Antony Green

South Australian Government Proposes Optional Preferential Voting

In proposing that South Australia adopt optional preferential voting for House of Assembly elections, the Marshall government is highlighting democratic principles in favour of making preferences optional. But you don’t have to be cynical to see that in backing principle, the SA Liberal Party is also backing its own self-interest.

Since 1982 there have been 26 South Australian electoral contests where a candidate trailing on first preferences won. Of these, 14 were won by Labor, 11 by Independents or minor party candidates, and just one by the Liberal Party. (Newland in 1989).Read More »South Australian Government Proposes Optional Preferential Voting

Eden-Monaro By-election – Tracking Pre-poll and Postal Votes

(Final Update 4 July – based on final figures)

In this post I’ve been tracking how many people have cast pre-poll votes or applied for a postal vote ahead of the Eden-Monaro by election this Saturday, 4 July.

My interest has been to measure whether there has been a change to the number of voters using these advance voting options compared to their use in Eden-Monaro at last year’s Federal election. You would expect some increase as the by-election is being conducted mid-winter in one of the coldest parts of the country at a time of continuing concerns over Covid-19 infection.

The Queensland local government elections in March, conducted in warmer weather but at a time of greater Covid-19 concern, saw a huge increase in the use of both postal and pre-poll voting.

So far there has been a marked increase in postal voting and some increase in pre-poll voting. As there is no absent voting and only limited pre-poll absent voting available for the by-election, some of the observed increase in postal and pre-poll voting may simply reflect a shift from absent voting. Last year there were 1,983 absent votes in Eden-Monaro and 6,207 pre-poll absents, together representing 7.7% of all votes.

In summary – at the end of the pre-poll voting period, 38.2% of the electorate have voted pre-poll, 43,684 in total compared to 41,355 pre-polls taken for all districts in 2019, or 37,808 in total for Eden-Monaro in 2019. This is an increase of 15.5% on 2019. There were 6,920 pre-polls taken on the final day of pre-poll voting on Friday, representing 6% of all voters.

The big increase has been with postal vote applications, up 127% on the number of applications in 2019. The deadline for the receipt of postal vote applications passed on Wednesday, so the final total of applications received is 16,840 or 14.7% of electors. That is more than double the 7,428 applications in 2019. Most notably, Labor is running a serious postal vote campaign for the by-election, 4,447 forms returned to the AEC as against only 41 returned by Labor in the whole 2019 campaign. Full detail inside this post.

For more background on the Eden-Monaro by-election and on the candidates, check out my guide to the by-election at the ABC elections website.

Read More »Eden-Monaro By-election – Tracking Pre-poll and Postal Votes

ABS Population Statistics Confirm Changes in House Representation

(Update 3 July – the determination by the Australian Electoral Commissioner has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

The Australian Bureau of Statistic’s national population report, released this morning, confirms the expected changes to state and territory representation for the next election.

The statistics confirm that Victoria will gain a 39th seat in the House of Representatives, Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016, and the Northern Territory will lose the second member it has elected since 2001.

The statistics in this morning’s report, for the December 2019 quarter, will now be used by the Australian Electoral Commissioner to make a formal determination on 3 July setting down the number of members to be elected from each state and territory at the next election.

When implemented, the changes will reduce the size of the House of Representatives from 151 to 150 seats and begin the process of electoral boundary re-drawing in Victoria and Western Australia. In the case of the Northern Territory, the existing seats of Lingiari and Solomon will be merged as a single seat with revived name Northern Territory.

However, a bill has been moved in the Senate designed to save the Northern Territory’s second seat. While the Constitution determines the allocation of members to states, representation for the territories is determined by legislation and can be changed by parliament.

I have published two recent posts on the allocation of House of Representatives seats. The first deals with the constitutional law around state representation, the second with territory representation including some suggestions on changes that can be made to the formula for territory representation.

My calculations of the seat entitlements based on this morning’s ABS report are shown below. Update – the table below has been updated with the Electoral Commissioner’s official determination.Read More »ABS Population Statistics Confirm Changes in House Representation

2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 3 – Changing the Formula for States

(Update 3 July – the determination has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

On 3 July, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will issue his determination on how many electorates will be contested and representatives elected for each state and territory at the next federal election. The determination will be based on Australian Bureau of Statistics population statistics to be released this week.

