Saturday, March 4, 2017

Groundhog Day: Group Ticket Nonsense Returns To WA

Glenn Druery will not say exactly what he's been paid to help micro-parties use preference-harvesting to win Upper House seats they don't deserve at the WA State Election. If it was only $5,000 per party plus a $50K win bonus as claimed (and denied), then his services have come pretty cheap.  The game is the same as it ever was: to give parties with very little support a chance at winning they don't deserve, by exploiting inflexible voting systems to create preference flows that have nothing to do with the intention of voters.  Druery trollishly describes this as an "outbreak of democracy".  I will bet that he can scarcely believe his luck to still be in this business.

After the debacle that was the 2013 Senate election in WA, one would have thought WA would be the last place on earth that would let Druery still ply his trade.  Alas, it looks like it will instead be the last place on earth that ever stops him.  It was in WA in 2013 that Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party (whatever that was) surfed from 0.2% of the vote to a Senate seat as a result of preference-harvesting, only for his election to be annulled because the loss of some ballot papers caused an irrelevant tipping point to become irresolvable. (This, in turn, was a product of the group ticket system.)  And it was then WA where the whole state's Senate election had to be rerun from scratch in 2014 at immense cost.

It seems quite a damning indictment on the Barnett government that it has had three and a half years since the 2013 debacle to clean up the state's similar Legislative Council voting system and hasn't even introduced a bill to that effect.  By comparison, the model being considered in South Australia is pretty bad, but at least South Australia's government is trying.  Whether WA's has just had too many other problems to care about democracy, or else has kept the system to deliberately salt the earth for its successor, I don't know.

WA's upper house has the worst state electoral system in the nation.  It is badly malapportioned in favour of rural electorates, it has Group Ticket voting, and it has a ridiculous lack of savings provisions for votes that stray off the narrow path of exact formality.  What we will see in the WA Upper House next weekend is barely even fit to be considered an election.

What could happen

Predicting the outcome of Group Ticket "elections" is extremely difficult because polling data make it impossible to say which micro-parties might get 0.1, 0.2, 0.5 or 1.0% of the vote, all of which can make a massive difference to the outcome, even in the case of a micro-party that has no chance itself.  Minor errors in estimating the vote shares for larger parties can also have major consequences.  Even with perfect data on primary vote share, it's still possible that the small rate of below-the-line voting will spoil predictions as well.

At the 2013 Senate election it was notable that while analysts such as Truth Seeker successfully predicted that preference-harvesting would win seats for micro-parties, modelling was unable to show which micro-parties would actually get up.

There's enough juice in this election's preference-harvesting arrangements to suggest a good chance that at least one or two, possibly more, micro-parties will claim seats in the WA upper chamber.  As has been widely mentioned, deals orchestrated by Druery have seen each of Family First, Flux the System, Fluoride Free WA, the Liberal Democrats and the Daylight Saving Party receive an inside run in one region.  As well as this, Flux has confessed to running fakely independent candidates to funnel votes to itself.

From my experimentation with the ABC Calculator, here are some sample possibilities I came up with using a range of estimates for various parties:

* Fluoride Free Western Australia can win a seat in East Metro off a primary vote of 0.2%.  This doesn't happen in anywhere near all the scenarios I tried, but it did happen in quite a few of them.

* Australian Christians could win in East Metro (instead of Fluoride Free) if they can poll 2.2%, even if One Nation polls 10% and the Green vote is unchanged.

* In Mining and Pastoral, it is possible for Flux to win with 1% and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers to win with 4%, with both winning together off these vote shares.  (This said, I doubt Flux will actually poll 1% of primaries in this region.)

* Family First can win off 1.3% in South West region.

* In South Metro, it is possible that Australian Christians could start on 2% and snowball their way past One Nation even if One Nation starts as high as 12.2%.

These are sample outcomes and even the tiny rate of below-the-line voting could derail some of them, but they give a sign of the sort of thing that is possible.  Any winners by preference harvesting might be someone else involved in the Druery deal or even someone not on the radar as an obvious winner at all.  It is interesting that the Australian Christians appear to be quite competitive in some seats if they can break 2%, even without them being one of the five parties centrally involved in the Druery tablecloth.  In a lot of scenarios the anti-One-Nation vote tends to pool with the Christians, so if One Nation don't clear quota themselves, the Christians could well get a run on them.

