Justinian the Great: Preferential Voting

Does preferential voting make sense and does it lead to more representative outcomes?

At a superficial level the vote of Labor suggests not.

Despite attracting just 33% of the national vote Labor will still walk away at this election with 44% (67-68) of the seats thereabouts.

Put another way the Coalition on current counting are 1,038,835 primary votes ahead of Labor yet if just 15,400 (1.5%) of those votes had fallen to Labor the Coalition would have lost the election.

Incidentally, that is less than the number of people voted more than once at the last election.

The disproportionate representation of Labor in the house of representatives is obviously a function of Green preferences.

Despite polling almost a third of the Labor vote (i.e.10% of the national vote) it will get just 1 seat in the house of representatives.

There might also be a degree of gerrymandering going on as well but we can leave that for another day.

As the Labor Party love to champion equity and fairness at every turn I ask whether their disproportionate representation in the parliament reflects “electoral equity”?

I would argue not. The Labor Party is benefitting from preferences as though it were in a formal coalition with the Greens.

They are not. They do not share a common election platform, there are no power sharing arrangements, they do not engage in joint party-room meetings and they do not coordinate administrative or other functions.

Unless you are in a formal coalition I am not sure preferences should be weighted equally.

There should be more recognition for winning the primary vote and less reward for tactical preference swaps.

The former reflects what voters are for and the latter reflects who candidates are against.

For perspective, I did a quick count to see what would have happened at this election if we had a first past the post method of determining seat results.

Looking at the 50 most marginal seats I found the Coalition would have gained 10 seats, and up to 12 if the Liberal Party and Nationals fielded a single candidate in two seats where they competed.

Arguably this might be over compensating the other way as it would result in 57% of the seat count on 41.8% of the primary vote.

That said, the ALP seat count on this measure closely matches their primary vote so the bonus to the Coalition is entirely a function of a split Left vote.

Accordingly it is less of a problem. If the Left won’t unite behind a common platform they should not benefit from disproportionate representation as though they do and to the confusion of voters.

Exactly how you solve this problem I do not know as clearly Labor and the Greens won’t vote for change that would be disadvantageous to their electoral prospects.

Perhaps the Coalition should commission an independent audit of the AEC including the determination of electoral boundaries, pre-polling, preferences, measures to stop voter fraud and limiting foreign interference.

It could then use the findings to educate voters that Labor and the Greens are corrupting the electoral process with their preference swaps.

While first past the post won’t get up in Australia perhaps weighted preferences could be a compromise solution; e.g. one-to-one for offical coalition partners, something less for ordinary preferences?

Its worth a shot if nothing else to educate voters that they are being conned by Labor-Green collusion that subverts the democratic process.

By throwing the spotlight on Labor’s dependence on the Greens you stand to wedge them and incite conflict and there is some hope of benefitting from a split amongst Labor voters predisposed to the centre.

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35 Responses to Justinian the Great: Preferential Voting

  1. stackja

    Its worth a shot if nothing else to educate voters that they are being conned by Labor-Green collusion that subverts the democratic process.

    They probably are too uncouth to think.

  2. Driftforge

    If you are going to compare voting systems, you have to do better than ‘the result would have been more to my liking if we recounted under some new system’.

    For a start, when there is a different system, people vote differently. Complaining that Greens voters preference Labor is silly; under a first pass the post system, those voters will simply vote Labor, other than the cases where there is sufficient concentration for the Greens to get a candidate up.

    Every method of counting votes has its downsides, and people change their behavior to get around them. Despite all the doomsayers blathering on that there would never be minor parties in the senate again, you can see the necessary changes occurring in the Senate voting system. Far fewer parties standing this time than last, and that consolidation process will continue because that is how you achieve the desired end under the new system.

    Same thing happens at the individual level.

    You’re thinking about this wrong.

