Consolation prizes

On election night and the following day, the best bet seemed to be that Labor would emerge with between 86 and 88 seats. After that, Labor watched leads disappear in one seat after another. Liberal candidates took the lead in McEwen and La Trobe on the Monday after polling day, followed by Dickson and Swan on Tuesday, Herbert on Friday and Bowman on Wednesday of this week. Corangamite, Flynn and Robertson were also on the critical list at various stages after looking secure for Labor on election night: Robertson arguably still remains there. In Solomon, Labor’s Damian Hale watched nervously as his 860-vote lead on booth votes was whittled down to 89 on Wednesday, before he was saved by a late rally yesterday that widened the gap to 194. The entirely one-way nature of this traffic raises the question of what has happened and why. Here at least I will limit myself to the first half of the equation.

The first table shows the size of the swings to Labor for each type of vote in all seats which look to have margins of less than 1 per cent, barring the new seat of Flynn where any swing calculations would be hypothetical (an unfortunate omission as it would have cut the Labor swing on postals still further). Provisionals are excepted because too many of them are still to be counted, and they are few in number in any case. The outstanding feature is the Coalition’s strong performance on postal votes, which cost Labor dearly in McEwen, Dickson, Herbert and La Trobe. I read one newspaper report (I can’t remember where) suggesting this was because most postal votes were cast before the Lindsay pamphlet scandal broke, but the pattern would surely have been reflected in pre-polls if this was the case.

Ordinary Absent Pre-Poll Postal Total
Corangamite 6.43 7.42 6.20 5.00 6.10
Solomon 3.06 1.87 4.77 2.88 3.00
Robertson 7.35 7.00 6.51 6.14 7.06
McEwen 6.19 9.44 8.78 4.21 6.38
Bowman 9.17 8.34 9.95 9.36 9.09
Dickson 9.30 8.69 8.07 6.13 8.99
Herbert 6.18 2.41 8.21 1.86 5.92
Swan -0.08 -2.81 1.21 0.61 -0.32
La Trobe 5.78 6.20 6.05 0.58 5.31
Macarthur 11.04 8.63 8.51 11.29 10.58
TOTAL 6.65 6.15 6.79 4.57 6.39

The second table shows the number of votes cast for each type over the past three elections. Here as elsewhere it must be remembered that a small number of 2007 votes still remain to be counted. It can be seen that this election has maintained a trend of sharply increasing numbers of postal votes, exacerbating the impact of the Coalition’s strong performance, along with the more neutral pre-polls.

2007 2004 2001
Provisional 167,167
Absent 856,407
Pre-Poll 1,105,948
Postal 820,946
Turnout 12,681,332

The final point to note is how lucky the Coalition has been. Present indications suggest it will win five of seven seats determined by margins of less than 0.3 per cent. Assuming no further changes, the bottom end of the Mackerras pendulum will look as follows:

Corangamite 0.8
0.7 Macarthur
0.5 La Trobe
Flynn 0.3
Solomon 0.2 0.2 Swan
Robertson 0.1 0.1 Dickson
0.0 Bowman

Elsewhere, the chances of a National Party boilover in O’Connor have been reduced as the slowly progressing late count has widened the gap between Labor and the Nationals from 2.08 per cent to 2.70 per cent. It will take an extremely high level of obedience to the how-to-vote card from Greens voters if that gap is to be closed, which seems an unlikely prospect in a sparsely populated electorate where the party would have had a hard time finding volunteers to cover each of the booths. Any vague chance that independent Gavin Priestley might win Calare has probably been laid to rest by late counting which has increased Nationals candidate John Cobb (formerly member for Parkes) from 47.71 per cent to 48.47 per cent, close enough to an absolute majority that the question of who comes second out of Priestley and Labor is probably academic. In the Victorian Senate, the Greens’ hopes rested on what would have been an out-of-character boost from declaration votes, which have in fact reduced their vote from 10.1 per cent to 9.7 per cent. The Labor vote has also faded enough that third Liberal candidate Scott Ryan has overtaken Labor’s number three David Feeney, so that Ryan looks likely to take the fifth seat and Feeney the sixth. Greens candidate Richard di Natale is 1.67 per cent behind Feeney after preferences CORRECTION: I wasn’t factoring in the Liberal surplus, which actually makes the gap more like 0.9 per cent.

UPDATE: One other thing – it is clear that dramatically fewer provisional votes are being allowed through this year. In 2004, any given electorate ended up with about 400 to 600 provisional votes counted. This time it’s more like 100 to 200. I suspect the answer to this mystery lies somewhere in the Electoral and Referendum (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act. Can any wise heads out there point me in the right direction?

