Saturday, October 20, 2018

Wentworth Live: Majority On The Line Again (Plus Post-Count)

WENTWORTH (Lib vs ALP 17.8%)
Dave Sharma (Lib) vs Tim Murray (ALP) vs Kerryn Phelps (IND) (16 candidates total)


Live Comments

3:00 Bevan Shields (Fairfax): " Several Liberal volunteers manning the booths say the situation is terrible and most voters aren’t interested in taking Liberal how-to-vote material "


Welcome to my very basic live comments thread for the Wentworth by-election in which the Liberal Party attempts to defend one of the jewels in its Federation crown, and appears likely (based on spotty polling but perhaps more tellingly a general impression of chaos piled on desperation) to fall short.  See my guide to the seat here (including accounts of the 11 polling results released.) History in the making, potentially, but we have not even been blessed with a Newspoll.  For those watching betting odds, Kerryn Phelps (IND) is now at $1.32, about the same odds John Alexander won Bennelong at, for what that's worth.

As usual my aim will be to fill in the gaps left by the mainstream coverage, but I suggest you also keep an eye on Poll Bludger which is offering much  greater snazziness than I am capable of.The Tally Room will also have live commentary.

Comments will start here from about 6 pm and will scroll with most recent at the top; once the count gets going refresh every 10 minutes for the latest.  At some point I will probably take a short dinner break.

If this seat falls, the Morrison government loses its majority (which is somewhat debatable anyway in view of the "government crossbencher" status of Kevin Hogan).  It would be unlikely to collapse for that reason alone as some crossbenchers will provide confidence and supply, and if things got really grim the Speaker could resign to give the government an extra vote.  There has been some thought that if defeated in Wentworth the government might go to an early election in, say, December, though it would be more likely to be smashed badly in such than if it waited.

Things to watch tonight and in following days:

* The AEC will do a two-candidate preferred count tonight, but we don't know yet if it will do Sharma vs Murray (2PP) or Sharma vs Phelps.  It is possible it will pick the wrong pair of candidates.  If it does this and it is clear on the night that it has the wrong pair, then the count will have to be re-aligned to the most likely pair.  This would take a few days, and during this process the two-candidate vote can sway around wildly based on the order of booths that are aligned.  If this happens I will be covering it clearly on this page in the post-count section, as past realignments (eg Denison 2010) have caused much confusion and misreporting.

* A strong possibility is that the final two candidates will not be clear tonight.  For instance if one of Murray and Phelps leads the other on primaries by anything less than double figures, it may not be known who the final two are for up to two weeks.  As the number of postals reduces the AEC might be able to do a 3CP count to establish which of the top three has finished third. but it could also be that the spread of votes for minor candidates means not even this is possible and we have to wait for the final distribution of preferences.  However, if there is a snowball of anti-Liberal votes to Phelps, it could be clear enough tonight who the final two are.

Enrolment in Wentworth is 103,810.  I expect a high turnout because of the circumstances and the range of parties contesting (some comparisons: 86% for Bennelong, 84.3% Longman, 90.4% Braddon which was the highest for a by-election since Aston 2001).  However with 16 candidates I expect a high informality rate, maybe around 7%, on account of the absurdly strict formality rules.

Around 12,549 postal votes were sent out (excluding those withdrawn) and there have been 18,713 prepolls.  The big prepoll centres are Waverley (7107), Rose Bay (6780), Paddington (3427) and Haymarket (1142).  The remainder are mostly out-of-electorate.  The AEC postal vote stats do not appear to provide the usual breakdown concerning which postals were "party postals".

Friday, October 19, 2018

Oh Yes We Do Have Strategic Voting In Australia (Sometimes)

On Wednesday Alex Turnbull, who has been campaigning for voters to evict the Liberal Party from his father's former seat of Wentworth, switched his support from Labor to independent Kerryn Phelps on strategic grounds.  Amusingly, Turnbull jnr justified his support by reference to a popular American text called "Gaming the Vote" by William Poundstone, and posted a colourful excerpt explaining how the squeezing out of a centrist candidate who finishes in third places can lead to "unpalatable, Wizard-or-Lizard dilemmas".  After Clinton-vs-Trump, or even the utter farce that has been the present term of Australian parliament, wizards and lizards are both sounding pretty good at the moment.

The idea here is very simple: if Kerryn Phelps makes the final two she is more likely to beat Dave Sharma (Lib) on preferences from Labor (which will include some votes originally for the Greens and minor candidates), than Tim Murray (Labor) is to beat Sharma on Phelps' preferences should he make the final two.  Phelps is (mostly) seen as the more centrist candidate in an electorate that has never elected a Labor MP.  There will be voters who want to send a protest vote against the Liberals for disposing of that other Turnbull or whatever other reason, but who cannot bring themselves to vote Labor.

