megpie71
megpie71
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Back August 24th, 2010 Forward
Post-Election analysis

So, the election is over and done, the counting goes on, and it looks like we're going to have a minority government no matter which party gets the most seats (so far it's looking like 73 all for both Labor and Liberal - which means the balance of power, which is currently held by 4 independents and a Greens member, is going to be crucial in getting legislation across the line). It hasn't been a big win for either of the major parties, although Tony Abbott is busy talking up the idea of the Libs having a mandate to form a government (they don't) and that the Labor party has lost out to the Liberals (they didn't - most of Labor's lost votes went to the Greens).

Either way, we're getting the two standard post-election behaviours out of things. The first is the party which is perceived to have "lost" the election (in this case, the ALP) is turning into a circular arse-kicking contest. The second is having people saying the election result proves we're doin' it rong, and we should change the way Australian votes are cast or counted. The old chestnuts which have been brought out for their regular polishing are "abolish compulsory voting", "bring in first-past-the-post counting" and "one vote one value".

Let's deal with each of these in turn. The "abolish compulsory voting" one is fairly straightforward - in Australia, as in any democratic nation, one of the responsibilities of a citizen is to participate in the political process by voting in elections. So in Australia, we take this seriously, and expect people to turn out and receive their ballot papers so they can vote. If you don't turn out and get your ballot paper, you can be fined. It's a small fine ($50 - you pay more if you're caught speeding) but it's enough to make people actually head down to the local primary school once every three years and get their ballot papers. Note I'm not saying it actually makes people VOTE - the compulsory bit stops when you receive your ballot paper. You don't have to fill in a valid vote (and the number of people who voted invalidly during this election increased, which some folks are seeing as another message to the various political players). But you do have to do your democratic duty and participate in the process - even if nobody's taking their time to spoon feed you all the information about your local candidates, or their policies or similar.

I happen to think this is a good thing for Australia, overall. For one thing, it means elections are much more representative of the opinions of the Australian public than any poll, write-in survey or other measure, because there's a sufficiently large sample being taken (approximately 90% of all Australians over the age of 18). It's also much more representative than the sample obtained in such places as the United States (where the election results measure the opinions of as little as 40% of the US voting population) or the United Kingdom (again, about 40% turn-out). To put this in perspective - an elected government in the US or the UK can represent the opinions of as little as 20% of the population. An elected government in Australia represents the opinions of at least 45% of the population.

There's also issues of accessibility to be considered. In Australia, participating in an election is an enforced responsibility. Thus there is a requirement on the part of the people who administer the election process (the Australian Electoral Commission) to ensure the maximum number of people are able to participate in the voting process with the minimum of inconvenience. This means our voting day is inevitably a Saturday (as compared to a Tuesday in the US), when the majority of people aren't at work. Those who are working generally are allowed to take time off to vote, or are encouraged to put in a postal vote. There's also numerous polling places which have facilities for absentee votes (voting in an electorate you're not registered in because you're at work, on holiday, etc). There are facilities for Australians who aren't going to be in Australia when an election occurs to cast a vote by post. There are specialist polling facilities which go around hospitals. There are efforts made to make polling places accessible to persons who are using either permanent or temporary mobility aids (although these vary in effectiveness). There are even efforts to make it possible for persons who have vision impairments to be able to cast a vote in privacy (rather than requiring a sighted person to assist). All of this is the reciprocal side of Australians being required to turn out and get their ballot papers at each election.

Overall, I feel the requirement to turn out and receive a ballot paper is one of the more important ones in the Australian political system. It means we have a system which is accessible, and it means we have a system which encourages participation.

Now, on to "first past the post" counting. At the moment, the Australian system is set up so that in order to win a seat in the House of Representatives, a candidate must achieve a number of votes equivalent to 50% of the vote plus one vote more. If a candidate achieves that amount of votes on first preferences, then no worries, they're elected. But what if none of the candidates achieves the necessary votes to become elected on first preferences alone? In such a case, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and their votes are sorted on their second preference. Then we run the query again: does any candidate have 50% of the votes plus one vote more? (In programming, this would be a while loop - while nobody has enough votes to win, keep eliminating candidates from the bottom of the pile, and redistributing votes according to the next preference down the line).

An example, if you will. Consider the House of Representatives seat of Goddzone, with a population of 100,000. There are six candidates standing - one from the Worker's Party, one from the Conservative Party, one from the Environmentalist Party, one from the Farmer's Party, one from the Christian Theocratic Party, and one from the White Supremacist Party (so in other words, a pretty normal spread for an Aussie electorate). Each voter on election day will receive their ballot papers, and they'll be instructed (both on the ballot paper and verbally by the AEC official) to number the candidates in order of preference from 1 through 6. Here's the numbers after the first preference count:

 

First Round of Counting
Worker's Party40,000
Conservative Party40,000
Environmentalist Party15,000
Farmer's Party2,000   
Christian Theocratic Party2,000
White Supremacist Party   1,000
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Preferences from White Supremacist Party
Conservative Party40,400+400 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party40,000 
Environmentalist Party15,000 
Farmer's Party2,400+400 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Christian Theocratic Party2,200+200 2nd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Christian Theocratic Party Preferences
Conservative Party40,900+400 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party40,500+500 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
Environmentalist Party15,900+400 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +500 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
Farmer's Party2,700+200 2nd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )
Distributing Farmer's Party Preferences
Conservative Party42,050+1,000 2nd preferences from the Farmer's Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
Worker's Party41,800+1,000 2nd preferences from the Farmer's Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +100 3rd preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via CTP)
Environmentalist Party16,150+100 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via FP)
  +50 4th preferences from the White Supremacist Party (via CTP)
More long-winded political rambling )
Environmentalist Party Preferences
Conservative Party47,625+5,000 2nd preferences from the Environmentalist Party
  +200 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +300 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +25 5th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 5th preferences from the White Supremacist Party
Worker's Party52,375+10,000 2nd preferences from the Environmentalist Party
  +200 3rd preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +300 4th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +25 5th preferences from the Christian Theocratic Party
  +50 5th preferences from the White Supremacist Party
More long-winded political rambling )

Current Mood: quixotic quixotic
Back August 24th, 2010 Forward