australia

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

Candidates, Informal Voting and Optional Preferential Voting

In the final week of parliamentary sittings, Queensland LNP Senator James McGrath tabled the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM’s) inquiry into the conduct of the 2019 Federal election. (You can find the report here.)

One of the controversial proposals in the report, and one opposed by Labor and Green members of JSCEM, was a recommendation to move from full or compulsory preferential voting (CPV) to optional preferential voting (OPV) for House of Representatives elections.

The report provides few arguments in favour of OPV. The recommendation for OPV appears suddenly at the end of a brief discussion on informal voting, in particular noting the impact OPV’s use at NSW elections has on informal voting at Federal elections. Senate McGrath presented a different argument for OPV when tabling the JSCEM report in the Senate, referring to OPV as a measure “to maximise voter choice”.

I’ve written on OPV many time previously, and I would suggest reading this post I wrote in 2013 after a previous suggestion from the Coalition about introducing OPV.

Informal voting will always be higher under compulsory preferential voting because ballot papers with faulty numbering have few options for salvation available. This compares with OPV where ballot papers with incomplete, duplicate or missing numbers, or completed with a single tick or cross, can count for candidates to the extent that a voter’s intent is clear.Read More »Candidates, Informal Voting and Optional Preferential Voting

Will Saving the NT’s Second House Seat Cost the ACT its Third Seat?

UPDATE: The legislation has been introduced and it does not fix the number of Territory seats at a minimum of two. It instead adopts my proposal to use the harmonic rather than arithmetic mean in determining seat entitlements for the territory. However, the harmonic only applies for quotients under three. That provision might need a re-visit if the Parliament ever increases in size. The statistical error provision has been repealed. The determination in July merging the NT into a single seat has been set aside and two seats restored. Legislating backwards for the harmonic mean was too difficult but under it the NT would have been entitled to two seats.

From the next determination, to take place after the next election, the new rules will apply to the territories. The NT will be entitled to a second seat if its quotient is above 1.3333 rather than the current 1.5. The ACT will be entitled to a third seat with a quotient above 2.4 rather than 2.5. As noted above, this new harmonic mean will not apply above three seats.

The legislation and notes related to it can be found at this link.

Minister’s Second Reading Speech here.

Original post

Read More »Will Saving the NT’s Second House Seat Cost the ACT its Third Seat?

2020 Groom By-election – Rates of Pre-Poll and Postal Voting

Voting for the Groom by-election has been underway today with few surprises expected in the result.

Groom is an ultra-safe LNP seat, held with a margin of 20.5%. The by-election has been caused by the resignation of LNP member John McVeigh. Only four candidates have nominated, well down on the 14 that contested the Eden-Monaro by-election in July. That Labor nominated a candidate in such as safe LNP seat was greeted with general surprise, while the Greens have opted out of contesting a Federal by-election for the first time in a quarter-century.

The LNP’s Garth Hamilton is expected to win easily and I won’t be providing any coverage of the results tonight. The best places to follow the results are the Australian Electoral Commission’s website, and via William Bowe at his Pollbludger site.

As I have for other elections this year, I thought it worth devoting a post to pre-poll and postal voting rates. With Covid-19 still around, you would have expected a high rate of postal and pre-poll voting. In fact the numbers are only slightly higher in Groom than at last year’s Federal election.

It gives me an opportunity to raise an issue about postal vote applications that should be addressed before the next Federal election. In short, there are serious questions as to whether we should still be allowing postal vote applications as late as the Wednesday before polling day. With Australia Post scaling back postal delivery times, what is the point of allowing application for postal votes too late for the postal vote pack to be delivered before polling day?
Read More »2020 Groom By-election – Rates of Pre-Poll and Postal Voting

Preference Flows at the 2018 South Australian Election and the Influence of How-to-Votes

The 2018 South Australian election saw a record vote for minor parties. This was largely due to the campaign by Nick Xenophon and his SA-Best party, polling 14.2% in the House of Assembly, a creditable 18.4% in the 26 seats it contested. The failure of the party to poll as strongly as published polling well out from the election suggested, or to elect a member to the Assembly, saw its campaign labelled a failure by political commentators.

In the end the party was used by voters as a conduit for preferences to the Liberal and Labor Parties. As you would expect for a party viewed by voters as sitting in the political centre, the party’s preferences split evenly, 51.6% to the Liberal Party and 48.4% to labor.

The release of preference flow data by the SA Electoral Commission provides an opportunity to analyse preference flows against party preference recommendations. Several unique features in the conduct of SA House of Assembly elections allows the comparison of preference flows with how-to-votes lodged by candidates and displayed in voting compartments.Read More »Preference Flows at the 2018 South Australian Election and the Influence of How-to-Votes

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?