or even sometimes less (one or another list system somewhere had “leftover seats go to the largest remainders but not to any less than 0.5 a Hare quota”, so the threshold in a 5-seat election would be 10%).


        • PPS: Purification of terminology is less urgent when everyone understands what is intended, even if it is counter-intuitive or illogical.
          Eg 99% of political observers understand that “the Speaker” in a legislature has a different meaning from “the speaker” at a graduation ceremony, or indeed at the Elk Grove Neighborhood Watch Association AGM.
          By contrast, if someone in Australia 1984-2013 had said “you have to preference all Senate candidates”, this could often be nicely equidistant between “you need to individually number every square below the line” and “a single “1” in one square above the line is interpreted as if you had individually numbered every square below the line according to a preregistered order”. (The distinction could be significant if, eg, someone tried to add second, third and later preferences above the line 1984-2013 – my understanding is that these were simply ignored, ie treated as blanks).


        • Tom,

          I was hoping to get in a quick response to any responses between Netflix and tea, but I see there is much to deal with, so I will return anon.


        • Tom,

          I find your argument strong, and I am sorry I did not get the point to start with. The only problem I see is that there may be some voters who get confused by the different orders of candidates on the ballot paper and the group voting ticket. However, if my recommendations re nomination fees and party registration requirements were accepted, the number of candidates would drop from 50-plus to around 20, so it would not be that hard to compare the two formats.

          When you say, “well, if the ALP State Executive is sending my Labor-first vote to the DLP, those wise young men must have a very good reason for it”, you are being spot-on. They do have a good reason for it: it maximises the ALP’s chances somewhere else.

          I can see why the obligation to mark all the preferences did not exist from 1984 to 2013 and that was the huge number of preferences required. That could have been solved by the introduction of optional preference after a certain number and would not be the case under my system.

          A group currently needs at least two candidates, but there is no reason for that need to exist. All bar Labor and the Coalition should run only one candidate in each group (“A group of one?”, you say – Yes, I do). My aim is to make it easier to vote below the line. My “Express N preferences” means “Express preferences for 12 candidates”, as under my system there are only two choices: 1 above the line for the 12 candidates as determined by your chosen group or at least 1-12 below the line for your own chosen 12. It follows that the “singletons” at the end would no longer have to be at the end or grouped.

          My response turned out to be shorter than I expected as I am passing over the terminology of speaker and so forth.


  16. Have there been studies asking how outcomes in Australian senate elections might change if all ballots were deemed to be exhausted after, say, 3 preferences?


    • There no studies that I’m aware of. There are no existing examples of multimember preferential voting that I know of which use such a system, although PNG limits preferences in singlemember preferential to 3 on literacy grounds and some US elections limit preferences on it’s all too hard grounds. It would make it almost impossible for minor parties to win seats because they depend far more on transferred votes. It would also force parties into weird and wonderful practices to maximise their votes like asking their voters join the first half of the alphabet to vote one way and the second half to vote another way.

      In short it would not make the system fairer in any way.


      • I can keep repeating the point that you called a thing impossible that has existed for extended periods in most Australian jurisdictions as often you wish. Classifying your arguments as pastoral, pastoral-comical,
        historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral or very like a whale is not going to change the fact situation.


        • Alan,

          You can indeed, and I can keep pointing out the difference between a logical impossibility and a political decision, so I think the remaining two readers can be left in peace to make up their own minds.


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