In 2000 New South Wales became the first state to abolish Group Voting Tickets (GVTs), the system then generally used to elect state Legislative Councils and the Commonwealth Senate.
The NSW decision followed the 1999 Legislative Council election and its infamous “tablecloth” ballot paper. Confusion combined with labyrinthine preference deals made a mockery of any claim that the filling of the final vacancies reflected the will of the electorate.
The system adopted abolished GVTs and introduced a new form of voting above-the-line (ATL) where voters could direct preferences to other parties on the ballot paper by numbering ATL boxes. A single ‘1’ ATL vote was still formal, but a voter could direct preferences to others groups with an ATL voting square by indicating ‘2’, ‘3’ etc to other groups.
With Senate elections continuing to use GVTs where only a single ATL preference counted, few voters made use of the new ATL voting option at Legislative Council elections. At four elections from 2003 to 2015, more than 80% of Legislative Council ballot papers continued to be completed with a 1-only ATL vote and only around 15% of voters indicated further ATL preferences.
When the Commonwealth followed NSW in abolishing GVTs ahead of the 2016 election, it adopted different instructions on how to complete an ATL vote. Senate ballot paper instructions, and advice from ballot paper issuing officers, suggested a minimum of 6-ATL preferences be completed.
The Senate reforms included generous savings provisions permitting ballot papers with fewer than six ATL preferences to remain formal. At three Senate elections since 2016, more than 95% of ballot papers have had six or more preferences, around 80% having exactly six.
Experience with the new Senate ballot paper has clearly encouraged more voters to indicate preferences on NSW Legislative Council ballot papers.
As the chart below shows, only around 15% of voters completed ATL preferences before the Senate changes. At two NSW elections post the Senate changes, 27.6% of NSW voters completed ATL preferences at the 2019 Legislative Council election, and after experience at two further Senate elections in 2019 and 2022, the percentage of ballot papers at the 2023 Legislative Council election completed with ATL preferences rose to 39.2% .Read More »Increase in Voters Completing Preferences at the 2023 NSW Legislative Council Election