Monday, April 14, 2014

JSCEM Comes To Hobart

Just a quick note that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will be holding hearings into the 2013 Federal Election this Wednesday morning in Parliament House.  Here's the star-studded lineup:

The hearings are open to the public, unless the Committee grants a request from a witness to go in camera so they can disclose sensitive information.  They are also expected to be broadcast on the Parliament House website (I'm assuming this is the federal one).

I have sent a submission focused on Senate reform which can be viewed here: JSCEM submission.  Long-term readers will recognise that the submission is largely a reconstituted version of Senate Reform: Change This System But To What?

However I have formed some clearer views about which way I think the Senate system changes should go, and I'm now supporting optional preferential above the line with semi-optional preferential below.  That is, above the line a voter can just vote 1 for a party or vote for as many parties as they like.  When their vote runs out of parties, it exhausts.  Below the line, a voter must vote for a prescribed minimum number of candidates.  If their vote runs out of candidates (because all have been elected or excluded), it exhausts.

This is by no means a rare proposal but one thing that may be slightly unusual concerns the number of candidates required to be numbered below the line.  It has been widely asserted it should be six for a half-Senate election and twelve for a double dissolution.  I believe this is not necessary and will only lead to parties running more candidates and slowing down the count.  I would consider four for a half-Senate election and, say, eight for a double dissolution to be the ideal number of compulsory squares for a valid below the line vote.

As to why I don't support fully optional preferential voting below the line, I believe that where major parties run especially strong candidates who have a cult-like popular appeal, they would be more likely to attract voters who just voted 1 for them and then stopped.  This would disadvantage the party since those votes would not flow to other candidates in the party, and this would create a perverse disincentive to the party fielding such candidates.  The situation in the Tasmanian House of Assembly with a required vote of 1-5 avoids this problem.  I think the Senate should have a similar solution.  But I think a maximum requirement to vote for four in the Senate is sufficient, since the Senate does not have intra-party contests, and since there is no risk of any party winning five out of six seats in a Senate contest.

As to whether the Senate should have intra-party contests (with Robson Rotation etc and abandoning above-the-line voting entirely) I believe this is just not practical to count and would also skew the campaigning battleground for large states in favour of rich candidates.

This is all a provisional position and I'm quite open to any better solutions that might be out there.  The important thing, again, is that the current system must be changed.

I've flagged that I'll also be happy to answer any other questions that may arise.  I don't know what the others listed will be flagging in their testimonies at this stage.  At the moment I intend attending the whole sessions (except where thrown out if the hearings go in camera) but I won't be providing live coverage.

I'm working - as time permits - on articles about the current Nielsen poll and also recent state polling in Queensland.

Update (Wednesday 16th): Today a seven-person JSCEM (with all representatives present being from either the Coalition or Labor) heard from the above-listed witnesses.  The sitting was broadcast (audio only) on the APH website and ABC News Radio.

In addition to my submission I also mentioned some of the absurdities in the Tasmanian Senate count, specifically numbers 2, 4 and 9 from the Tasmanian Senate Seat Goes To The Button article.  Also in connection with the general issue of informed voter choice (and whether voters "choose" to vote above the line) I mentioned how when I had called for pro-gay-rights voters to vote below the line to avoid electing Peter Madden, I'd received some blowback related to the risk of this advice potentially causing Greens voters to vote informally.

I stressed three points in my opening comments:

- that this is not about the calibre of the incoming micro-party Senators but about whether they have been democratically elected.

- that above-the-line voting is not genuinely popular or freely chosen; it happens at such high levels because the alternative is too difficult.

- that there is no perfect system that will achieve high formality, voter control over preferences and low exhaust all at once.  There are many systems better than the current system but all will have weaknesses and require education campaigns, especially the first time around.

Questions I received were mostly from the Chair (Tony Smith), the Deputy Chair (Alan Griffin) and also Gary Gray.  Areas in which I answered questions included:

* Inclusive Gregory (the surplus calculation method) which I suggested replacing with any of Weighted Inclusive Gregory, Wright, Meek etc after sufficient further consideration.

* My support for a requirement that slates of candidates be nominated by a number of residents in the state they are contesting, to eliminate drop-in microparties that lack real support

* The whole area of dealing with party names.  There was quite a bit of discussion of this.  Gary Gray suggested (and I agreed in principle while not sure how easy it is to implement) that there is a line to be drawn between party names that are genuinely competing for a label and those that are deliberately misleading.   An interesting suggestion (by Alan Griffin I think) was the possibility of using party logos as well as names to make recognising party brands easier.

The matter of actual basic system in my proposal didn't get discussed much, but it was discussed in the next session with Professor Richard Eccleston, whose proposals were similar enough to mine that a lot of the same ground was covered.

There is likely to be quick progress on the Senate matter with an interim proposal, finding or report expected in May.

I'll post a link to the transcript of the hearing here once it is up.

Uncorrected proof up 23 April: An uncorrected proof version of the day's hearings is online now.  There are a few typos and so on to be fixed in mine (eg "Bob Gay" should be "Bob Day") but nothing drastic.


