15 August 2010

Interesting things about preferential voting (Keeping your member "local" part seven)

This is where I almost finish up with my investigation of preferential voting using my case study of the seat of Jagajaga. I will look at the Senate soon, I promise.

I learned a lot after my last post. For starters, I learned that votes in a safe seat aren't quite so much wasted as what I thought. As it happens, party coffers are guaranteed funding from the AEC on the basis of primary votes, so, although this is going to go mainly the way of incumbent parties, there is a chance for you, the voter, to ensure that even if your first preference is going to be discarded, you may get to have the taxpayer contribute part of the gravy train that is electoral funding towards a smaller party. This is a valuable piece of information.

I also was reminded, courtesy of commenter Peter that we don't really have compulsory voting in Australia. This observation I made, incidentally, prompted some rather wild comments on the Twittersphere, emails to me and other media suggesting in some small part that I might have lost my mind. I don't really shy away from it, although I admit to some hyperbole: The fact is that, unlike what one correspondent suggested, non-compulsory electoral enrolment (thanks Peter for your correction) would not and never would (and has no valid link to the suggestion that it might) nullify one's moral obligation to vote - this wasn't you Peter, by the way, this was another correspondent. I don't really understand why this connection might be made.

I learned that apparently, moral obligations get enshrined in law eventually. This will, of course, be fabulous news to an ethics panel that I have some involvement with, although I certainly will understand if they feel more lukewarm than I about this suggestion.

And from another correspondent, I learned that what most of us understand as rights aren't that at all, unless they're enshrined in law and have some set responsibilities attached to them. There's apparently a statement in the Magna Carta that supports this, although I was unable to find it. Curiously, I did find a statement in the Magna Carta that specifically limits discussion around rights (the translation I looked at also used the terms "liberties") to the ones contained in the document itself, leaving the question about whether others might exist elsewhere somewhat open.

I also learned that a right, using the now slightly questionable definition of "anything that one can freely do" doesn't exist at all if it is not in existence in Australia. I have a feeling that this might be news to the majority of western democracies where one can freely not vote or not enrol to vote if they choose, but I don't appear to have any say in this.

I learned that people don't really comment on blogs anymore. They like Twitter and Facebook too much. I learned that people comment about blog posts on Twitter without actually reading them. And I learned that Google's Chrome browser does weird things to my post truncation facility which normally works a treat in Firefox and IE.

So. On to this post itself.

I finally received some correspondence from Jenny Macklin MP, the incumbent Member of Parliament for Jagajaga in answer to my query of a few weeks ago. This came in two somewhat unusual pieces of correspondence.

The first one appears to answer my query. It was a four page glossy delivered to my letterbox confirming that, amongst other things, Macklin:

  • Consults regularly with groups such as playgroups and friends of Lennister Farm;
  • Speaks to locals about environmental sustainability;
  • Is a Queen's Guide with Eltham Guides group. As Macklin grew up in Wangaratta, I suspect that Eltham Guides' claim to her Queen's Guide award may be somewhat tenuous, but at least she's getting out there;
  • Has supported the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre at the Austin Hospital;
  • Supports Eltham Lacrosse Club; and
  • Supports Diamond Valley Prostate Cancer Support Group.
This was pretty good stuff I thought, and almost looked as though her office had cooked it up in response to my email.

But there was more. In the mail addressed to me the following Monday was a number of photocopied web pages confirming stuff that Macklin had had a hand in within the electorate. I won't go into these - most of these appeared to relate more to government initiatives and her role as the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Apart from the fact that the generic response was more relevant to my original question than the photocopies, I wonder a little why Macklin's office felt the need to look me up on the electoral roll and post single-sided printouts of webpages rather than just emailing me back with a series of links, but this is pretty minor.

I also finally got a response to the query I sent to Joh Bauch, Liberal Candidate for Jagajaga:

Hi Dikkii,

Many thanks for contacting me and my apologies for the delay in replying. In regard to your questions about my contribution in Jagajaga over the last 3 years. I currently, do not live in Jagajaga, however, I do have friends in the electorate and am familiar with the area as I visit my friend regularly every few weeks.

However, in the current electorate that I live, I am involved with Neighbourhood Watch. I am also interested in local business traders and have set up a part time business assisting local traders with promotion and marketing.

I live at home with my elderly parents and my father has had some health issues over the past few years so this has impacted on my abilities to do more in the community.

I am attaching my official biography for your perusal. I hope this answers your questions satisfactorily.

Joh Bauch

Which pretty much confirms my suspicions about Bauch. The bio, incidentally, wasn't attached, but I didn't really need it.

But anyway, preferential voting. We vote our candidates in order of preference. After each round of counting, the person with the least number of primary preferences gets eliminated and the votes they've received go off to the other candidates via the secondary preferences on the ballot papers. The process is then repeated until one of the candidates is able to claim a majority.

But after the first round, an interesting thing happens: Anyone whose second or subsequent preference was for a candidate that was eliminated in the first round or later then finds that this preference may be disregarded as the vote counters go down their preference list, disregarding subsequent preferences for previously eliminated candidates along the way.

Let's look at a fictitious electorate, which we'll call Smallville. Yes, I know it's unoriginal, but humour me.

Let's say that you have an electorate which has five candidates, and a ballot paper is submitted that has vote 1 for candidate A, vote 2 for candidate B and so on until you get to candidate E who gets vote 5. If candidate A makes it through round 1 (where candidate D gets eliminated), but gets eliminated in round three, and candidate B gets eliminated in round 2 what happens to the vote?

The ballot paper counts as a vote for candidate A in rounds 1 and 2. In round three, candidate A gets eliminated, so the vote counters look at the ballot paper. Candidate B has been eliminated in round two, so the vote counters go straight past the second preference to the third which is for candidate C. Suddenly, your paper in the electorate of Smallville has gone to its third preference, bypassing the second preference outright.

This is a pretty important thing. Those of you who, like me, like to put the little guys first before the big guns of the major parties might like to consider this, because it could mean that your ballot paper isn't worth quite what you think going in to be counted.

It does mean that your first preference becomes more important.

So have a bit of a think about this before casting your vote.