Senate

Is Increasing the Membership Requirement to Register Political Parties Justified?

The government’s proposed changes to party registration rules, released last week, will increase the number of members required to register a political party from 500 to 1,500. Understandably this proposal has attracted criticism, especially from the small parties that will now have to recruit more members.

I posted on Thursday about this and other proposed changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Is this just an attack on small parties, or is it a justifiable attempt to make Senate ballot papers easier for voters to read and understand, and for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to print and count?Read More »Is Increasing the Membership Requirement to Register Political Parties Justified?

When can the Next Federal Election be Held?

On Twitter recently, the most frequent question I am asked is when “can” the next federal election be held. Second place goes to when “will” the election be held.

This post attempts to answer both questions.

The three-part answer on “when can” the election be held is –

  • The first date for a normal house and half-Senate election is 7 August 2021, if announced this weekend and writs are issued by Monday 5 July.
  • The last date for a normal house and half-Senate election is 21 May 2022. This date gives six weeks to complete the complex Senate count and allows Senators to be declared elected and start their terms on 1 July. A mid-May election would be announced in early April 2022.
  • There is a highly improbable option for a half-Senate election by 21 May 2022 and a separate House election as late as 3 September 2022.

The short answer on “when will” the election be held is –

  • when the Prime Minister thinks his government has the best chance of winning, or
  • if prospects look grim, the last possible date.

Read More »When can the Next Federal Election be Held?

Electoral Law, Savings Provisions and Senate Reform

Someone reading my article on reforming the WA Legislative Council’s electoral system reminded me of a speech I did a number of years ago on Senate electoral reform and issues to do with savings provisions.

The speech was at the launch of a UNSW Law Journal special Issue number 39(1) with various papers on electoral law.

The Journal had several papers on different areas of electoral law. I addressed each of the papers before spending much of the speech on savings provisions and in particular looking at the issue of savings provisions with the reformed Senate electoral system.

The speech was shortly before the 2016 election, after the Senate electoral reforms had passed, but before they were ruled constitutional by the High Court.

Having watched the speech back, I thought it worth sharing and it can be viewed via the YouTube link in the post.Read More »Electoral Law, Savings Provisions and Senate Reform

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

2019 SA Senate Election – Ballot Paper and Preferences Analysis (Part 1)

This is my latest (and much delayed) post looking at the Senate’s new electoral system, how it worked at 2019 election, how voters completed their ballot papers, and what was the influence of how-to-vote material.

This post on South Australian is my first on a six-member Senate contest. The two previous posts in this series, on the ACT Senate race and the Northern Territory Senate race, dealt with elections for two Senators and were two-party preferred races.

At the start of 2020 I published two other posts with broad overviews of the 2019 result. The first looked at the breakdown of above and below the line voting and the number of preference completed. The second looked at measures of performance, why the new system produced different results to past Senate elections. In particular, it compared the 2019 result with the 2013 half-Senate election, the last conducted using the now abolished group voting tickets.

Part 2 of this post tracks the formal distribution of preferences for the South Australian Senate. The Part 1 post below provides a more detailed analysis of preferences based on examining the electronic ballot papers.
Read More »2019 SA Senate Election – Ballot Paper and Preferences Analysis (Part 1)

Filling all the BTL Squares – Incidence at the 2019 SA Senate Election

As promised, here’s one of my occasional Graph of the Day posts on something I’m currently researching.

How many people voting below-the-line (BTL) on Senate ballot papers go on to fill in all the squares? Here’s the answer in a graph using South Australian Senate data from the 2019 Federal election.Read More »Filling all the BTL Squares – Incidence at the 2019 SA Senate 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

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 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

How the new Senate Electoral System Performed at its first Half-Senate Election test.

The Turnbull government’s changes to the Senate’s electoral system were first used at the 2016 double dissolution election, but the 2019 half-Senate election was always going to be a truer test of the changes.

Several of the minor party Senators elected in 2016 owed their seats to the lower 7.7% quota used for double dissolution elections. Two-thirds of minor party Senators were elected to the final vacancies in each state and were allocated to short term seats post-election. Those Senators faced re-election in 2019 when their chances of re-election would be made tougher by the 14.3% quota used at half-Senate elections, as well as the new electoral system.

As this post will explain, the new system worked as designed at the 2019 election, rewarding parties that polled well on first preferences, and disadvantaging parties that relied of harvesting preferences to win election.
Read More »How the new Senate Electoral System Performed at its first Half-Senate Election test.