Based on population trends, it is expected that Victoria will gain a seat to 39 seats, and Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016. More controversially, the Northern Territory will lose the second member it has elected at every election since 2001.

This is the third of three posts on the subject of apportioning seats to states and territories under Australian constitutional and electoral law.

The first post looked at the constitutional allocation of seats to states under Section 24 of the Constitution, how the current formula works, past attempts to change the formula, and how past High Court cases have interpreted the workings of Section 24.

The second looked at the constitutional basis and history of territory representation. As I explain in the post, the allocation of seats to the territories is governed by legislation, not the constitution. The Parliament can change the territory allocation formula, and I propose that it should be changed to use what is known as Dean’s method. This would provide a fairer and more stable method of allocating seats than the current formula, though it would not guarantee the Northern Territory two seats into the future.

A private member’s bill has been introduced in the Senate to guarantee a minimum two seats for the Northern Territory. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has launched an inquiry into the bill with submissions closing on 10 July. You can find details of the inquiry here.

In this post I will re-cap the US apportionment methods I discussed in my post on the territories and ask whether they could also be applied to the Australian states without risking the wrath of the High Court. In short my findings are that across 26 Australian apportionments since Federation, Dean’s method would have added one seat to one state at one of the 26 apportionments, one change out of 416 state allocations.

For this reason I argue that switching formula to adopt Dean’s method would meet the tests for changing the constitutional formula discussed in McKellar’s case (1977). (See me first post for details). It can be argued that Dean’s method, by minimising the difference between the average enrolment in each state and the national quota, provides a more proportional method than the variant of Webster’s method set out in Section 24 of the constitution.

Read More »2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 3 – Changing the Formula for States

2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 2 – Allocating to the Territories

(Update 3 July – the determination has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

On 3 July, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will issue his determination on how many representatives (seats) each state and territory will have at the next federal election.

As the numbers stand, it is expected that Victoria will gain a seat to 39 seats, and Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016. Most controversially, the Northern Territory will lose the second seat it has had since 2001.

This is the second of three posts on Australian apportionment. The first post looked at the constitutional allocation of seats to states under Section 24 of the Constitution, how the current formula works, past attempts to change the formula, and how past High Court cases have interpreted the workings of Section 24.

In this post I concentrate on the constitutional basis and history of territory representation, and in what ways Territories are treated differently from the states in allocating seats.

The Labor Party is proposing a bill to save the NT’s second seat by legislating that the Northern Territory have a minimum of two seats. The NT’s Country Liberal Party has expressed some support for the idea. As was the case with a similar bill when the NT’s second seat was marked for abolition in 2003, the bill will be the catalyst for a more detailed discussion of the issue.

In my opinion, it would be better to change the formula as it applies to the territories rather than return to fixing the number of seats. In technical terms, my proposal is that the allocation of extra seats should be determined by rounding at the harmonic mean of two alternate allocations rather than the current arithmetic mean. In the case of the Northern Territory, that would involve allocating a second seat if the quota calculation is above 1.33 rather than the current 1.50. This would almost certainly save the NT’s second seat for the next election.

If you don’t have time to read through all the detail in this post, click here to go to the tables showing how the proposed change formula would have applied to the NT and ACT at apportionments since 1991.
Read More »2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 2 – Allocating to the Territories

2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 1 – Allocating to the States

(Update 3 July – the determination has been published confirming that Victoria will gain a seat and Western Australia and the Northern Territory lose seats. Details here.)

On 3 July, Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers will issue his determination on how many electorates will be contested and representatives elected for each state and territory at the next federal election.

As the numbers stand, it is expected that Victoria will gain a seat to 39 seats, and Western Australia will lose the 16th seat it gained in 2016. Most controversially, the Northern Territory will lose the second member it has elected since 2001.

This is the first of three posts on the subject of apportioning seats to states and territories under Australian constitutional and electoral law. This first post will look at the constitutional allocation of seats to states under Section 24 of the Constitution, how the current formula works, past attempts to change the formula, and how past High Court cases have interpreted the workings of Section 24.

