The Senate is a great part of our democracy, but the current system is perverse and almost ensures that occasionally the result will be anything but what the electorate has chosen.
Their are two false claims currently going around about what can (or should) be done about this to fix the problem. The first is that it needs to be made harder for minor parties to be registered – a fundamentally anti-democratic idea. The second that there should be optional preferential voting below the line – another anti-democratic idea, in which electors votes will be binned rather than counted.
The solution is simple, and far from difficult to understand…
Currently you can validly vote “1” above the line (and have your vote interpreted according to the registered party preference flow), OR number every box below the line. Less that 10% of electors number below the line. So 90% of preferences are whatever the micro, minor, and major parties have horse traded with each other.
In WA the senate result will be known Tuesday 2nd and declared Wednesday 3rd. 27 parties contested the election. Lib/ALP won 66% of the primary vote, add in the next 4 parties (Greens, Nationals, Palmer United and Liberal Democrats) and it’s a cumulative 89%. The next 4 minor parties got 1.6% to 1% each, with the remaining 17 micro parties all getting less than 1% each.
The primary vote of the Libs at 40% (+5% preference from Nationals) and ALP at 27% determine the first 4 of 6 seats to be elected will be Lib, ALP, Lib, Lib in that order, with the 5th and 6th Senate seats subject to the vagaries of preference flows (party deals above the line, and electors below).
With thanks to Antony Green http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2013/09/update-on-the-wa-senate-count.html the current farce is as follows. I’ve noted (in brackets) the primary vote ranking of the relevant parties.
There are 3 possible ways it will play out for electing the final 2 senators.
Sports (21st) and Greens(3rd) are elected IF Sports (21st) survive early counting and Christians (7th) outpoll Shooters (10th)
Labor (2nd) + Palmer United (5th) elected IF Sports (21st) survive early counting and but Shooters (10th) outpoll Christians (7th)
Labor (2nd) + Palmer United (5th) elected IF Sports drop out early.
The ONLY reason this happens is that the complexity of senate voting causes 90%+ of electors to vote above the line, where they can only vote “1” and then party preferences move as blocks. Most (should this be all) voters don’t make use of the AEC web site to download and review the 50+ pages of party preference flows to make an informed decision about their “1” above the line.
So this election in WA, Australian Sports Party preference deals may allow them to start with 2,987 primary votes and scoop up the next 184,135 needed for a quota before any of the other 16 parties that finished in front of them can make a quota.
Party preferences pervert the electoral intent. And the solution is simple, simple, simple. Above the line preferences. Allow voters to number 1 to 27 (In this case of 27 parties contesting the WA Senate election) and the voters will elect their representative. OR keep going the way we are going, and minor party senators will sit, and potentially hold balance of power in the Senate, with a handful of votes, and some cunning preference deals.
More fool us, if we don’t force the parliament to fix this abuse.