UPDATE 2: Comments respondents note that provisional voters must now show photo ID either at the booth or by emailing or faxing a copy to the AEC in the following week. Peter Brent: “Presumably the number of people who took ID to the AEC in the next week was about zero”. Grace Pettigrew: “Many voters who are likely to need a provisional vote do not carry ID around with them (aboriginal voters, the homeless, for example) are also most likely not to vote for the Coalition”. Adam Carr also takes issue with my description of O’Connor as “sparsely populated”: I would argue that this is sort of accurate, but Carr says the real point is that O’Connor is “the most agricultural seat in Australia, where most people live in or near small farming towns”, and consequently has “more booths than any other seat”.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

627 comments on “Consolation prizes”

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  1. Another answer to your questions is FRAUD.

    Here in Herbert I recieved a Postal Vote application from Peter Lindsay with his propaganda attached with the postal vote(with a rip away)

    Whats the rules regarding sending people postal vote applications without them requesting it??

  2. And you are saying, what? William.

    The postal votes?

    Those who influence in ‘helping’?

    Necessarily, the way I see it, the people with the money, the incumbents.

  3. Presumably the lower number of provisionals being allowed comes from the fact that previously, if someone showed up to vote but were not (correctly) on the roll (had moved etc) they were given a provisional vote and then the accuracy of their enrolement etc was checked later on. If they measured up, their vote was allowed to be counted. I would guess that with the change to dates for updating the roll, a lot of these wouldn’t be allowed to be counted.

  4. William:

    According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Electoral and Referendum (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act makes the following change to provisional voting.

    · establish a proof of identity requirement for provisional voting. An elector(other than a silent elector) who wants to cast a provisional vote on polling day will need to show either their driver’s licence or a prescribed identity document (of the same type required for enrolment proof of identity) to an officer either at the time of casting the provisional vote or by close of business on the Friday following polling day. If the elector cannot show the document in person, they may post, send by facsimile or email an attested copy to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). Ballot papers will only be admitted to the count if the provisional voter has provided suitable identification and, if they were not enrolled, if their omission from the roll was the result of an AEC error;

  5. Postal votes = vote early, vote often. Perhaps the whole area of postal votes needs a comprehensive rethink and a tightening up of eligibility and control/audit.
    By the way, what is a “silent elector” referred to in James J @ 5?

  6. I guess that in the end, all of this is now academic, Labor should win 83 seats, and we have some very low hanging fruit for sport at the next election, Dickson, McEwen etc. What an election campaign, historic is the only word for it.

  7. Basil
    a silent elector is someone who has had their name removed from the Public list of electors ,But are still on the roll
    It is a bit like having a silent number

    Regarding postals etc- a quite prominent lawyer is looking at a group to challenge both the validity of certain aspects of Howards bastardisation of electoral laws and the whole shemozzle of postal/absentee votes

    As Labor voter and others have pointed out the potential for fraud is huge and how in hell do you check to make sure someone has not voted multiple times

  8. I wonder whether the postal vote breakdown in Labor seats shows a different pattern to those in liberal seats? Are postal voters more likely to vote for the incumbant than people who vote in other ways?

  9. Reminds me of Bracks’s win over Kennett in 1999. Every really close seat broke Labor’s way. If even one of them had gone Kennett’s way (eg Geelong which the Libs lost by about 16 votes), Kennett may have survived.

    The large number of very close seats should keep the opposition on the ball over the next three years, and many Labor MPs will not be taking their seats for granted. This is good for democracy.

    There’s potential for the next election to be very exciting for us amateur psephologists.

  10. Interesting to see the rise and rise of pre-poll voting over the years. And that, on the seats covered, Labor scored surprisingly high swings — some even higher than ordinary votes in several key electorates — e.g. Solomon.

    Can anyone do the maths to calculate just how much these swings have off-set the increase in Liberal swings in the other categories?

  11. Of the different types of voting, only one is done away from a voting centre. Postal voting. All other forms require you to front up to a polling place. This is quite a distinction. Some research into this form of voting in 2007 might help.
    Postal votes increased by more than 21% from 2004 (see above – 5.34% to 6.47%).
    A lot has been said about parties sending postal vote applications to all voters and I’ll assume that all sitting members mailed all voters in their electorates a postal vote application. But this says nothing about whether the alternative candidate (Labor in 90 seats) allocated resources to match.
    A few questions that need answers (restricted to the current crop of close seats)…
    Did Labor mail all voters a postal vote application?
    What were the swings for just the postal votes?
    Do postal votes favour the sitting member (by how much)?
    Do postal votes favour the incumbent government (and need to compare with 1996).
    Do postal votes always favour the Conservatives?
    Did the last time a Conservative govt was defeated (1983) produce similar favourable postals for LNP?
    Did the LNP work harder with retirement villages/hospitals/nursing homes etc?

