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SENATE COUNT April 14, 2014

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.

At Crikey, Casey Briggs, a mathematician suggest we need to focus on how the votes are counted. In summary, rather than giving a long quote, the transfer value of the largest blocs of votes depends on when they are counted.

Under the present system the timing of these votes is arbitrary. The image might be a series of seven empty tanks, representing the quota, with the voter preferences flowing into them. By the fifth tank the preferences are counted. The seventh tank represents the votes that do not count.

In “Counting votes, the Wright way: what the AEC should be looking at” by contrast Casey Briggs explains the Wright System:

The fact that votes can have different values based arbitrarily on whether or not they happen to be sitting with a candidate when they are elected runs counter to our idea that all votes should be treated equally and have the same weight.

There are a few methods that treat individual votes more equitably, and often these work by continually reiterating the count of the election. One such method is the Wright system, first proposed by programmer Anthony van der Craats in 2008.

Under the Wright system, when a candidate is elected their surplus is transferred in exactly the same way as is currently the case. However every time a candidate is excluded, the count is reset and restarted as though that candidate had never stood in the first place, with all votes for the excluded candidate transferred to the remaining candidates according to their preferences. The result of this is that every vote has proportionally equal weight.

Could this be the basis, given the inevitable close outcome for the final seat, for a legal challenge. Let’s suppose such a case was upheld, would it require a new count or an election re-run. I suspect the answer is that the result, even though the counting may effectively favour one side, cannot be challenged, since the problem is inherent in the legislation. However, it does call into question, what otherwise might be taken for granted, that the electoral system is fair and democratic. Now if it isn’t, it should be.

Then again the issue of preference deals between parties, perhaps especially the micro-parties should be transparent, both in terms of the swap agreements entered into and there implications for the final counts, at most the last two positions should be clear.

Take the last NSW Senate ballot paper, the physical size, the number of parties and candidates was unmanageable, and thereby undemocratic. My proposal that is that any party would to stand candidates would have to meet an aggregate threshold of 5% support in the local government elections. The option to stand as an independent would be retained, but as now any candidate would be placed in the ungrouped category on a random basis.

I am not sure whether the proposal for above the line preference distribution gives the elector control over their preferences. It certainly has the merit of being easier, and places more discretion for the elector than the political party. This may be the reason it has not been adopted.

My proposal would include the option to allocate preferences to individual independent candidates as part of the above the line preference vote. If this was unrestricted, and the presumption is that it would have to be, it could lead to ballots cast, given limited number of preferences, to exclude political party candidates. Often this would be a non vote.

On the other hand, it would make the election of independent candidates possible. Is this desirable? However, this is unlikely to change the balance of power role that minor parties play in the Senate, making as it does now, at least the situation of Double Dissolution elections more likely.


My idea simply means I don’t know of anyone making the proposal. Obviously proposing a threshold in an election process is not an original idea. For example, an Anti-CSG Party would easily meet this threshold, and their policies would be well enough understood and their proponents well enough known to make them a viable political movement.

Perhaps George Williams does not have to explain why the major parties have not adopted the obvious reforms. (I think this is part of the malaise of Australian democracy, in which even those commendable people who are members of political parties, and are not self-serving, have no policy influence.)



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