  3. Tom

    If we want to move to a less undemocratic voting system, optional preferential voting is the first step:

    OPV is used in elections in New South Wales[1] and the Northern Territory, Australia.[2] It was used in Queensland from 1992[3] to 2015.[4]

    In both the Tasmanian House of Assembly and the Tasmanian Legislative Council, semi-optional voting is used, with a minimum number of preferences required to be expressed; but there is no requirement to complete the entire ballot paper. Elections for all other Australian lower houses use full-preferential voting. In the Victorian Legislative Council, semi-optional voting is used if a voter chooses to vote below the line. Voting above the line requires only a ‘1’ being placed in one box, and group voting tickets voting has applied since 1988.[5]

    The Australian Senate voting reform of 2016 switched from full-preferential voting to semi-optional. A minimum number is specified in the instructions on the ballot paper. Since in the past a single number ‘1’ above the line was formal, that is still a valid vote even though voters are encouraged to number six squares.

    The natural next step is to introduce OPV in the Australian House of Representatives.

  4. Rebel with cause

    Preferential voting likely lulled Labor into a false sense of security over the damage the Greens have done to their primary vote. This is particularly noticeable in the Senate results where the Greens look likely to get a candidate up in every state, largely at the expense of a third Labor senator.

    Also, in regard to Labor and the Greens operating as a defacto coalition, it is one that is hardly advantagous to Labor. Greens policy and brand nowadays overlaps very heavily with left Labor and therefore attracts very little extra votes. This is in contrast to Liberals and Nationals where the Nats brand tends to have a seperate and clearer identity and targets voters that may not typically be attracted to the Liberals.

  5. Tel

    Hands off!

    Leave it alone, the voting system in Australia works perfectly well and it’s been scrunted around enough already … just keep your hands near your sides and walk gently out of the room. Thanks.

    Despite attracting just 33% of the national vote Labor will still walk away at this election with 44% (67-68) of the seats thereabouts.

    This is crap. Labor got 33% of FIRST PREFERENCE votes but they also got a bunch of other relatively high non-first preferences which are real votes by real people. Throwing away those second and third preferences would disenfranchise those people. We have always had a preferential system, it’s a good system, switching to some other system because a few people happen to think they will get an advantage is frankly a retarded thing to do.

  6. Democracy is supposedly that the majority rules.

    Preferential voting allows for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice to be elected at the expense of the majority’s first preference.

    The sooner we get rid of compulsory voting (attendance) and preferential systems in lower houses, the better.

    The senate system is also in need of review. Getting rid of territory senators would be a good start.

  7. stackja

    My HoR preference as I remember was 1 to 7, filled all boxes.
    My Senate below the line was 12 selected by candidate not party.

  8. Cynic of Ayr

    Despite attracting just 33% of the national vote Labor will still walk away at this election with 44% (67-68) of the seats thereabouts.
    This is a stupid statement!
    Candidates are elected seat by seat. The margin varies.
    Apparently, Guest Author thinks that, if a Labor candidate gets elected in one seat with 70% of the vote, and a Liberal next electorate over is elected with with 51%, then both electorates should be declared Labor, as Labor got more than 50% combined.
    Like I said, a stupid statement.

  9. Terry

    Tom
    #3028066, posted on May 28, 2019 at 11:06 am

    “If we want to move to a less undemocratic voting system, optional preferential voting is the first step:”

    +1 Absolutely. You should not be forced to preference a political candidate you find morally repugnant (eg any Greens candidate – ever).

    Step 2: End compulsory voting.

    Our electoral will is something we have the right to impose upon the state, not the other way around.

  10. Chris

    I think second preference votes should be worth 50% of a first preference vote, that is, worth half a vote.

  11. Pyrmonter

    Odd to see Justinian making common cause with Charles Richardson. Or could they be one and the same?

    https://worldisnotenough.org/2019/05/21/australias-voting-system-gets-it-right-or-does-it/

  12. Robbo

    ““If we want to move to a less undemocratic voting system, optional preferential voting is the first step:”

    +1 Absolutely. You should not be forced to preference a political candidate you find morally repugnant (eg any Greens candidate – ever).

    Step 2: End compulsory voting.

    Our electoral will is something we have the right to impose upon the state, not the other way around.”

    What is wrong with having a referendum to determine whether the voters want to see some changes? I’ll bet the traditional pounds to peanuts that a referendum would abolish compulsory voting and optional preferential would have a big chance of getting approved.
    Just because we have had the current system of voting in Federal elections for a lot of decades doesn’t mean that (a) it is perfect and (b) there is no better way of deciding the result.

