2019 ACT Senate Election – Analysis of Preferences

This is the second in my series looking at how the Senate’s new electoral system worked. This post is on the ACT, which like the Northern Territory, has only two Senators. Both Senators face the electorate every three years in terms tied to the term of the House of Representatives. (See my previous post on the Northern Territory for an explanation of territory Senators.)

(My earlier overall analysis of Senate voting can be found in this post.)

Like the Northern Territory, the ACT has returned the same party representation at every election since 1975. Every ACT Senate election has elected one Labor and one Liberal Senator. With the quota for election set at 33.3% quota, support for a major party would have to be well short of this vote to miss out on a seat.

(Hint – if you are viewing this post on a mobile phone, the tables look much better if you turn your phone sideways.)

The ACT is the most left-leaning jurisdiction in Australia, but not necessarily entirely Labor voting. In the past the Australian Democrats polled strongly in the ACT, reaching half a quota twice and polling 17.6% in 1990. The Greens have polled even more strongly, above half a quota at the last five elections with a highest vote of 22.9% in 2010. Under the Senate’s abolished group voting ticket system, there was always a chance that a minor party could win the Liberal Party’s traditional seat if its vote fell short of 33.3%.

Those chances have faded with the abolition of group voting tickets. With weaker preference flows, the Liberal vote would need to be well short of 33.3% to miss out on a seat. The Liberal Party have polled short of the quota five times since 1975 with a lowest vote of 31.2% in 1998. The graph below plots party vote percentages at ACT Senate elections since 1975.

In 2019 the Liberal vote again dipped below quota to 32.4%. But with the Greens polling 17.7% and Labor’s surplus beyond one quota being only 6%, there were always enough third party and exhausted preferences to ensure the Liberal Party’s Zed Seselja would be re-elected.

Further down this page I run through the distribution of preferences that elected Seselja. I also use the surplus votes of Labor’s Katy Gallagher to explain how preferences are distributed from candidates with more than a quota of votes.

But first, let me apply my overall Senate analysis categories to the ACT result.

Ballot Paper Analysis

Table 1 sets out the general categories of votes cast at the ACT election by party. Compared to the rest of Australia, many more ACT voters completed their ballot paper below the line, 21.4% compared to 7.3%. Only 66.1% of voters followed the ballot paper instruction by numbering 1-6 above the line compared to 80% in the rest of Australia.

Table 1 is listed in descending order of percentage party votes completed as 1-6 above the line votes. There were significant differences between parties on how voters completed their ballot papers.

Table 1 – 2019 ACT Senate – Ballot Paper Categories by Party

% by ATL Preference Sequence
Party (Group) Votes 1 2-5 6 7 BTL
Liberal (A) 87,492 1.8 2.5 75.7 7.8 12.2
United Australia (E) 6,130 2.3 3.3 70.5 12.0 11.9
Labor (G) 106,330 1.8 1.8 66.3 9.4 20.7
Sustainable Australia (F) 4,463 0.9 2.0 60.3 10.0 26.8
Greens (B) 47,855 0.6 1.6 60.2 9.4 28.1
Fraser Anning’s CNP (D) 2,461 1.3 2.0 60.1 10.5 26.1
IND Pesec (C) 12,604 1.7 0.9 20.6 10.4 66.5
Ungrouped 2,896 .. .. .. .. 100.0
ACT Totals 267,335 1.6 2.0 66.1 9.0 21.4
National Totals .. 3.5 3.5 80.0 5.7 7.3

The lowest rates of below-the-line voting occurred with the Liberal Party and United Australia Party. With only 7 groups on the ballot paper, more voters in the ACT numbered beyond 6 preferences than in other states. ACT voters are familiar with filling in preferences on Hare-Clark ballot papers at ACT elections, and this explains why so many voters gave their own preferences below the line.

As occurred in other states, Independent Group C recorded a very low rate of above the line voting. There seems to be some confusion by voters when faced with a group that has no party name. My guess is that some voters think they cannot use the above-the-line square for groups that aren’t parties.

Table 2 sets out what I call ‘effective’ preference data for above-the-line votes. An effective preference is one that flows to a party in contention for a seat.  As the ACT was a two-party contest, the table looks very much like two-party preferred preference flows in the lower house.

Parties are ordered in descending order of preference flows to Labor. As you would expect, Green preferences flowed overwhelmingly to Labor, and the rates of flow to Labor declined as you would expect, with voters for Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party least likely to preference Labor.

