[EM] recommendations Australia's STV/party list not so bad

James Gilmour jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk
Tue Aug 31 09:23:10 PDT 2004

Anthony Duff  > Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2004 1:18 AM
>  --- James Gilmour <jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk> wrote: 
> > The facility for party voting in
> > the Australian Federal Senate STV-PR elections is a gross perversion 
> > of STV.  It has reduced STV to just another party list PR system.
> Background:  The ballot is divided into two by a horizontal line. 
> Below the line is every candidate arranged by party, each 
> candidate has a box in which you write a number.  Above the 
> line are parties. 
> Filling in the party box means that you use the parties 
> nominated ranking.  There are hundreds of candidates.  The 
> ballot is a single piece of paper the size of a tablecloth.  
> In both Australia federally, and the state of NSW, an upper 
> house is elected by STV.
> I think James exaggerates.

Now who is exaggerating?  We all know about the "table cloth ballot paper" in the NSW election of
March 1999.  But in the Federal Senate elections the numbers are much smaller. Each of the six
larger States elects 6 Senators at a normal (single) dissolution.  At the elections in November 2001
the numbers of candidates in these six States were (in descending order): 65, 52, 46, 39, 29 and 26.
Hardly "hundreds".  These elections appear to be contested by larger numbers of "non-party"
candidates than might be common elsewhere, but some of the parties do add significantly to the
problem by nominating 5 or 6 candidates when they have little hope of winning more than one seat.
Indeed, in two states, the parties that put up the largest number of candidates (6 in one, 5 in the
other) won no seats at all.

>  It is not that bad.  The method 
> is "extended" not "reduced", in that the voter can ignore the 
> party list option.

This statement stands logic on its head, given where STV came from and what its objectives
originally were.  It was not a development from a party list system, to give the voters more choice.
Rather it started as a system in which parties were totally irrelevant  -  it was centred on
candidates and voters.

> If the voter doesn't like the list of 
> candidates of his favourite party, then he can vote below the 
> line.

This statement is true, but given compulsory voting and the requirement in Federal elections for the
voter to mark a unique preference against every candidate (or have the ballot paper declared
invalid), it is no surprise that most voters don't avail themselves of this generous opportunity.

>  Most people vote above the line.  I think this 
> reflects the fact that the parties put up reasonable lists of 
> candidates.

I think the explanation is much simpler: the combination of compulsory voting and the requirement to
mark a unique preference for every candidate.

> The ability of the voter to go below the line is 
> what keeps the parties honest.

No comment!

> However, I do support the current NSW state elections 
> incarnation of the method above the federal method.  (State 
> elections can never be held simultaneously with federal 
> elections.)  In the federal method, a single party vote above 
> the line completes the ranking for every candidate below the 
> line, and the detail of this is beyond a voters ability to 
> remember and comprehend.  The voter does not rank parties.  
> In NSW, a party vote above the line ranks only the candidates 
> of that party.  The voter can rank the parties above the 
> line.  Another bad thing about the federal method is that to 
> use the below the line STV proper method, you are obliged to 
> rank a very large number of candidates without error or the 
> attempt is invalidated.  NSW has no such requirement, you may 
> rank as many or as few as you like. 
> (neither method allows for equal rankings except for truncation)

The NSW version of "party voting" may or may not be better than that used in the Federal elections,
but neither has any place in STV-PR.  If you want properly representative democracy you will reject
anything that increases and entrenches the power of the party machines.  The political parties are
essential components of the political process, but their power must be constrained.  The elected
representatives must be accountable to those who voted for them, not to the party machines.
Introducing any form of party voting into STV-PR shifts the balance of power away from the voters
and reduces the accountability of the elected members to their constituents.


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