  1. Unfortunately I can't attend as I've got the second year review for my PhD on that day.

    I wrote up my own thoughts on this recently; in brief:
    - Adopt Hare Clarke at a required depth of 10 to redress the number of parties there to work the system
    - Divide each state into Capital and Regional areas (potentially even hiving the capitals off as their own, new city-states) with equal representation to redress the lack of effective geopolitical restraint
    - Increase the representation in each state to 16 (or 8) (for a total of 100, given 6 (or 12) states, +4 between the territories) and the House of Reps to match (i.e. 200, which resolves the inequity currently affecting Tasmania and the ACT)
    - Restrict voting for the Senate to those not dependant on the Government for the majority of their income, to redress the lack of effective restraint against excess government consumption.

    Not all the above would be popular.

  2. For the sake of consistency and to avoid confusing voters, I believe HoR and Senate should use the same voting system. If the HoR is going to remain full preferential, I believe the Senate should be the same. Given this system has been used for a long time at Federal level, I think we should keep it.

    One option is to significantly increase the party membership requirement and registration costs, and then require full preferential voting either above or below the line. Filling in something like 10 - 15 boxes above the line is not a huge ask. Having optional preferential with minimum numbering requirements may well prove too complicated for some voters.

  3. This is a real shame - I wanted to attend but unfortunately I will be at Legal Prac down in Hunter Street.

  4. For those who can't make it there will be written transcripts available online later. Not sure about DVD box sets though.

    1. Is there a podcast or recording online somewhere? I had a look around the parliament house website, but can't find either the recording or transcripts.

    2. I think the transcript will go up at . It's not up yet though the one from the day before is.

  5. I was quite pleased with how it went, especially in that there does seem to be a genuine will to reform the Senate system with an interim proposal or discussion paper expected to be issued next month.

  6. Will see how that works outing a month or so then. My limited experience is that the process of gathering this sort of information then runs into the process of politics, and what comes out is not necessarily overly related to what went in.

    We do what we can.

    1. Yes, there may well be disappointments and obstacles ahead! I guess my main hope is the replacement of the present system with something that is better, whether it is my preferred choice or not. A small side-hope is that Parliament can at least do the no-brainer and finally fix Inclusive Gregory.

    2. One other 'counting system' note: It seems to me that an elected candidate should not be treated in further rounds in the same manner as an excluded candidate. An excluded candidate should take no further part; arguably, an elected candidate should continue to accrue votes as other candidates are excluded and elected, diluting their original vote and the preferences expressed within them out into the subsequent count.

      The unfortunate side effect of taking this attitude is that the value of each package of votes has to be iteratively recalculated, which is a significant downside for any manual system.

      Still, the federal (BTL) senate count is not done manually, so in that instance there is no additional effort.

  7. I’m very late to this party but I’ve just had a minor personal epiphany on this subject and figured this might be a good place to get feedback.

    I was thinking about how ungrouped candidates might be dealt with in a system that allowed ATL preferencing rather than ticket votes. The options that I came up with were: (1) bad luck – no friend, no ATL votes, (2) only allow group nominations or (3) give the independents an ATL box.

    I think (1) and (2) could run into some constitutional issues. But (3) means that you’ll start to get nearly as many boxes ATL as BTL. And if a micro-party can get ATL without having a group, why would you worry about a group?

    And that was the epiphany. The reason we need ATL is that there are a stupid number of candidates BTL. But with most micro-parties having just two candidates, there are nearly half as many boxes ATL. But the only reason they run two candidates is that you need at least two to get an ATL box. But if there was no ATL, you largely eliminate the incentive to run two candidates when you can only even dream of getting one elected.

    So get rid of ATL. Double the nomination fee to remove the temptation to run extra candidates just for the personal vote. (Without tickets you’d be risking your already negligible chances by splitting your vote anyway). If the only multiple nominations come from the majors who are a chance to win multiple seats, you’ll end up with only a few more boxes in a single-section ballot paper than you’d have ATL under the current system.

    And with a single-section ballot paper you have a lot more layout options. For a start, you’ve got rid of the duplication of ATL and BTL. And got rid of a bunch of superfluous candidates. The 2013 NSW ballot had 44 ATL boxes and 110 BTL for 154 boxes on the ballot. If you had 6 LIB/NAT, 6 ALP, 3 GRN, 3 PUP and one from every other micro and the independents, that would be 62. That’s not an order-of-magnitude more than the 44 ATL options (48 if you had to give the ungrouped candidates one) and it is an order-of-magnitude less overall boxes on the ballot.

    The ballot could be a proper shape, with multiple columns. Parties with multiple candidates could opt to have them in the ballot draw as a single entry so they would be grouped together.

    What am I missing?

    1. It's interesting there is even a need for a group to have two candidates to get an ATL box. There is no reason for such a requirement. The Tasmanian House of Assembly allows a party or "group" to run a single candidate with their own ballot column if they have enough nominators. Can get a bit silly as in Denison 2014 when there are multiple indies with their own columns (and then they all drew the tail end of the ballot paper anyway).

      I may have more comments later.