And yet, I have seen a few politically active people on Twitter claim (and persist in claiming after being refuted) that strategic voting is a non-issue in a preferential system, that we don't ever have it in this country and never need to, and that all a voter need ever do is put the candidates in order of preference and the system will process that as best for that voter as it can.

Now, normally it doesn't bother me if people who seem to be smart enough to know better insist on damaging their own voting power.  Also I have no interest in promoting a Phelps vote myself and I'm not sure I'd put her above either major party's candidate if I had the fortune to be a Wentworth voter.  But above all else, this goes to the question of our electoral system, what it is good for, what are its strengths and weaknesses, is it prone to gaming, and does it sometimes leave voters with difficult strategic choices that they do not have the information needed to make.  These questions need answers and the fact is that an incentive for strategic voting is a real, if rare, thing in our House of Reps system.

Here are some examples of strategic voting scenarios in Australian single-seat elections with preferencing (either compulsory or optional, the same points apply in each case).  The extent to which strategic voting actually occurred in each case is not that relevant; the point is that there was clear room for using it if voters were concerned with a specific outcome.

* In the 2009 Frome by-election in South Australia, independent Geoff Brock won after coming third on primaries.  After the preferences of minor candidates Brock reached the top two by a whisker (30 votes).  80% of Labor's preferences flowed to Brock and he won by 665 votes.  But had Brock been excluded, only 68% of his preferences would have flowed to Labor, and Labor would have lost by 643 votes.  Therefore, if someone's sole concern was beating the Liberals, their best strategic vote was to put Brock ahead of Labor and the Liberals last.  Those who voted Labor-Brock-Liberal actually nearly caused the Liberals to win, and indeed had 31 Liberal voters voted 1 Labor, the Liberals would have won the seat with Brock eliminated.

* In Denison in 2010, Andrew Wilkie also won from third.  After he narrowly held off the Greens for third place, Wilkie received a flood of Greens preferences and jumped the Liberals to easily make the final two.  He was then narrowly elected over Labor on Liberal preferences.  But had the Liberals made the final two, Wilkie's preferences would have elected Labor with a large margin.  The Liberals always knew they would never win Denison so it made strategic sense for Liberal voters wanting to kick Labor out of the seat to vote for Wilkie ahead of their own party.  And quite a few probably did.

* In the recent Wagga Wagga by-election there was a close three-way split between independent Joe McGirr, the Liberals' Julia Ham and Country Labor's Dan Hayes.  Hayes was eliminated in third and his preferences flowed massively to McGirr who scored an enormous win with nearly 60% two-party preferred.  Had McGirr been eliminated at this stage (which he avoided by 3.4%), Hayes would still have won on his preferences, but it would have been extremely close (just 106 votes in it).  So for those who only wanted to beat the Liberals, McGirr was easily the safer strategic vote, while a vote for Hayes was a much bigger risk.

* In the seat of Rockhampton in Queensland 2017, the ex-Labor independent Margaret Strelow was second on primary votes and appeared likely to win the seat from Labor on LNP and One Nation preferences.  But there was a problem - Strelow didn't stay second.  Preferences from the LNP candidate in fourth put One Nation into second and Strelow was eliminated, with her preferences causing Labor to win the seat.  Had just 372 of 3076 voters whose voted flowed from LNP to One Nation instead strategically preferenced Strelow, Strelow would have made the final two and beaten Labor.  Instead, these LNP-One Nation voters, many of them following the LNP card, caused Labor to win the seat moving Labor one more seat away from the embarrassment of minority government.  Admittedly for a conservative voter there was probably little to choose between Labor and Strelow, but such gifts to endorsed Labor candidates made the LNP's attempt to blame One Nation for Labor's majority hypocritical (not to mention factually wrong).

Of course, the vast majority of seats are not like this.  In nearly all seats everyone knows who the final two will be and it is only how the voter orders those two that makes a difference (except for public funding).  There are also other cases, like the three-cornered seat of Prahran (Vic) 2014, where strategic voting could have made a difference, but there was no way to predict how to do it (whether Greens votes will flow more strongly to Labor than vice-versa varies a lot between seats).  However, the case of Wentworth is the stock-standard case in which strategic voting is an issue: the two major parties against a prominent independent who is likely to be preferred by each party's support base over the other.