Table 2 – 2019 ACT Senate – Effective Preferences by Party

Party (Group) ATL Votes % to ALP % to LIB % Exhaust
Greens (B) 34,389 87.5 11.3 1.1
Sustainable Australia (F) 3,269 60.4 37.7 1.8
IND Pesec (C) 1,818 55.7 38.9 5.4
United Australia (E) 5,403 38.1 58.6 3.3
Fraser Annings CNP (D) 1,818 27.6 69.9 2.5
Total Excluded Parties 49,103 75.3 22.8 1.8

Table 3 below shows how many preferences matched how-to-votes where available. Both the United Australia Party and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party issued a how-to-vote that had a preference for the ungrouped column, an impossible option as there was no box above the line for ungrouped candidates. The available how-to-votes can be found here.

Labor and the Greens swapped second preferences and the majority of voters followed the recommendation. The proportion of Green voters following the how-to-vote was much higher than in the NT where the Greens had placed another party ahead of Labor.

Table 3 – 2019 ACT Senate – HTV Concordance by Party

% of ATL Votes Matching Party HTV by Preference Number
Party (Group) ATL Votes 2 3 4 5 6 >6
Labor (G) 84,274 65.6 22.7 19.8 16.5 15.8 1.1
Liberal (A) 76,827 43.1 31.1 22.5 21.6 21.1 0.3
Greens (B) 34,389 72.4 23.1 19.7 14.9 14.4 1.1
United Australia (E) 5,403 34.1 4.5 .. .. .. ..
Fraser Anning’s CNP (D) 1,818 26.8 15.5 10.2 1.1 .. ..

The major second preferences filled in by voters are listed below. ‘*’ indicates the party’s recommended second preference.

  • Liberal (Group A) – *43.1% United Australia, 18.7% Labor, 14.9% Greens (donkey vote)
  • Greens (B) – *72.4% Labor, 12.4% Sustainable Australia
  • Pesec (Ind) (C) – 24.9% Labor, 23.7% Liberal, 23.9% Greens
  • Fraser Anning’s CNP (D)– 43.6% United Australia, *26.8% Liberal, 14.5% Sustainable Australia
  • United Australia (E) – *34.1% Liberal, 21.0% Sustainable Australia, 17.0% Labor, 13.6% Fraser Anning’s CNP
  • Sustainable Australia (F) – 30.9% Greens, 24.0% Labor, 15.2% United Australia , 14.7% Liberal
  • Labor (G) – *65.6% Greens, 14.7% Liberal

It is interesting to note how many Labor and Liberal voters preferenced the other major party over any minor party.

Overall First Preference Result

The table below sets out the first preferences votes, percentages and quotas by party and candidate, with a separate entry for above the line ticket votes.

Table 4 – 2019 ACT Senate – First Preference Votes by Candidate and Party

Group – Party/Candidates Votes % Votes Quotas % Ticket
G – Labor Party 106,330 39.35 1.1804 79.26
Ticket Votes 84,274 31.19
GALLAGHER, Katy 20,660 7.65
WAITES, Nancy 1,396 0.52
A – Liberal 87,492 32.38 0.9713 87.81
Ticket Votes 76,827 28.43
SESELJA, Zed 7,776 2.88
GUNNING, Robert 2,889 1.07
B – Greens 47,855 17.71 0.5313 71.86
Ticket Votes 34,389 12.73
KYBURZ, Penny 11,391 4.22
DAVIDSON, Emma 2,075 0.77
C – Group C 12,604 4.66 0.1399 33.51
Ticket Votes 4,224 1.56
PESEC, Anthony 8,163 3.02
KENT, Gary 217 0.08
E – United Australia 6,130 2.27 0.0681 88.14
Ticket Votes 5,403 2.00
WALTER, Peter 548 0.20
HODGSON, Rebecah Elen 179 0.07
F – Sustainable Australia 4,463 1.65 0.0495 73.25
Ticket Votes 3,269 1.21
HAYDON, John 892 0.33
ANGEL, Joy 302 0.11
D – Fraser Anning’s NCP 2,461 0.91 0.0273 73.87
Ticket Votes 1,818 0.67
VAN DUREN, Shane 563 0.21
BIRKETT, Scott 80 0.03
Ungrouped 2,896 1.07 0.0321 0.00
HOUSTON, Nick 1,349 0.50
COWTON, Gary 303 0.11
KIM, David 1,244 0.46

The above count is useful reminder that while we lump together the vote for a party’s candidates as a single total, the count is actually a contest between candidates. So while the total Labor vote was 106,330 (1.1804 quotas), Katy Gallagher had only 104,934 (1.1649 quotas). The Liberal ticket total was 87,492 (0.9713 quotas), but the vote for Zed Seselja was 84,603 (0.9392 quotas).

How to Distribute Preferences from Over Quota Candidates

As Katy Gallagher had more than a quota on first preferences, she was declared elected. Count 2 would then distribute Galagher’s surplus to quota votes. This is a useful opportunity to answer a question I am always asked – how do you decide which votes to distribute when a candidate has more than a quota of votes?

