Melton was one of the seven districts where the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) conducted its re-check of election night votes by data entering ballot paper preferences into a computer system.
Melton had 14 candidates, and electorates with more than 12 candidates presented a counting problem for the VEC. After election night, all votes are manually check counted in bundles of 50 ballot papers, each bundle made up of first preferences for one candidate. After the counting of each bundle, bank note counters are used to quickly double check the number of counted papers in each bundle. The note counters verify the hand tally, NOT what’s written on the ballot papers.
Ballot papers with more than 12 candidates can’t fit into note counters. Hence why Melton (14 candidates), Point Cook (15) and Werribee (15) were data entered. The inability to use note counters would have substantially slowed down the amalgamation count where ballot papers are broken out of their polling place bundles and amalgamated ahead of the distribution of preferences. The distribution of preferences itself would also have been slowed.
Melton was a closely watched seat in 2022. It was the only seat in the state that had swung against Labor at the two previous state elections, and there had also been unusual swings against Labor in the area at May’s Federal election. Melton also attracted two noteworthy Independents in Dr Ian Birchall, who polled well in 2018, and Jarrod Bingham. When rolled in, it turned out neither had polled significantly, Birchall finishing third with 9.0% and Bingham fourth on 5.8%.
The two major parties attracted only 62% of the vote between them, Labor 37.7% and the Liberal Party 24.3%. But the other 38% was split across 12 candidates. In a seat with a low Green vote and with Independents campaigning against the government, Melton was a rare seat where preferences favoured the Liberal Party.
But the main threat to Labor in Melton was an Independent finishing second and sweeping up Liberal preferences, which in the end did not happen. That Bingham recommended preferences for the Liberal candidate ahead of Birchall further reduced the chances of the minor party vote coalescing. Too many candidates resulted in the anti-Labor vote dissipating in the distribution of preferences, as had happened in 2018.
As with my previous posts on Northcote, Preston, Hawthorn and Brighton, this post will use of the electronic ballot papers to analyse preference flow statistics and also to look at the influence of candidate how-to-votes.
The key findings for Melton are –
- The Liberal Party how-to-vote, which switched in 2022 to recommend preference for the Greens ahead of Labor, resulted in 73.9% of Liberal voters following the recommendation and putting the Greens ahead of Labor. Note that Liberal preferences were not distributed.
- For the 12 Melton candidates that registered how-to-votes indicating preferences, 27.0% of ballot papers exactly matched the how-to-vote of the chosen first preference party. The Liberals at 36.7% and Labor at 33.4% had the highest rate of ballot paper concordance with how-to-vote recommendations. The plethora of minor parties showed very little how-to-vote discipline.
- In the two-party preferred count, a rare minority 44.5% of preferences favoured Labor over Liberal. The Greens polled only 4.6% of the vote but still delivered 80.3% of preferences to Labor despite fewer than one in ten Green ballot papers having the recommended how-to-vote sequence.
More detail with tables inside the post.
Liberal Preference flows
In mid-November when the Liberal Party announced it would list the Greens ahead of Labor on how-to-votes, I went through past evidence on Liberal preferences in this post that examined state and federal election results in Victoria since 2006.
In the case of Melton, data on Liberal preference flows would never normally be available. The Liberal Party was one of the final two candidates, as in 2018, so we would never normally see data on Liberal preferences.
The existence of data entered ballot papers makes it possible for the first time to calculate Liberal preferences flows in Melton. Overall 73.9% of Liberal voters directed preferences to the Greens and only 26.1% to Labor. In all seven districts where the electronic ballot papers are available, Liberal preferences followed the party recommendation and favoured the Greens.
Labor versus Liberal Two-Party Preferred Preference Flows
The Labor versus Liberal preference flows from other candidates favoured the Liberal Party 55.5% to 44.5% to Labor. Green preferences flowed 80.3% to Labor and Animal Justice 63.5%.
Labour DLP preferences flowed 59.5% to the ALP, odd for a party generally seen as anti-Labor, but a common occurrence since the DLP began to appear on ballot papers as Labour DLP. It seems that voters who rely entirely on ballot paper cues rather than knowledge of parties to decide preferences seem to assume Labour DLP and the Australian Labor Party must be related.
The preferences for the Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and the Health Australia Party tipped slightly Labor’s way. Neither party had registered how-to-votes.
Birchal’s preferences flowed 69.4% to the Liberal Party, Jarrod Bingham 64.1%, SFF 67.6%, Family First 62.2%. The Freedom Party flowed 78.0%, another instance of very strong preference flows from the Freedom Party, unusual for a party polling less than 2%.
|Ball||First Prefs||Prefs to ALP||Prefs to LIB|
Twelve of the 14 candidates registered how-to-votes. The table below shows the percentage of each candidate’s first preference votes that exactly matched the candidate’s registered how-to-vote sequence. The table shows the percentage of ballots papers that matched the sequence to preferences 2 to 5, along with a final column showing the percentage of ballot papers that matched the how-to-vote for the full 14 preferences.
With 14 candidates on the ballot paper, the chances of a voter guessing the correct 14 number sequence is unlikely. The final column can therefore be seen as a reliable measure of how many voters followed each candidate’s how-to-vote. A low percentage suggests most voters did not see a how-to-vote for the party.
Voters might guess the first two or three preferences, but the percentage of ballot papers matching the how-to-vote to each preference number quickly converges on the value for the full 14 preferences.
The percentage of Liberal ballot papers that exactly matched the Liberal how-to-vote sequence was 36.7%, Labor 33.4%, Birchall 25.5% and Bingham 23.4%. The rest look like random noise suggesting few people saw a how-to-votes for the other 10 candidates, unsurprising given none polled more than 5%. It may be that Labor, Liberal, Birchall and Bingham were the only candidates to hand out significant numbers of how-to-votes.
The Green how to vote had Animal Justice second, a preference only 23.0% of voters completed compared to 36.1% who put Labor 2nd. Labor listed Animal Justice second, an option chose by 39.0% of voters, most of whom stayed with the Labor how-to-vote listing until the end.
A special mention goes to the 37 SFF voters who doggedly matched all 14 preferences from the how-to-vote. That’s fewer than the 293 ‘donkey’ voters who simply numbered 1-14 down the ballot paper.
|Matched How-to-Vote to Preference Number|