In any such case, if someone's sole concern is beating one of the major parties, then the correct strategic move is to preference the indie above both major parties, putting the party they want to lose last.  If the indie ends up being uncompetitive, it doesn't matter anyway as their preference flows to the preferred major party at full value.

It's not so simple for a voter in this position: They would ideally like Labor to win the seat. Phelps is their second preference and they definitely don't want Sharma to win.  This one, as with the choice facing Labor supporters in Wagga Wagga, is a tricky case of how the voter might balance risk and reward.  Is it worth voting for Murray and increasing his chance of winning when by doing so you also increase the chance of Sharma winning?  Or is it better to play safe, sacrificing Murray's chances in order to reduce Sharma's?

Ideally, to make this decision, the voter would like to have answers to these questions: If Phelps makes the top two, how likely is she to beat Sharma?  If Murray makes the top two, how likely is he to beat Sharma?  If the answers are, say, 80% and 50%, but you think a Murray win would be four times as good as a Phelps win, you might well still preference Murray over Phelps.  However, polling is nowhere near accurate enough to answer the probability questions.

As it happens only two of the ten (!) Wentworth seat polls have looked at this question.  The Refugee Council ReachTEL found Phelps winning 53-47 if in the final two but Murray scoring 50-50 if he's in the final two. The Voter Choice opt-in experimental poll actually found Murray winning by a slightly larger margin than Phelps (55.6 vs 55.4) but that should be treated with extra caution as it is contrary to the past history of these things and to Phelps' history of all-over-the-place political positioning.  Both results would be based on trivially small sample sizes.  If the first poll is accurate then the risk difference in voting for the two candidates is large.  But if there has been a swing away from Sharma to both opponents since the poll was taken, the risk difference reduces.  The problem is that seat polling in Australia is such a load of rubbish that if the polls say Labor is marginally ahead or marginally behind the Liberals on a 2PP basis, that might be completely wrong.

There is also a strategic voting issue for Liberals (see the Frome discussion above).  If they believe they are definitely going to lose to Phelps should Phelps be their opponent, then a small number of them may as well vote 1 Murray and attempt to knock Phelps out.  But in doing so (especially if too many do it) they increase the risk that if Murray does make the final two, he wins (which is an even worse result for the party, except that it increases their chance of winning the seat back at the election.)

Strategic voting scenarios are common in our various Upper House systems too, though that is beside the point of the current article and has been explored elsewhere on this site (see "tactical voting" section).

How could this be fixed?

The incentive to vote strategically in this way (in these rare cases) could be removed if Australia used one of many possible Condorcet systems.  In a Condorcet system, if a candidate is preferred by the voters head-to-head over every other candidate, then that candidate (in this case potentially Phelps) always wins. In such systems, there will always be a pairwise comparison between Phelps and Sharma, so there is no reason for someone who prefers Murray over the others to put Phelps ahead of Murray.

However,  Condorcet systems have practical drawbacks.  At least one candidate has to be compared pairwise against every other candidate to find the winner, so in practice I'd expect full data entry of all ballots (as in NSW) to be required.  Secondly in rare cases there isn't a Condorcet winner, so some form of consensus would have to be reached on the most appropriate tie-breaking method (and what risks that created of strategic voting too).  Discussion of this tends to quickly reach a level of nerdiness that the average voter has no hope of following.

There are very few cases based on actual vote data where the Condorcet winner would have been different to the person who actually won (Rockhampton mentioned above is probably one). My perception is that the Condorcet winners have a very high strike rate in these three and four candidate contests.  But what impact a Condorcet system would have on voting over time is hard to predict.  If it led to more focus on intermediate candidates and further eroded the primary vote of major parties, it might lead to a system where several candidates were competitive for certain seats.  That sounds great but I am just a little wary of the potential for it to unlock the door to how-to-vote-card preference trading, a scourge we just (largely) got rid of from our Senate system.

Anyway, as the strategic voting issue is a rare novelty in Australia, rather than a frequent necessity as in first-past-the-post systems like the UK's, I doubt there will be a serious push for change on this front any time soon.

"But Strategic Voting Is Wrong"!

There is a view in some circles that one should never advocate strategic voting and one should always put the candidates solely in one's preferred order and let the system sort out the mess.  Here I take no view on the morality of strategic voting - it is up to any voter to decide whether they wish to do it or not.  However it is simply a fact that our system has some weakenesses and that it is sometimes possible, in rare cases, to cause the candidate you least want to win to succeed by voting 1 for the candidate you most want to win.  I think that knowledge that this can be the case should be out there, and people can make their own decisions on what they do about it.  I only wish the polling data had the quality needed to provide better information about the risks in given cases!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Council Voting - Please Be Careful!

