Antony Green

WA Legislative Council Reform – The Problems of Ballot Paper Design and the Number of Preferences

The McGowan government in Western Australia has appointed a Ministerial Expert Committee to recommend changes to the electoral system for the state’s Legislative Council. (You can find the Committee’s website here.)

The Committee has a number of issues to examine. Some are controversial, such as whether to change the state’s zonal electoral system. I wrote on the zonal electoral system and its unequal enrolments two weeks ago.

The proposal that has attracted least criticism is the abolition of group voting tickets (GVTs). GVTs were first introduced for Senate elections in 1984. They were introduced as a solution to a chronic high rate of informal voting and designed to make voting easier while retaining full preferential voting.

What has not been fully appreciated is that the tickets sped up voting and also simplified the counting process. GVTs meant that less than 10% of ballot papers needed to be examined for formality and re-examined for preferences during the count. The rest of the ballot papers were ticket votes, and all ticket votes for a party being the same, could be treated as block votes.

These benefits have since been outweighed by the manipulation of results produced by GVTs giving parties almost total control over between-party preferences.

For major parties, GVTs strengthened the strong flow of preferences that parties had previously achieved through influencing voters with how-to-votes. But GVTs gave the same power to small parties that previously struggled to influence preferences due to lack of members distributing how-to-votes. Even the smallest micro-parties that didn’t bother to campaign suddenly had total control over their preferences. Over time, as participants learnt how to use GVTs strategically, the system began to elect candidate from parties with tiny votes who would never been elected had voters controlled preferences.

Three jurisdictions have now abolished GVTs. In this process, great attention was paid to ensuring voters did not have to revert to the pre-1984 situation of completing vast numbers of preferences. But a price of abolishing GVTs has been to make counting more complex. It has required a switch to scanning rather than hand counting and data entering ballot papers. Complexity has also been increased by changes to formulas calculating transfer values for surplus to quota preferences.

As the Ministerial Expert Committee searches for a replacement Legislative Council electoral system, it has the advantage of being able to draw on experience with abolishing GVTs for elections to the NSW and South Australian Legislative Councils and the Commonwealth Senate.

Two models for electing the WA Legislative Council are being discussed. One retains regions, a four region model with each electing nine members the most discussed. The second is a switch to a single state-wide model.

The state-wide model in particular requires careful design. Careful thought needs to be given to ballot paper design, voter instructions, and the counting method.

Without careful design, using a single electorate to elect the WA Legislative Council could end up producing a ballot paper that is unprintable or uncountable.Read More »WA Legislative Council Reform – The Problems of Ballot Paper Design and the Number of Preferences

2021 WA Election – How the Daylight Saving Party turned 98 votes into a seat in the Legislative Council

The election of Wilson Tucker from the Daylight Saving Party at March’s Western Australian election has become the catalyst for abolishing group voting tickets in Western Australia.

Mr Tucker polled 98 votes or just 0.2% of the vote in the vast Mining and Pastoral Region. His low vote is not surprising as four referendums over five decades have shown little support for daylight saving in this vast region covering the state’s most remote areas.

Anyone familiar with how to engineer results using group voting tickets knows the system can elect parties with little support. But even I, with two decades of covering the perversity of elections using group voting tickets, find myself startled that such an egregious distortion of the electorate’s will could be constructed.

It is the most magnificent example of preference harvesting yet achieved by well-known preference ‘whisperer’ Glenn Druery. It is the crowning glory of his art, but will also be the death knell of the group voting ticket system he used to achieve it.

The back-story to Mr Tucker’s election gets even weirder. Tucker left Western Australia three years ago and has been working as a software engineer for Amazon on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in Seattle. It is a better paid job than his new four year position in the WA Legislative Council. That is assuming, in this period of pandemic, he can get a flight back, is allowed entry to Australia and can cross the Western Australian border. (Update: I’m informed Mr Tucker has arrived back ready to take his seat.) Tucker’s term is due to begin on 22 May. If he is unable to return and vacates the seat, a re-count would create the farcical situation where his his running mate, Janet Wilson, would take his seat despite receiving zero votes at the state election.Read More »2021 WA Election – How the Daylight Saving Party turned 98 votes into a seat in the Legislative Council

Braddon 2021 – Updates on the Distribution of Preferences

Candidates Elected in Order

  1. Liberal – Jeremy Rockliff (Re-elected)
  2. Labor – Anita Dow (Re-elected)
  3. Labor – Shane Broad (Re-elected)
  4. Liberal – Roger Jaensch (Re-elected)
  5. Liberal – Adam Brooks (Elected)

Count Completed

Change in Elected Members – On the Liberal ticket, Adam Brooks will be elected defeating Felix Ellis. Remarkably for a man who looked defeated on election night, Roger Jaensch was elected ahead of Adam Brooks.

