Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Hobart City Council Tanya Denison Recount

A Hare-Clark recount (that's the official name, though "countback" would be better) is coming up on Hobart City Council for the seat being vacated by Tanya Denison.  Denison, a past federal Liberal candidate for the unwinnable seat then also called Denison (now called Clark), was in her second term on the Council.  She was first elected in 2014 after surviving exclusion at one point by 3.1 votes, and then re-elected comfortably in 2018, the seventh winner out of 12 elected.

This post explains the recount and considers the prospects of the possible candidates.  The recount consists solely of the votes that Tanya Denison had when she was elected.  The fact that Ron Christie missed out being re-elected to Council by 20 votes does not make him a big chance for the recount (in fact it harms his chances, for a reason to be explained below.)  All these votes go initially to the highest placed candidate on that vote who is contesting the recount (who may have been numbered above or below Denison on that ballot paper) at the value they had after Denison was elected and her total brought down to quota.  In this recount, no-one will have anything like 50% of the total, so then candidates are excluded bottom-up, like in a single-seat election, until someone wins.  All the ballot papers are already digitally stored so on the day of the recount this will all be calculated by the computer very quickly.  The main delay before the recount is held will be allowing time for candidate consents to contest the recount to be received.

Denison's quota is 1616 votes.  This consists of:

* Denison's primary votes: 879 votes (54.4% of recount)
* Votes received by Denison on surpluses from elected candidates Reynolds, Burnet, Thomas, Harvey, Briscoe and Behrakis: 55.02 votes (3.4%)
* Votes received by Denison from one of 22 candidates excluded before her election: 681.98 votes (42.2%)

The distribution of preferences can be seen at the TEC site (PDF).  We can see, for instance, that the candidate from whom the most votes flowed to Denison was Andy "Tubes" Taylor (168).  However, because these votes put Denison over the line, they are reduced in value to 39.72 votes in the recount.  Also, because Taylor was excluded late in the count and almost 42% of his primary votes came from other candidates, it's likely that a lot of the votes passing from him to Denison actually came from other unelected candidates and will revert to them in the recount, at least initially.

The candidates who passed the most votes to Denison that will still count at their existing values were Darren Alexander (113) and Robert Mallett (100.48).  However they were also excluded late, so the above point about votes passing back to other candidates applies to them as well to some degree.

Candidates in this recount have an advantage if the following are true:

1. They were endorsed by the Liberal Party: The Liberal Party endorsed Tanya Denison (elected), Simon Behrakis (elected),  Robert Mallett, Louise Bloomfield, Chris Merridew, Will Coats, Stefan Vogel and Martin Waldhoff, all Liberal members at least at the time, in a how-to-vote post circulated on Facebook and probably elsewhere.  (Thanks to Brad Stansfield for the link.) The endorsement was in no particular order.

2. They have broadly similar views on development issues, especially the cable car, to Denison:  The proposed kunanyi/Mt Wellington cable car was a significant issue affecting preference flows at the election.  Candidates with broadly "pro-development" views who were open to supporting, or in-principle supportive of, the cable car, may have been more likely to receive Denison's preferences.

3. They are female: Gender has a large impact on preference flows in Council elections.

4. They have a high profile: Profile in the community is always important in preference-getting in Council elections.

5. They were fully excluded before Denison was elected in the original election:  Hare-Clark recounts are affected by a bug in which candidates who are excluded after a candidate was elected are disadvantaged compared to those excluded before.  This is discussed in definitive detail in my recent technical Wonk Central piece.

The candidates disadvantaged by the recount bug are Merridew, Christie and (to a slightly lesser extent) Andy Taylor.  Merridew and Christie have no immediate access to the 42.2% of votes from other excluded candidates (assuming all other excluded candidates contest).  The recount bug probably isn't as big a deal in this case as in others, because of the large number of possible candidates and the spread of votes, but if one of these candidates does OK off Denison's primaries and manages to make the final, say, five, they will be competing at that point with candidates who have a bit of a leg-up.  Not an insurmountable one (maybe 50-70 votes in some cases) but it could still make the difference.

Which candidates have the most advantages?

None of the candidates tick all five of the boxes as the ideal winner of this recount.  Two tick four: Robert Mallett ticks all the boxes bar "female" and Louise Bloomfield ticks all the boxes bar "high profile".

Mallett polled 483 primaries to Bloomfield's 246.  However, by the time she was excluded, Bloomfield had received 109.14 votes in preferences compared to 62.95 for Mallett.  The main reason for this was that Bloomfield got more than three times as many preferences from female candidates.  By the time Bloomfield was excluded, all bar 3 of the 19 other candidates remaining in the count were male.

Despite his high profile as a previous Liberal candidate, Mallett didn't campaign very actively compared to others and that might account for his fairly weak preference flows in the main count.  The question is whether his business involvements would make him a particularly appealing candidate in competition with other similar candidates for Denison's votes.

Candidates who tick three boxes include Darren Alexander and Chris Merridew, provided that we treat them as high-profile, which is a little bit debatable.  Alexander isn't a Liberal, but could well appeal to Liberal voters, and did provide quite a lot of votes to Denison (though it's unclear how many of those votes were his).  Merridew was endorsed on the Liberal ticket and is disadvantaged by the recount bug but did perform better than Mallett both on primary votes (531-483) and preferences (184.31-118.62), and might still be able to overcome the bug (given that this seems not to be an especially bad case of it).

Will Coats, Martin Waldhoff and Stefan Vogel were all endorsed on the Liberal ticket, but the latter two didn't poll much.  Coats did a little better with 235 votes but isn't as prominent as some of the other male candidates.

The female candidates other than Bloomfield aren't as good a fit politically and are generally low profile.  Even if one of them beats Bloomfield in the cutup, which might be possible, it's hard to see them actually winning.

There has been considerable punter interest in the chances of Andy Taylor.  Taylor is high-profile and overtook both Mallett and Alexander in the cutup but isn't an obvious choice for Liberal supporters and is disadvantaged by the recount bug.

I should also mention the former stand-in Lord Mayor Ron Christie, who lost his seat as a councillor at the election.  Christie's preference-getting performance in the cutup was very poor and he seems unlikely to be competitive despite having been a high-profile candidate. Christie started 8th on primaries in the original count but was overtaken by five candidates during the cutup, all of them gaining hundreds of votes on him (in Zelinda Sherlock's case over 500) in the process.  The fact that he finished 13th is irrelevant (contrary to the impression given in this Mercury article) because that was mainly a result of a relatively high primary vote.

Impact on the cable car

I suspect the recount will do little to alter the balance on Council (and it is very balanced) as concerns the cable car proposal.  All the candidates most likely to win have broadly similar positions to Denison.  (Denison was open to the cable car and generally believed to be supportive, but was scrupulous about avoiding pre-committing statements about it.)

This is quite an open recount and it will be interesting to see how it all comes out when the button is pressed.   At some stage I will note which candidates appear to be running, if known.

Candidates contesting

Bloomfield and Merridew are known to be contesting.  Christie is considering doing so.

 Once I have seen the cutup I will update this article.

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