I've already made this point in my Hobart guide but I thought I should make it prominently in a separate post to cover all councils.  Please feel very free to share and spread widely.

A scourge of Tasmanian council elections is the high rate of informal voting.  Informal votes are votes that are returned but cannot be counted as they are not valid votes.  The main reason the informal voting rate is high is that voters make mistakes and the rules concerning this are stupid.  The reason the rules are stupid is that governments have failed to fix them.  The previous Labor/Greens government ignored warnings that bringing in all-in all-out elections would cause a high informal voting rate under the current system. The current Liberal government has so far done nothing to fix it.  The Local Government Act needs to be reformed to provide savings provisions for voters who make honest mistakes.

When you get your ballot papers in the mail, the ballot paper for Councillors will have an instruction at the top saying "Number the boxes from 1 to [some number] in order of your choice".  At the bottom it says "Number at least [some other number] boxes to make your vote count".  The first number is the number of candidates, the second is the number to be elected.

What the instructions don't tell you is that if you make a mistake before you get to that second (minimum) number, your vote won't be counted - at all!

So for instance, Hobart is electing 12 councillors.  You can number up to 36 boxes but for your vote to count you need to at least number the boxes 1 to 12 once and once only.  If you include any of those numbers more than once, your vote is invalid and will not count at all.  If you skip any of those numbers, your vote is invalid and will not count at all.  So for instance, if you put two number 8s but no number 9 on a Hobart councillor paper, that's it, your vote will not be valid.  Even had you made just one of these two mistakes, your vote would not count.  I personally saw huge piles of ballot papers rejected for these sorts of reasons in 2014.  Especially, do not think "oh I really can't find 12 candidates, I'll just pick 11, surely that's good enough?"  It isn't. It's the same as posting in a blank ballot.

If you make a mistake involving doubling or omitting numbers after the minimum number, that's not such a big deal.  Don't let that put you off numbering as many boxes as you want to.  A mistake after the minimum number just means that if your vote gets to the point where you made the mistake (which depending on your preference ordering might not happen anyway) then at that point your vote will exhaust from the system.  It may be that much of your vote's value has been used up helping people get elected by that stage anyway.

It's especially easy to omit or double numbers if you like voting from the bottom up, which lots of us do.

One way to avoid these sorts of errors is to practice voting on a separate sheet of paper (or spreadsheet) first.  Once you have an order you can check it by listing the numbers from 1 to the number of candidates on another piece of paper, and going through your practice vote from the top, crossing off each number as it appears.  If you go to cross off a number and find you've already crossed it off, that probably means you've doubled up somewhere.  If a number doesn't get crossed off, look for that number and see if you've missed it.

If you make a mistake on your actual ballot paper, and you're using a pen, you can correct it by crossing the incorrect number out and writing the correct one.  (Pencil is much easier, since you can just erase it, and there's no reason not to use pencil.) But if you do this make sure it is very clear what your actual voting order is.

As to the question of numbering all of the boxes vs only some of them - assuming you have time to consider it -  I almost always number all of the boxes.  The important thing to remember if there are several candidates you don't like, is that how you rank the candidates at the bottom of the list will never help any of them beat candidates who you ranked higher - but it may help the candidate you see as the lesser evil defeat one you really can't stand.  If you have ranked a candidate 30th out of 36, your vote cannot reach them or help them until everyone you ranked 1 to 29 has been elected or eliminated.  However, it might then help them beat those you have ranked 31 to 36.

Under no circumstances can numbering extra boxes EVER assist a candidate you dislike to beat a candidate who you have ranked above them.  It is quite staggering that one candidate, who is a professional scientist, has managed to get this wrong when free advice is at hand!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

2018 FIDE (World Chess Federations) Elections Updates

8:15 am Georgian time

Greetings from Batumi!  This is a post to cover the goings on regarding the FIDE election, which I first posted about nearly three months ago (2018 World Chess Federation elections).  I hope to post updates through the election today but they may or may not be delayed a little by duties in connection with it, or issues with running my computer off its wayward battery.

Since my previous article, the attempt to impose greater strictness surrounding the tempting of delegates has fallen by the wayside (because it lacked statutory authority), but still the election has been austere compared to the cash-splash of 2014, especially on the Makropoulos side.  Unlike in 2014, a delegate is not bombarded with pamphlets at meetings for days before the election and there are few posters to be seen.  The Makropoulos and Dvorkovich camps have stalls at the Olympiad venue (and the Makropoulos camp accuses a member of the Dvorkovich camp of some scruffy behaviour related to this) while the Short camp has no physical presence beyond its various members.