Say you want to control your own preferences

In the Western Australian Legislative Council, you can't control your own preferences as readily as you now can in the Senate.  Antony Green has covered this here.  If you want to control your own preferences in the Legislative Council, you need to vote below the line and number all the boxes in order without repeating or skipping any numbers.  One mistake and that's it, you've been deemed too stupid to vote while all those wallies who just whacked a 1 in the box of some party without knowing where their preferences would go have not.

If you are going to number all the boxes then I strongly recommend pre-preparing your vote before you vote.  In these cases I also recommend putting the parties or candidates you have never heard of, or that you know little of but they sound a bit fishy, below those you merely dislike, and maybe above only those you absolutely cannot stand.

Flux, a terrible gimmick party

Flux the System (link not endorsed) is one of the parties that has been getting publicity for its involvement in the Druery preference deal, and I'm told this has led to a lot of uncritical reporting of this novelty outfit.

Flux-like parties that confuse gadget-gimmickry for democratic progress are a dime a dozen in Australia these days (Senator Online was another one and I've just been spammed again by something that calls itself MiVote) but Flux is an especially bad example of this wave.

The basis of the Flux system is that every voter gets one vote on every issue before the parliament.  This in itself is bad enough, since very few citizens would have the time to stay on top of all the issues put below the House.  The likely low voting rate on most issues would leave voting terribly prone to distortion by special interests (lobby groups, vested business interests, religions and so on).

But there are some unusual features of Flux that make it even worse.  The first of these is that voters can delegate their vote on given issues, a perfect recipe for coercive vote-harvesting, covert vote-buying, and accumulation of voting power in exactly the wrong hands (primarily, those already mentioned - branch-stacker types would also have a field day).  Flux seems to think voters would respond by delegating their votes to specialists on the issues in question.  That view is utterly naive. One only has to look at the anti-expert vibe of the recent Trump and Brexit episodes to see that the last person many voters would want to entrust with their vote is one who actually knew what they were talking about.

The second is that Flux allows voters to stockpile votes.  "Swap away your votes on issues you don't care about, for a credit you can use on issues you do."  So, suppose a voter is a bigot who is obsessed with preventing same-sex marriage.  They then abstain on every other motion, stockpile their votes, and vote 500 times against basic equality.  Meanwhile, a person who cares about many different issues including same-sex marriage, either has to give up their say on all those other issues, or else be outvoted by the bigot.  This has nothing to do with direct democracy and nothing to do with democracy at all.  It's just a silly gimmick.

This form of vote-saving idea can even carry risks of entrenching minority stress in the community.  A person who is a member of a vulnerable minority may well feel that they need to stockpile all their votes against the day when some regressive measure attacking them based on their status is introduced.   A rich healthy white straight male has no such concerns and can muck up other people's lives with their vote as much as they like.  Clearly, this hasn't been thought through.

(I haven't even needed to mention here that direct democracy is in my view a bad idea full stop.  The above shows that even if you do support direct democracy you should be running for the hills from fake direct democracy parties like "Flux the System".)

Fluoride Free: Not Quite Watt They Seem? 

I haven't studied the arguments of anti-fluoridation cranks in detail, but their guilt-tripping, conspiracy-theorising sometimes all-capsy style and use of silly arguments such as "fluoride is industrial waste" make me suspect I'm not missing anything there.  When I looked at the linkedin bio of East Metro candidate John Watt, who has the best of all the preference deals going round at this election, I was more intrigued to note he listed himself as an "Owner" for "USANA Health Sciences".
A former geophysicist, for the past 14 years Watt has been a supplier of USANA's "premium quality nutritional products" and has also trained new distributors of the same.  USANA, it turns out, is a multi-level marketing scheme, the products of which are premium in one certain regard: their price. There is dispute about whether USANA products are any better than vastly cheaper products in the same market, and some even about whether many of them work at all.  There are also suggestions that USANA may as well be a pyramid scheme in terms of certain business feature models in common.  The whole history of USANA is messy, though there is plenty of shadiness on the opposing side of the fence there too.

Can You Vote Above The Line To Keep Fluoride?

If you live in East Metro and you think keeping fluoride in the water is important, and you don't want your vote electing John Watt, is there a safe way to vote above the line for someone else without risking accidentally preferencing him?