  13. Nate

    Shouldn’t have to exhaust preferences. People are ultimately forced to support a candidate they do not support. It gives a false legitimacy no different to dictators who get 99.9% of the vote.

  14. Ya’ll go back and read what tell wrote. +1

    Tel
    #3028098, posted on May 28, 2019 at 11:36 am

    For the others who keep harping on about compulsory voting, I hope you all realise ending compulsory voting opens the barn door for voter fraud on a grand scale and the left are ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE the best at fraud. THEY HAVE NO ISSUE WITH CHEATING. The ends justify the means.
    Voter fraud is a huge issue in the US because you never know how many people actually turned up and how many votes were ballot stuffings.
    If a booth comes back with a turn out of 65%, how do you know that it wasn’t actually 60% with another 5% faked up ballots stuffed in the box?

    For those who think some Australians aren’t as smart as you and not interested in policy details like you and so shouldn’t be compelled to vote, pull your head in, you sound like an inner city luvvie.
    For the others, leave the bloody system alone. We’ve done exceptionally well since the beginning.

  15. Entropy

    Optional preferences
    Optional voting
    Compulsory voter ID.

  16. max

    “The problems we face today are there because the people who “work” for a living are outnumbered by those who “vote” for a living”.

    Suffrage Debate, N.Y. Constitutional Convention of 1821
    Chancellor James Kent
    The tendency of universal suffrage, is to jeopardize the rights of property, and the principles of liberty. There is a constant tendency in human society, and the history of every age proves it; there is a tendency in the poor to covet and to share the plunder of the rich; in the debtor to relax or avoid the obligation of contracts; in the majority to tyrannize over the minority, and trample down their rights; in the indolent and the profligate, to cast the whole burthens of society upon the industrious and the virtuous; and there is a tendency in ambitious and wicked men, to inflame these combustible materials.
    Thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not steal; are divine injunctions induced by this miserable depravity of our nature.

    Not all of us should have right to vote, why would you give right to vote to communist or socialist ?

  17. max

    The notion that every man that works a day on the road, or serves an idle hour in the militia, is entitled as of right to an equal participation in the whole power of the government, is most unreasonable, and has no foundation in justice.

    the individual who contributes only one cent to the common stock, ought not to have the same power and influence in directing the property concerns of the partnership, as he who contributes his thousands. He will not have the same inducements to care, and diligence, and fidelity. His inducements and his temptation would be to divide the whole capital.

  18. Rohan

    Informal vote should be made lawful.

    I had no one who was worthy of my vote in Issacs – Dreffus held comfortably, Greens, Animal justice, Green leaning independent, Big Clive and the Lib’s candidate got the pink slip prior to the election because of facechook rants against Mo.

    I’ll give you one guess who I voted for in the house of reps.

  19. Percy Popinjay

    Compulsory preferential voting is intrinsically anti-democratic as it forces you to vote for candidates you otherwise wouldn’t. Example A – liberal and/or conservative voters in Albansleazey’s seat where the AEC reduces the final count to a run off between the labore and greenfilth candidates. Number the boxes correctly and one of those arseclowns ends up with your vote, even if you place them last and second last.

    Optional preferential as available in NSW state elections is far better.

  20. Paul Farmer

    “Put another way the Coalition on current counting are 1,038,835 primary votes ahead of Labor yet if just 15,400 (1.5%) of those votes had fallen to Labor the Coalition would have lost the election.”

    This statement is factually incorrect on a number of levels. Our vote is done by seat so it depends on how any difference equates across all the seats as to how many votes would need to change hands to change the result.

    Even if it were a national vote without seats, the 2PP was 51.6% to 48.4 %. That would require a swing back to ALP of over 1.6 % . The author has taken this difference (1.5 %) of the difference in votes to arrive at 15,000 votes. That is faulty maths. If you want to apply this logic you need to apply 1.6 % ( or as the author did 1.5%) to the total primary vote cast, which when I checked a few minutes ago was circa 11.80 Million votes on a 2PP basis. 1.6 % of that figure is circa 190,000 votes across the Country. Not 15,000 votes.