  • First, what is a quota? The quota is calculated by dividing the formal votes by the (number of vacancies + 1), rounding the result down to the nearest whole number, and then adding 1. The total formal votes in the ACT was 270,231, the number of vacancies 2. So the quota is (270231 / (2 + 1)) and rounded down, which is 90,077, adding 1 gives a quota of 90,078. Two quotas add to 180,156 with 90,075 votes left over. Once two vacancies are filled, the remaining votes will always be lower than the quota.
  • Katy Gallagher has 104,934 votes. This can be split into 90,078 votes that will be her quota, and a surplus of 14,856 votes.
  • All of Gallagher’s ballot papers will be distributed as preferences, but at a reduced value known as a transfer value.
  • The transfer value equals (Surplus votes) divided by (BallotPapers). In Gallagher’s case, the transfer value = 14,856 (the surplus) divided by 104,953 (total ballot papers) equals 0.1415747041.
  • So how does the distribution work out? Gallagher had 84,274 Labor above the line ballot papers with first preference for her, and 20,660 below the line ballot papers with first preference for her, 15,555 of which had a next preference for the second Labor candidate Nancy Waites.
  • Applying the transfer value to these totals, Labor’s 84,274 ATL ballot papers become 11,931 votes with second preference for Waites, and the 15,555 BTL ballot papers with 1 Gallagher 2 Waites becomes 2,202 votes for Waites.
  • These add to 14,133 Gallagher votes transferred to Waites. Another 5,105 ballot papers or 723 votes left the Labor ticket at this second preference.

This distribution produces the following totals by candidate and party after distributing the Labor surplus. Ticket vote totals have been rolled into the first preference votes for the lead candidate on each ticket.

After Count 2

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
G – Labor Party -723 105,607 39.35 1.1724
GALLAGHER, Katy -14,856 90,078 7.65
WAITES, Nancy +14,133 15,529 0.52
A – Liberal +88 87,580 32.38 0.9723
SESELJA, Zed +63 84,666 2.88
GUNNING, Robert +25 2,914 1.07
B – Greens +392 48,247 17.71 0.5356
KYBURZ, Penny +341 46,121 4.22
DAVIDSON, Emma +51 2,126 0.77
C – Group C +159 12,763 4.66 0.1417
PESEC, Anthony +157 12,544 3.02
KENT, Gary +2 219 0.08
E – United Australia +10 6,140 2.27 0.0682
WALTER, Peter +8 5,959 0.20
HODGSON, Rebecah Elen +2 181 0.07
F – Sustainable Australia +24 4,487 1.65 0.0498
HAYDON, John +17 4,178 0.33
ANGEL, Joy +7 309 0.11
D – Fraser Anning’s NCP +2 2,463 0.91 0.0273
VAN DUREN, Shane +2 2,383 0.21
BIRKETT, Scott 0 80 0.03
Ungrouped +41 2,937 1.07 0.0326
HOUSTON, Nick +29 1,378 0.50
COWTON, Gary +5 308 0.11
KIM, David +7 1,251 0.46

Further Distributions

With no candidate having a quota, the count now proceeded by excluding the lowest polling candidates. In successive counts, the three ungrouped candidates and the second candidate on five of the party groups were excluded in ascending order of votes. The second placed Labor candidate remained in the count with her own votes and most of Katy Gallagher’s surplus. The second placed Liberal candidate Robert Gunning remained in the count with more votes than some of the remaining parties.

When a candidate is excluded, votes are distributed in bundles of equal and descending transfer values. Following the distribution of Gallagher’s surplus, every candidate had two bundles of votes, one being first preference votes at Transfer Value = 1, and a second bundle of ballot papers from Gallagher at Transfer Value = 0.1415747041.

So each excluded candidate resulted in two ‘counts’, the first of TransferValue = 1 votes, the second of Transfer Value = 0.1415747041 votes. Eight excluded candidates produced 16 counts.

The table shows the totals at Count 18 after the exclusions. I have kept the party total lines as well as candidate total lines. This shows how many votes left each party’s group on the exclusion of the second placed candidate.

Of the votes for second in group candidates, the following percentages flowed to the lead candidate. Greens 86.2%, Group C (IND) 66.8%, Fraser Anning’s CNP 65.0%, United Australia 64.8% and Sustainable Australia 75.2%

The second placed candidate for the Liberal and Labor Parties were not distributed at this point. Labor’s #2 candidate’s preferences went 72.2% to Katy Gallagher, but only 47.4% of Liberal #2 candidate’s preferences flowed to Zed Seslja.

