south australia

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 Part 2 – the Preference Distribution

Part 1 of my post on the 2019 SA Senate election analysed how voters completed their ballot papers under the new Senate system, how preferences flowed between parties and what was the impact of how-to-votes.

This post will be more descriptive in summarising the formal distribution of preferences. It highlights major exclusions and distributions during the count and comments on differences with how the count might have unfolded had the abolished group voting ticket system still been in place.
Read More »2019 SA Senate Election Part 2 – the Preference Distribution

New State Electoral Boundaries for South Australia Finalised

(Post re-written and updated 20 November)

South Australia’s Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission (EDBC) released the final version of the state’s new electoral boundaries on 18 November. The new boundaries will apply for the first time at the next South Australian election in March 2022.

The final boundaries unwound some of the more consequential changes proposed by the draft boundaries. After much opposition, Mount Barker was retained in Kavel, leaving that seat based in the Adelaide Hills, and allowing Schubert to be a Barossa Valley based seat. Flowing from this, the proposed move of Gawler into Schubert was undone, unravelling major changes to Light and resulting in a string of further changes to seats across northern Adelaide.

The final boundaries also unwound a series of suburb swaps between the inner-southern Adelaide seats Badcoe and Elder with political consequences for the margins in both seats.

If you are after more detail on the composition of the new electorates, maps can be found on the EDBC’s website.

In this post I’ll provide some commentary on the approach taken by the EDBC and the political consequences that flow from the changes.
Read More »New State Electoral Boundaries for South Australia Finalised

2020 South Australian Redistribution – Release of Draft Boundaries

(Update: the final boundaries were released on 18 November and I analyse the political impact in a separate post on the final boundaries. The draft boundaries post below includes a broader discussion of the legal basis of drawing South Australian boundaries.)

Last Friday saw the much anticipated release of draft state electoral boundaries for South Australia.

I say anticipated because the redistribution was the first held since the Weatherill Labor government repealed the state’s electoral fairness provision in late 2017. The repeal was the government’s last legislative measure before losing office.

Would the new boundaries be drawn with no attention paid to fairness, undermining the Liberal government’s electoral position and paving the way for a Labor victory at the 2022 election? Once released, it became clear the short answer was no, the long answer more complex and well worth a blog post..

Without an overriding fairness provision, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission did not repeat its exercise of four years ago in drawing boundaries that sacrificed the principle (though not legal definition) of enrolment equality in favour of electoral fairness.

Against Labor’s hopes, the Commission did not entirely abandon fairness arguments. But it could no longer use fairness to dismiss other criteria set down in the Constitution for drawing electoral boundaries .

In summary, the new boundaries retain the existing two-party division of the House of Assembly where, not including elected Independents, there are 27 underlying Liberal electorates to 20 for Labor.

However, on the new boundaries, the Liberal Party has more marginal seats and the uniform swing to lose office is reduced. The big loser of the redistribution is Independent MP Geoff Brock, whose regional seat of Frome has been dismembered to solve enrolment shortfalls in country districts.Read More »2020 South Australian Redistribution – Release of Draft Boundaries

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

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