Federal elections

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 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

Should we Count Pre-poll votes before 6pm on Election Day?

The last decade has seen a dramatic surge in pre-poll voting at both state and federal elections. At the 2007 Federal election, just 8.3% of votes were cast as pre-polls. Twelve years later that figure had quadrupled to 32.3%.

In 2007 80.0% of votes were ordinary polling day votes, in 2019 just 54.5%. Without the efforts of a horde of additional staff brought in to count pre-polls late into the evening, few recent elections would have produced a clear winner on election night.

The growth of pre-poll voting has altered the flow of results on election night. By 9pm most polling places have reported their results, but count completion for some of the country’s largest pre-poll centres can take several hours longer. It was pre-poll votes as much as the closeness of result that pushed coverage of the last two Federal elections into the early hours of Sunday morning.

This has led to calls for pre-poll counting to commence before 6pm on election day, something that is currently illegal. The call has come from several electoral authorities, including the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). It has also been suggested by some state political parties.

Is this a good idea? In my view the answer is unambiguously yes, as long as the results of pre-poll vote counts remain secret until after the close of polling at 6pm.

Read More »Should we Count Pre-poll votes before 6pm on Election Day?

2019 Northern Territory Senate Election – Results and Preference Flows

Summary of findings

  • Preferences were not distributed in the NT, the lead Labor and CLP candidates declared elected on the first count.
  • At 19.5% the Northern Territory had the highest rate of voters going beyond six preferences above the line, four times the national average. This was helped by there being only nine ballot paper groups in the NT.
  • 77.7% of Green preferences reached Labor, but not by following the Green how-to-vote. Of all Green votes, 45.5% went to Labor as a second preference, another 21.3% at the third preference after giving a suggested second preference for HEMP.
  • United Australia Party (UAP) preferences favoured Labor, against the party’s how-to-vote recommendation for the CLP, largely because one in five UAP above-the-line votes were donkey votes.
  • On how-to-vote concordance, 16.0% of Labor voters followed the how-to-vote exactly compared to 10.3% for the CLP and 10.2% of the Greens. Green concordance rates were lowered by the 2nd preference being given to HEMP rather than Labor.
    Read More »2019 Northern Territory Senate Election – Results and Preference Flows

2019 Federal Election – Post-Election Pendulum

This post is unfinished business from the 2019 Federal election, setting out a post-election pendulum of the results. A pdf version arranged on two sides of an A4 page can be found via this link.

While this pendulum is current on publication in January 2020, new electoral boundaries will see it superseded before the next election, due to be held between August 2021 and May 2022.

Read More »2019 Federal Election – Post-Election Pendulum

2019 Senate Election – Above and Below the Line Vote Breakdown

The 2019 Senate election was the second conducted under changes introduced in 2016. The changes continued to use proportional representation by single transferable vote, and retained the divided ballot paper in use since 1984, and . A thick horizontal line continues to divide the ballot paper into two voting options, ‘above the line’ (ATL) for parties and groups, or ‘below the line’ (BTL) for candidates.

The changes abandoned full preferential voting in favour of partial preferential voting, and ended party control over between-party preferences.

Before the changes, voters could only mark a single square when voting ATL, the ballot paper imputed to have the chosen party’s full list of preferences as registered with the Electoral Commission.

The new system abolished the tickets and allowed ATL voters to give second and further preferences, ballot paper instructions suggesting at least six preferences. Above the line votes continued to give parties and groups control over preferences between their own candidates, but ended party control over preferences to other parties and candidates.

Previously a BTL vote required a voter to mark preferences for all candidates on the ballot paper. Under the new system, ballot paper instructions stated that BTL voters should mark at least 12 preferences.

In an earlier post I went into the political impact of these changes and how the system performed at its second test, its first at a half-Senate election. (See How the new Senate Electoral System Performed at its first Half-Senate Election test.)

In this post I’m going to look at how voters reacted to the new electoral system and  whether they voted above or below the line. For each option, I look at how many preferences voters completed.

This will be the first of several posts over the next fortnight going into detail of how the Senate count unfolded in each state, how preferences flowed, and what impact parties and their how-to-votes had on preference flows.
Read More »2019 Senate Election – Above and Below the Line Vote Breakdown