After Count 18

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
A – Liberal +915 88,495 32.75 0.9824
SESELJA, Zed +733 85,399 31.60
GUNNING, Robert +182 3,096 1.15
B – Greens +136 48,383 17.90 0.5371
KYBURZ, Penny +2,262 48,383 17.90
DAVIDSON, Emma -2,126 0 0.00
G – Labor Party +525 16,054 5.94 0.1782
WAITES, Nancy +525 16,054 5.94
C – Group C +663 13,426 4.97 0.1490
PESEC, Anthony +882 13,426 4.97
KENT, Gary -219 0 0.00
E – United Australia +125 6,265 2.32 0.0696
WALTER, Peter +306 6,265 2.32
HODGSON, Rebecah Elen -181 0 0.00
F – Sustainable Australia +421 4,908 1.82 0.0545
HAYDON, John +730 4,908 1.82
ANGEL, Joy -309 0 0.00
D – Fraser Anning’s NCP +135 2,598 0.96 0.0288
VAN DUREN, Shane +215 2,598 0.96
BIRKETT, Scott -80 0 0.00
Ungrouped -2,937 0 0.00 0.0000
HOUSTON, Nick -1,378 0 0.00
COWTON, Gary -308 0 0.00
KIM, David -1,251 0 0.00

Counts 19-20 excluded Shane Van Duren (Fraser Anning’s CNP). As noted earlier, the party’s preferences flowed mainly to the United Australia Party and the Liberal Party. In the table below I’ve retained a total for the two Liberal candidates but have reduced other parties to a single party candidate.

After Count 20

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
A – Liberal +696 89,191 33.01 0.9902
SESELJA, Zed +666 86,065 31.85 0.9554
GUNNING, Robert +30 3,126 1.16 0.0347
KYBURZ, Penny (GRN) +83 48,466 17.94 0.538
WAITES, Nancy (ALP) +142 16,196 5.99 0.1798
PESEC, Anthony (Grp C) +119 13,545 5.01 0.1504
WALTER, Peter (UAP) +1,150 7,415 2.74 0.0823
HAYDON, John (SAP) +374 5,282 1.95 0.0586
VAN DUREN, Shane (FACNP) -2,598 0 0.00
Exhausted +33 33 0.01 0.0004

Counts 21-22 excluded the second Liberal candidate Robert Gunning. As noted above, less than half of his preferences had second preference for Zed Seselja. Seselja was now on 0.9730 quotas.

After Count 22

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
A – Liberal -1,544 87,647 32.38 0.9730
SESELJA, Zed (LIB) +1,582 87,647 32.43 0.973
GUNNING, Robert (LIB) -3,126 0 0.00
KYBURZ, Penny (GRN) +216 48,682 18.01 0.5404
WAITES, Nancy (ALP) +336 16,532 6.12 0.1835
PESEC, Anthony (Grp C) +615 14,160 5.24 0.1572
WALTER, Peter (UAP) +200 7,615 2.82 0.0845
HAYDON, John (SAP) +173 5,455 2.02 0.0606
Exhausted +3 36 0.01 0.0004

Counts 23-24 excluded John Haydon (Sustainable Australia). His preferences favoured every other candidate ahead of Seselja.

After Count 24

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
SESELJA, Zed (LIB) +755 88,402 32.71 0.9814
KYBURZ, Penny (GRN) +1,620 50,302 18.61 0.5584
WAITES, Nancy (ALP) +1,211 17,743 6.57 0.1970
PESEC, Anthony (Grp C) +836 14,996 5.55 0.1665
WALTER, Peter (UAP) +981 8,596 3.18 0.0954
HAYDON, John (SAP) -5,455 0 0.00
Exhausted +52 88 0.03 0.0010

Count 25 excluded Peter Walter (United Australia). This was more than enough votes to elect Zed Seselja to the second ACT seat.

After Count 25

Group – Party/Candidates Change Votes % Votes Quotas
SESELJA, Zed (LIB) +3,876 92,278 34.15 1.0244
KYBURZ, Penny (GRN) +1,478 51,780 19.16 0.5748
WAITES, Nancy (ALP) +2,037 19,780 7.32 0.2196
PESEC, Anthony (Grp C) +1,003 15,999 5.92 0.1776
WALTER, Peter (UAP) -8,581 15 0.01 0.0002
Exhausted +187 275 0.10 0.0031

1 thought on “2019 ACT Senate Election – Analysis of Preferences”

  1. Hi Antony – I really enjoyed your analyses of the NT and ACT counts. Are you planning on going through the state counts (obviously far more work given the number of candidates) at any point? I’d be really interested to see an analysis of the Queensland count (most of the other states were pretty clearcut)

    COMMENT: I’ll work through all the states when I get chance.

Leave a Reply