Saturday, March 19, 2016

The reforms to Senate voting, Part 1: "Unlucky Number 7"

Hot on the heels of the Senate finally managing to pass the reforms to the Senate voting system comes the news that Senators Day and Leyonhjelm are going to launch a High Court challenge to the new laws.

This is their key argument:
The basis for the challenge is that 3 million voters will be disenfranchised by the laws because their votes will no longer result in electing political candidates.
The poor darlings! Maybe the Senators haven't noticed what I call the Unlucky Number 7 Effect.

The quota for a Senate seat is 1/((the number of seats up for grabs) + 1). For the States in a half-Senate election, when six seats are to be filled, this is 1/7 or 14.3%. Votes are counted until six quotas have been reached. Then it stops.

A consequence of this is that there is always a seventh candidate who gets almost-but-not-quite a full quota. The ballots of the people who voted for them are effectively thrown in the bin. (It's even worse for the Territories, where there are only two Senate seats to be filled.)

Here is a list of those would-be Senators and the votes they received at the 2013 election:

State Candidate Party Votes Quota % of quota
NSW Faehrmann, C. GRN 555,073 625,164 88.8%
VIC Kroger, H. LP 437,894 483,076 90.6%
QLD Stone, A. GRN 312,505 374,209 83.5%
WA Pratt, L. ALP 166,551 187,183 89.0%
SA Griff, S. XEN 128,853 148,348 86.9%
TAS Chandler, S. LP 39,906 48,137 82.9%
ACT Sheikh, S. GRN 52,037 82,248 99.4%
ACT Bucknell, C. BTA 15,548 82,248
ACT Avery, D. ASXP 14,155 82,248
NT Te Awake, D. PUP 12,915 34,494 95.8%
NT Williams, W. GRN 11,549 34,494
NT Falzldeen, L. CLP 8,591 34,494

Total = 1,755,577

The figures come from the Distribution of Preferences PDFs on the AEC's website. As can be seen, this isn't a political-partisan issue. It affects parties across the political spectrum.

One-and-three-quarter-million people! According the AEC, 13,822,161 people voted in 2013.So, roughly one in eight voters had their wishes ignored.

This isn't a whinge on my part. I accept it as being the consequence of the system as it stands. My point is that what Day and Leyonhjelm are complaining about is already happening.

Their objection seems to be that, with the new reforms, the smaller parties' candidates are more likely to end up in the Unlucky Number 7 position (and below) than the larger ones'. As can be seen in the table above, it is mostly the larger parties who lose out under the current system.

The answer for the smaller parties is simple: follow the example of Nick Xenophon. Get out there, make your policies known to the voters, and campaign hard on them. He went from getting 2.9% of the vote in the South Australian Legislative Council in 1997 to getting 24.9% in the Senate election in 2013.

Do it! End of rant.

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