  21. Dr Fred Lenin

    Why not hold a two stage election , stage one all candidates eligible ,stage two the two who got the most votes in stage one run off . Voting voluntary with no preferences ,voting irregularities punishable by mandatory five years jail and confiscation of all family assets minimm.

  22. Justinian the Great

    It is not faulty maths Paul Farmer because I did what you suggest and looked at it at the division/seat level. I simply added up the number of votes required to change the result across the 7 or thereabouts most marginal Liberal seats that if lost would have resulted in a Labor victory. This would have resulted in my opinion in the perverse situation in which the Liberal Party would have won the primary vote by a substantial margin, the 2PP by a reasonable margin, but lost the election. As for compulsory voting I share Baa Humbugs concern and generally believe it would benefit the Left. Voluntary voting dumbs down the already shallow policy debate even further as you now have to bribe people just to turn up. Mobilising voter turn out is expensive and requires mass organisation. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out who will be better resourced to carry this out. As for Cynic of Ar you seem to forget that I qualified my starting point was based on superficial macro-level analysis. Pay attention. The point was to raise an interesting comparison / observation on which to have a discussion. And it is an interesting comparison. Labor have about 17 seats more than their primary vote would suggest. That is a huge discrepancy (34%). It is a discrepancy that is largely eliminated by first past the post. The problem as I see it with preferential voting is the winner of the popular vote routinely loses to an aggregate of disparate opposition united only in trying to knock off the popular vote winner. A lot depends on the philosophical definition of preference. Given preferences on how to vote cards are organised tactically by party organisations and most voters follow them I would argue they don’t represent individuals preferences quite as much as people make out but instead are a reflection of the dark arts of party political manipulation.

  23. pbw

    Tel,
    Much as it might seem so, we haven’t always had preferential voting. I recall from my childhood in the fifties seeing a cartoon about first-past-the-post voting, featuring pollies and racehorses. Scrutineering in the seventies, I saw quite a few votes with a single X marked on the paper.

  24. Mak Siccar

    Tom
    #3028066, posted on May 28, 2019 at 11:06 am
    If we want to move to a less undemocratic voting system, optional preferential voting is the first step:

    +100

    For the HoR, number at least one square then as few or as many squares thereafter. I don’t want to give the Greenfilth even my last vote.

  25. J.H.

    I disagree Incoherent Rambler, Compulsory Voting (attendance) is necessary in an ordered lawful society. Just as Jury Duty is compulsory, so so should be voting. It is a duty. People must attend and participate in the decision making of a lawful society.

    Plus the vast numbers and the record keeping make voter fraud harder to accomplish and easier to spot.

  26. Dr Fred Lenin
    #3028243, posted on May 28, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Why not hold a two stage election , stage one all candidates eligible ,stage two the two who got the most votes in stage one run off .

    We do that now. Instead of coming back 2 weeks later, we do the Stage 2 on the day. That’s what preferences are. They are your Stage 2 or Stage 3 or even Stage 4 if required.

    What makes progressives so destructive is they keep fvcking around with things that have worked and worked well for decades and even centuries.
    Stop fvcking around with things.

    All sorts of election options have been tried around the World. If anyone thinks there is a better system around the World, cite the joint and let’s have a look at their results.
    Stop theorysing like inner city intellectuals. Cite some real life examples or else stop fvcking around with things.

  27. Pyrmonter

    @ Baa

    Indeed – one overseas term for fully preferential voting is ‘instant run-off’ – a contrast with the systems in many Napoleonic systems where there are multiple rounds (and thus scope for strategising)

  28. Paul farmer

    The essence of your argument about over representation of the ALP is still hollow. Your contention that the ALP is being over represented with 44 % of the seats and 33 % of the primary vote, my immediate response to is…. so what ?

    They can’t do anything with that over representation in the lower house, so if your classifying it as some sort of unfair victory for the ALP, its certainly a pyrrhic one. If we were in a minority government situation and they could add those over represented numbers to another party and get to form a government, maybe the argument would carry a lot more weight. But they cant because their over representation comes at the price of the greens being under represented in the 2PP system in terms of seats.

