23 October 2004

Below the line and beyond belief

The October 9 election will be a dot in the rear vision mirror by the time the Senate representatives are finally determined. In NSW, counting to determine the sixth and final seat has at least another two weeks to run.

The reason? A voting system so complex that even if every house in the country had its own walking, talking Antony Green doll in the living room it's doubtful many more people would understand it.

In NSW, Labor's third candidate, Michael Forshaw, will probably be elected, scraping in ahead of Fred Nile with the help of the 66th preference of those who voted for the Fishing Party.

If, like more than 95 per cent of voters in NSW, you numbered a single box above the line for your Senate vote, the chances are you have no idea where your vote - or a proportion of it - will finally end up. That is decided by the parties three weeks before the election, when a preference ticket (or two, or three) is registered with the Electoral Commission.

Information on where those preferences will flow is available on the commission's website and, possibly, if you had asked at your polling booth for the 'group voting ticket' booklet, officials might have been able to show it to you. But if you could then figure it out, you would be lucky, suggests the ABC's election analyst, Antony Green.

I am not sure where to start with this string of journalistic howlers.

1. Preferential voting works the same way in single-member and multi-member districts.

2. The quota calculation is always to divide V by S+1 where V is the total number of votes and S is the number of seats. That gives you >50% in a single member district and >14.2 percent in a multimember district electing 6 candidates.

3. There's never a surplus to distribute in a single-member district. There is in a multi-member district.

4. In both kinds of district your vote is counted to your first preference. If they can't be elected your vote is transferred to the next available candidate until it can elect someone.

5. The transfer value for surplus ballot papers is calculated as (T-Q)/T where T is the total number of votes and Q is the quota.

6. The distortion in the system is the Group Voting Ticket. People voting below the line is hard work. Anyone doing it is unlikely to do it lightly. An informed media might have noticed that twice as many people cast their own preferences in Tasmania as elsewhere. They might even have noticed that Family First's lead was 4300 and the number of below-the-line votes was 60 000 in that state. The Family First candidate is unknown and the Green candidate has been a prominent state MP. Why do you think Tasmanians are avoiding the party ticket? To vote Family First or to vote Green?

Describing single member preferential voting as 'regular' and multimember preferential as 'irregular' simply proves the journo in question has no idea of his subject. He seems to condemn GVT voting, but then he calls his article Below the line and above belief.

Should votes count less if someone votes for a small party? Should voters who decide their own preferences instead of following a party ticket be penalised?

Or is the fault, dare I say, an ignorant media who declared the Senate election with insufficient information and now need a by-line to justify their own bungle? There are quite a lot of simple and informative books on voting systems. Surely the SMH can afford to go out and buy one?

If they did they would discover preferential voting is easy for the elector, you start with who you want elected and then work your way down. Pity Labor, and the media, forgot this in Victoria and Tasmania.

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