There’s a Federal election coming soon and there’s a good deal of debate and confusion about preference distributions and the new Senate vote counting process. This post, hopefully, will clear that up for some people and answer a few questions. There’s more information in the FAQ section on the Australian Electoral Commission‘s website.
How Many Votes Are Needed To Be Elected?
In both the House of Representatives and the Senate the number required is calculated by the following formula:
q = 1 + f/(v+1)
Where “q” is the number of votes required (the quota), “f” is the number of formal votes cast and “v” is the number of vacancies to be filled.
In the Reps, there is only one vacancy to be filled (v=1) in a given seat so a candidate needs one vote more than half those cast – a simple majority.
In the Senate, we’ll be voting for 12 Senators from Victoria (v=12) so a candidate must get 1/13th of the formal votes plus one. Once 12 candidates have that quota there will be 1/13th minus 12 votes available which means nobody else can beat those already elected.
How Are Votes Counted?
In order to achieve a quota all formal ballot papers are distributed to the candidate allocated the number 1 on the paper (the first preference) and then counted. If no candidate has achieved the quota above, the candidate with fewest votes is eliminated and those papers are distributed to the remaining candidate with the next lowest preference.
In the Reps, the process continues thus until a single candidate has an absolute majority and there it stops.
In the Senate, it’s a little more complicated because we need to elect more than one Senator. So, once a candidate attains a quota s/he is declared elected but any excess votes beyond the quota are redistributed at reduced value. If this didn’t happen, there would not be enough votes in the pool to create 12 quotas. (You can find the full explanation on the AEC website here: http://aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/senate_count.htm.)
So, let’s say the quota is 10 000 votes and Ms Bloggs achieves her quota but has 12 000 votes at that stage. The 2000 “surplus” votes are redistributed to other, as yet unelected candidates. But which 2000? In fact, all 12 000 papers are now redistributed to the next preferred candidate but at a reduced value of s/q where “s” is the surplus; in this case, the transfer value would be 2000/10 000 or 0.2 – every one of Ms Bloggs’ papers would be redistributed at one fifth of its value to other candidates.
Counting continues eliminating unsuccessful candidates and redistributing their votes and the fractional surpluses of elected Senators until all 12 vacancies have been filled.
You Can’t Waste Your Vote!
It’s the redistribution process which ensures YOUR vote is not wasted if you choose an unsuccessful candidate.
Let’s say you have strong views on a specific issue and there’s an independent candidate standing on that particular issue. “Single issue” candidates are rarely successful but if one represents your view you can indicate that to whoever is ultimately elected by giving your champion your first preference. On the assumption that your champion is eliminated, your vote then goes to your next preference so you still influence which of the more likely contenders is elected but they receive the hint that there’s an important issue to which they should attend in the electorate.
It should be noted that in the Senate, if you select only the minimum number of preferences required (see below) and all those candidates are eliminated, your vote will be “exhausted” and won’t contribute to electing a senator. You should consider the chances of your preferred candidates being successful when deciding how many votes to cast above or below the line since only YOU ultimately determine where your preferences go.
Party Preference Deals and Your Preference
Much has been made in recent days of preference deals being done between Labor and Liberal Parties to put each other ahead of The Greens. Both of the major parties are worried they may not win government in their own right and may have to rely on preferences but neither likes the idea of a third party spoiling their duopoly. You will see these deals reflected in their respective “How to Vote” cards.
“How to Vote” cards are parties’ suggestions to voters. Apparently about 75% of voters follow HTV cards, there’s absolutely no obligation to do so – YOU number the boxes on YOUR ballot paper and YOU should do so according to YOUR preference for the various candidates and/or their parties.
In the Reps, you number ALL candidates according to your preference.
In the Senate you must number either AT LEAST six boxes above the line (there are 38 boxes plus a column of independents this year!) or AT LEAST 12 candidates below the line. If you number only six boxes above the line and you don’t include one of the three major parties (ALP, LNP coalition or Greens) you’ll only nominate about 12 candidates and your vote will probably be exhausted before all senators are elected. Similarly, if you choose only 12 candidates from the smaller parties below the line. If you don’t want votes going to the major parties and you want to maximise your influence, mark more boxes.
Why, and How, Has Senate Voting Changed – The Preference Whisperer?
At the last Senate election a number of minor candidates and parties got together with a “preference whisperer”. They agreed on a series of “group voting tickets” which were so constructed that a single “1” vote above the line (the old way of voting) channelled all their preferences to the same place. As each of these less likely candidates were eliminated their votes flowed together to elect, most famously, Senator Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party.
Some people have argued that this meant he was elected on fewer first preferences than others who were eliminated and that’s true. However, it’s also true that a full “quota” of voters indicated, whether they knew it (having researched their nominated party’s group voting ticket) or not, they would rather have him than anyone else.
Under the new Senate voting rules parties are no longer permitted to create group voting tickets and votes at the top of a column distribute preferences down the column then stop – a party or group on the ballot paper cannot cause preferences to flow to any other party or group. This makes it somewhat harder for minor candidates to get elected but it also makes it clear to voters exactly where your vote is going. Some candidates have formed voting blocs already to be listed in the same column – that’s legal and it’s transparent to voters.
It’s worth noting too that if you want to vote for the “ungrouped” independent candidates in the Senate, firstly they are at the far right of the ballot paper and, secondly, you must vote below the line as they don’t have a box above the line.
Who Are the Monash Candidates?
The City of Monash is in Victoria for the Senate. You can find the list of all 38 groups and 16 independent Senate candidates on the AEC site here.
Four House of Representatives seats overlap the City of Monash boundaries: Bruce, Chisholm, Higgins and Hotham.
The declared candidates for each of the electorates are shown below in the order in which they will appear on the ballot paper.
Researching the Candidates
Later this week I hope to write an open letter to all candidates listed above and invite them to comment on issues of importance to readers of this blog. Their answers will be published verbatim and without commentary.
Issues for their feedback will come from any comments received on this post and questions about Aged Care, Refugees and Immigration, and Environment policy.