A second post will look at how seats are allocated to territories and the different constitutional origins of territory representation.

The final post, for those who already know the background, will be devoted to possible changes to the apportionment formula, drawing on the extensive history of apportionment in the United States.
Read More »2020 Apportionment of Seats: Part 1 – Allocating to the States

Should How-To-Votes be Banned at Australian Elections?

Australian is unusual among western democracies in permitting active campaigning outside polling places on election day.

Despite sharing much electoral heritage with Australia, New Zealand sits at the opposite end of the election day campaigning spectrum. Not only are all forms of election day campaigning banned, but all signs erected in the campaign must be removed before election day.

On regulating election day campaigning, most countries sit nearer New Zealand than Australia. Election day is viewed as a time for considered contemplation by voters, not as an opportunity for boisterous last day campaigning.

Australia also has some of the world’s most complex methods for completing ballot papers. Almost all countries use a single cross to vote, some a second cross, and some have a limited form of preferential voting. Some countries, notably the USA, complicate simplicity by holding multiple elections on the same day.

Only Australia requires voters to complete a sequence of numbers for every square on the ballot paper under rules with no allowance for error.

And no other country compels voters to engage with such a complex voting system on pain of being fined.

Thanks to compulsory voting, polling places are the last chance candidates have to engage with undecided and disinterested voters who in other countries probably wouldn’t turn up to vote.

And thanks to full preferential voting, candidates and parties that have attracted a primary vote have enormous interest in ensuring that voters correctly number all other squares to complete a formal vote.Read More »Should How-To-Votes be Banned at Australian Elections?

How to Manage the Eden-Monaro By-election in a time of Covid-19

(Update 25 May – the by-election date has been set for 4 July. You can check my guide to the Eden-Monaro by-election over at the ABC Elections website.)

With the decision of Labor’s Mike Kelly to resign from Parliament, there will need to be a by-election held in his marginal seat of Eden-Monaro.

With a margin of just 0.9%, and with NSW Deputy Premier and well-known local state MP John Barilaro tipped to contest the by-election, Labor will have a fight on its hands to retain the seat. This despite the fact that no government has taken a seat from the opposition in a century, not since the special circumstances of the Kalgoorlie by-election in 1920.

With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, it may also be an unusual by-election. The Speaker has asked the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) for advice on special procedures that may be needed to protect voters and staff.  The by-election may be delayed until after the toughest of the social distancing regulations have been eased.

A useful guide for Eden-Monaro will be the Queensland local government elections, held on 28 March as Covid-19 restrictions mounted. There were significant changes to the conduct of polling by both Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) staff and by party campaign workers. It changed the way electors voted, how scrutineers observed the count and how results were reported.

At the time there were calls for the elections to be deferred as a public health risk. The elections went ahead and there has been no spike of Covid-19 cases in the aftermath.

But the expected surge in pre-poll voting has the potential to delay the release of Eden-Monaro election results. Is Eden-Monaro an opportunity to test procedures for counting pre-poll votes under secure conditions before 6pm on polling day?

Read More »How to Manage the Eden-Monaro By-election in a time of Covid-19

Exposing a Rubbish Statistic – there were more Labor than Liberal voters at the 2019 Federal election

The Morrison government was re-elected in 2019 with a three seat majority. The government won 77 seats in the 151 seat House of Representatives against 68 Labor and six crossbench members. The Coalition recorded 51.53% of the national two-party preferred vote and gained a 1.17% swing in its favour. The Coalition also improved its position in the Senate, gaining several seats that had been won by small right-of-centre parties at the 2016 double dissolution election.

Labor recorded its lowest first preference vote in more than 80 years, a lower vote than on the defeat of the Rudd government in 2013. The Labor Party accepted that it lost the election, the party’s postmortem largely blaming its own policy and campaign failures for the defeat. One external factor it did highlight was how much Clive Palmer was allowed to spend on advertising.

Yet some in the twittersphere have not accepted the legitimacy of the Morrison government’s victory. They put forward various arguments about why the government didn’t or shouldn’t have won.

Read More »Exposing a Rubbish Statistic – there were more Labor than Liberal voters at the 2019 Federal election

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.)

Read More »2019 ACT Senate Election – Analysis of Preferences