I am very sorry to say that there isn't!  John Watt has an absolute doozy of a deal here - every party has placed him above at least one of the major parties, with the sole exception of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, who have nonetheless placed him above the Greens.  If you don't want your vote to potentially cause an anti-fluoridation party to hold a share of the balance of power then the only way you can do it is to vote below the line and number all the boxes, being very careful not to make a mistake.

(Remember, if you do make a mistake, you can always request another ballot paper!)

I expect to cover the Lower House in the next few days, though the poor supply and quality of recent polling is making it quite hard to get inspired!


  1. Of course, who do we have to thank for the gerrymandered Leg Council districts? The Greens - in particular the intriguing thought processes of Giz Watson. She supported one vote one value for the Assembly, but reasoned that in order that the Council not be a rubber stamp it should be elected on a different basis. So, being a Green she argued in favour of the equal representation of "ecologies", and since the ALP needed her vote to get the Reform Bill through the Council they accepted her compromise. Problem of course is that ecologies don't vote, and some that the Greens would like to preserve (like wilderness) have very few residents, so they basically settled for equal representation of rural economic zones, which have very unequal numbers of residents. Sadly for Giz's dream, I suspect some voters in Mining and Pastoral and possibly a few in Agricultural are devoted to ruining the existing ecologies of those regions.

  2. I had also heard that the arguments advanced by the Greens were actually a cover for a rather inept assessment of their political self-interest. In any case, the use of proportional representation in upper houses itself provides enough of a "different basis" most of the time. Definitely not the Greens' finest moment.

  3. Actually I've just been looking through some old files and I find the main advocate of "bioregionalism" (votes for endangered species, exercised by proxy by selected park rangers?) was Chrissy Sharp, a Green MLC in the previous LC. But Giz certainly played some part in passing the 6 regions model. And yes, I also suspected at the time that they stoopidly thought they would benefit from it. That worked a treat!

  4. As Flux are in with a shot of gaining a seat in the Mining and Agricultural Region I have serious concerns as too how they could vote on legislate effectively. First of all if they won they would need to campaign throughout the entirety of their term just to remain relevant and have constituents use their app. Secondly i'd assume only people who live in that region would have the ability to vote on their app, otherwise a bunch of people who don't live in that region or even the state could affect how the flux representative would vote. Thirdly the number of people aware of their process would be minuscule, the only people in tune with their app would be flux members, the MLC and their staffers, probably fewer than 100 people.

  5. And, Liam, if the Fluxists do win a seat in Mining and Pastoral, their MLC will be Kai Shanks whose web page is here: If the voters don't give him clear directions via Sky Muster on an issue he seems like he'll be perfectly capable of making up his own mind. But if Labor+Greens get 2-and-a-fraction quotas, and Libs+Nats+PHON get 4-and-a-fraction, he may be left hanging on 0.9 of a quota at best, and we'll never know what sort of member he may have been.

  6. Brisbane Jack, unless you were a Greens WA member present at the general meeting where the Upper House changes were discussed all those years ago - and I can't say for certain but the statistics would be on my side if I suggested that you weren't - everything you say about who and why is nothing more than speculation and opinion. Be careful at whom you point your finger.

  7. Sarge, of course I wasn't there, but I read the debates in the LC and saw the names in the division lists, and the Greens participated in a general buggering-up of democracy, and some of it was "justified"in the name of the stupid concept of "ecoregionalism". And Giz "justified" her silly vote in an email to me. No avoiding it, whatever silly arguments were presented at your general meeting!

  8. Is it in the best interests of one of the major parties to reform the electoral system for the legislative council? Eliminate the malapportionment, eliminate group voting tickets, and relax the formality provisions?

    1. Labor would benefit from fixing the malapportionment. The "conservative" parties (including PHON and Shooters) benefit from keeping it. With group voting tickets, in seat total terms everyone benefits except for preference-harvesting micro-parties. Possibly the minor (but not micro) parties like the Greens and One Nation would gain more in the WA context. It could be very difficult for Labor to get agreement on any form of significant reform in this parliament, but we'll have to see how the Upper House numbers line up.

  9. Actually the "Liberals" might also benefit from fixing the malapportionment. They get 1 member elected out of 6 in the rural areas and 2 or 3 in the burbs. And they're not as subservient to the Country-oops-National Party as they are in other States and Canberra. Maybe self-interest and high principle will coincide. Or not - we shall see. (And depending on how the BTL votes go there still seems to be a tiny chance of 15 Labor 4 Green in the LC. Then interesting things could happen.)