Update 15 May – so after all that effort, Adam Brooks has announced he will not take his seat. He has been charged with several offences by Queensland Police that can be read about on news sites. The consequences for the new Parliament is that he will resign and create a vacancy. In Tasmania vacancies are filled by a countback of the votes that elected the departing member. That countback will elect another Liberal from the party ticket. The most likely candidate to win the count is Felix Ellis, but we will see once the count is undertaken.
Read More »Braddon 2021 – Updates on the Distribution of Preferences

Clark 2021 – Updates on the Distribution of Preferences

Keeping track on the critical preference distribution in Clark. The seat that will determine whether the Liberal government has majority or minority status. Updates inside the post.

Candidates Elected in Order

  1. Greens – Cassy O’Connor (Re-elected)
  2. Liberal – Elise Archer (Re-elected)
  3. Labor – Ella Haddad (Re-elected)
  4. Liberal – Madeleine Ogilvie (Re-elected)
  5. Independent – Kristie Johnston (Elected)

Count Completed

Change in Elected Members: Madeleine Ogilvie was a defeated Labor candidate at the 2018 election but returned to the Assembly in September 2019 at a re-count. She replaced Labor MHA Scott Bacon but took her seat as an Independent. Ogilvie has been elected as a Liberal MHA at the 2021 election.

Sue Hickey was elected as a Liberal in 2019, was disendorsed by the Liberal Party for the 2021 election but re-contested and was defeated as an Independent. Her seat has been won by Independent Kristie Johnston.

Taking account of the changing party allegiances of Ogilvie and Hickey, the result in Clark compared to the party numbers in 2018 is that Labor has lost a seat to Independent Kristie Johnston.
Read More »Clark 2021 – Updates on the Distribution of Preferences

Franklin 2021- Updates on Distribution of Preferences

Candidates Elected in (speculative) Order

  1. Liberal – Jacquie Petrusma (Re-elected)
  2. Greens – Rosalie Woodruff (Re-elected)
  3. Labor – Dean Winter (Elected)
  4. Labor – David O’Byrne (Re-elected)
  5. Liberal – Nic Street (Re-elected)

Count Completed

Change in Elected Members – On the Labor ticket, Dean Winter defeats Alison Standen. The order of election for O’Byrne and Winter is yet to be determined.
Read More »Franklin 2021- Updates on Distribution of Preferences

WA’s Zonal Electoral System and the Legislative Council Reform Debate

This post is a detailed look at Western Australia’s zonal electoral system ahead of a major review of how the Legislative Council is elected.

The malapportionment that applied to lower house boundaries was abolished with the introduction of one-vote one-value electoral boundaries at the 2008 election.

But malapportionment remains for the Legislative Council, and was in fact made worse by changes to region representation in 2008.

The bias in the electoral system against Perth has drifted out from 2.80-to-1 when the current system was adopted in 1989, to 3.07-to-1 in 2021.

But this hides another developing bias, an increased weighting against voters in South West Region. Where in 1989 average enrolment per MLC in the three non-metropolitan regions was equal, by the 2021 election, average enrolment in Agricultural Region and Mining and Pastoral Region had blown out to a ratio of 2.81-to-1 against voters in South West Region.

Western Australia’s current electoral regions defined by land usage rather than population is unsustainable given demographic trends.

The McGowan government has appointed a Ministerial Expert Committee chaired by QC and former WA Governor Malcolm McCusker to examine reform options for the Legislative Council. The existing malapportionment of the Legislative Council’s electoral system is one amongst several issues it will be addressing. (You can find details of the Committee here)

In this post I set out in detail the problems with the current malapportionment. In future posts I’ll return to other issues such as whether Western Australia should follow the Commonwealth, New South Wales and South Australia by abolishing group voting tickets for elections to the upper house.
Read More »WA’s Zonal Electoral System and the Legislative Council Reform Debate

2018 Tasmanian election – Animations of the Distributions of Preferences

Thanks to the excellent animation work of the ABC’s Markus Mannheim, I’ve pulled together animations that show the distribution of preferences in all five seats at the 2018 Tasmanian election.

These are good illustration of how the system works to fit seats to votes recorded by candidate.

Below the animation on each page I have included some notes on the key points in each count.Read More »2018 Tasmanian election – Animations of the Distributions of Preferences