    Furthermore the final seat allocation in the 46th parliament actually under represents left of centre parties on a 2PP basis with more of that representation expressed in seats allocated to the labor party not the greens, which I am sure you would agree isn’t a bad thing.

    As Driftforge said early on, if you went for a first past the post system, all that would happen is the Labor and Greens would merge ( even if be it just for a federal election ) or the greens would be smart enough not to run candidates in most seats as would the Nationals and the Coalition have to merge and or stop competing in the same seats. In that situation conservatives arguably could be in a worse position as Conservatives rely heavily and as time passes more heavily on parties like One nation. That said but One nation is increasingly starting to drag many labor voters away. Either way my contention is you would just see a lot less candidates and a result not very dissimilar to what gets expressed now through the 2PP system.

  29. Fat Tony

    Chris
    #3028121, posted on May 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm
    I think second preference votes should be worth 50% of a first preference vote, that is, worth half a vote.

    I agree – and 3rd preference worth 1/3 vote etc.

    Can anyone explain why a person’s 6th or 7th preference should be worth a full vote??

  30. Neville

    The article, and all the various comments, simply reinforce in my mind that we need to switch to ‘Approval Voting’. Much simpler, and quicker. Voters simply tick (yes, a tick!), any one or all of the candidates that they approve. Counting is also simple: the candidate with the highest number of ‘approvals’ is declared elected; that candidate can be said to truly have the highest approval to be elected among ALL voters.

  31. Terry

    “If anyone thinks there is a better system around the World,…”

    What is wrong with the Australian psyche that demands something be tried and tested somewhere else first?

    “We” came up with the secret ballot, why not other improvements to the process.

    * Right-to-Vote (but not compulsion);
    * Voter Identification (to prevent fraud);
    * Secret Ballot (to protect voters from intimidation); and
    * Optional-preferential voting (for voters to maintain control of their vote)…

    …would seem to me to be an elegant way of gauging the will of the people without tempting the state to dictate back to the people about how they exercise their political choices.

  32. Lutz

    Compulsory preferential voting but with the preferences to be voluntary after the first or second. That way you are not forced to vote for someone in the 5th or 7th spot that you didn’t want at all.

  33. Terry
    #3028706, posted on May 29, 2019 at 1:57 am
    What is wrong with the Australian psyche that demands something be tried and tested somewhere else first?

    How do you read any demand in my comment? Everything commentors have suggested is being done somewhere in the World right now.
    Nothing wrong with studying what’s already being done and it doesn’t indicate anything wrong with ones psyche.

    * Right-to-Vote (but not compulsion);

    We have that now. No one is compelled to vote. Just turn up and get your name crossed off as part of your civic duty. We are a civic nation no?
    See my comment about ballot stuffing. Can’t happen when there is a near enough 100% “Turn Out”.

    * Voter Identification (to prevent fraud);
    * Secret Ballot (to protect voters from intimidation);

    We have those now. That’s why voter fraud has not been an issue in Australia.

    * Optional-preferential voting (for voters to maintain control of their vote)…

    Add that to non compulsion and you get the US system where an Ocasio Cortez gets elected. How does that improve our current system?
    Preferential voting is an instant run-off. Just because your first preference comes in third, doesn’t mean you’ve lost control of your vote. It just means you’ve lost.
    You’d also need to make a good case for not having a 50% + 1 system.

  34. Macspee

    Could try the Nauruan system. Each preference vote is counted as the reciprocal of the preference. It makes for messy counts but seems to have a degree of fairness – if you want to have more than one shot why should the second or third be worthe the same as the first?

  35. Nato

    Sorry to comment on a page 2 article, but preferential voting keeps Australia on the centre.
    We Cats are libertarians/classical liberals, yes? We’re the ones who have grown up and realised that there are social predators, so we set up the biggest, baddest social predator of all and pay a butt load of money to protect us from us.
    The centre-right government is not one that we would pick, but expand that we to a nation and yes, this is the government we have chosen.
    It’s very few people’s first choice, but it is the least bad option and so say ALL of us.
    There hasn’t been a majority in first preference votes since 1914.

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