    So is the current high count for the LNP the result of harder work by them or is there an historical explanation?
    Given the much higher proportion now of postals (up 50% from 2001 alone!) maybe this result could have been anticipated (after some research into the above)?

  12. Not sure that the sort of pattern you are suggesting really stands up, Will.

    The pre-polls were closer than the postals in some of the “tight ones”, but in Bowman , for example, the Pre-polls favoured the Libs substantially, while the Postals favoured Labor.

    In the four closest seats – Solomon, Robertson, Bowman and McEwen – the Libs won the pre-polls in each case, so any “offset” is marginal, limited to “not quite so bad” , at best, and , in the case of Bowman, “extending the damage”.

    Looking at William’s figures, both Postals and Pre-polls seem to be increasing in overall numbers at about the same rate. It is the “Absentee” category that is marking time. I suspect in reality that the increase in “Pre-Polls’ comes at the expense of “Absentees” and regular booth votes, rather than “Postals”.



  13. so, let me get this straight: someone turns up at a polling booth and says, i’m joe bloggs at X address (but is not), votes and is on his merry way. then, the real joe bloggs turns up at the same electorate, and finds that his name has already been ruled through. he is then given a provisional vote and when he gives his ID, his vote is allowed. but what happens then to the [unreal] joe bloggs’ ballot papers?

  14. Bryce, I suspect that part of the reason why the Libs tend to do better from Postals is that many pensioners / elderly people use them to avoid a trip to the booths and standing in queues etc.

    Given that from the polls we know this was the last group to stick with the coalition it shouldn’t really surprise us that the coalition do better from them than Labor.

    Mind you, here in McEwen the Libs (and an unknown group who did not place authorisation information on their letterbox drops but which attacked labor ceaselessly – probably EB related) certainly did a lot “better” at flooding the house with paper than the ALP. Any elderly, housebound, voter here using a postal vote would have received a similar vastly disproportionate bombardment.

    It has long seemed to me that the Libs work much harder at getting the postal votes in, but I suspect this is largely because more of their elderly supporters (who otherwise may not vote at all) are actually likely to want to use them.

  15. I should have given more attention to the postal vote application I received from the Mad Monk, unfortunately I put it straight into the shredder, just like I do with everyting that dill send me. So now I’m curious to know to whom the application for the postal was to be returned.

    Was it the AEC or the members office?
    Are postal votes (ballot envelopes) numbered/identifiable?
    Is there a ‘double-blind’ system, preventing identifcation of the actual owner of the ballot envelope, rather than the ballot itself?

    I pre-polled and I do recall a number on the envelope. Presumably there is an audit trail on these envelopes.

    What is the exact procedure for a postal vote?

  16. William, one major factor would be the new requirement that a provisional voter must have photo id (drivers licence) on them. If they don’t, they can make their vote, but it is only counted if they go to the AEC office in the next week with ID or equivalent. Presumably the number of people who took ID to the AEC in the next week was about zero.

    There’s also an issue which I don’t fully grasp about enrolment by address rather than by electorate. This may affect people who have moved house within the same electorate and have dropped off the roll. Under old rules, they could still vote, but I’m not sure about the new ones.

  17. The AEC first raised its concerns with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters over the transmission of postal vote applications through political party offices back in 1999. This practice, supported by both major political parties, and not prohibited under the Electoral Act, has expanded over the years and should now be of real concern to voters.

    Go here for AEC submission number 88 of 12 March 1999, and find part 8.6, for a comprehensive statement of those concerns:

    If postal vote applications are unknowingly or at least trustingly being sent by electors back to political party offices, what is to prevent party workers simply binning those applications where they might have a suspicion that the elector will vote the “wrong” way, so that the applications are not sent on to the AEC, and electors do not receive their ballot papers, either at all, or at least in time to vote?

    Is this perhaps part of the explanation for postal votes splitting mostly the Coalition’s way, in defiance of expectations? Given the dirty tricks that surfaced in the Division of Lindsay at the 2007 election, would you trust these same party workers with your postal vote application?

    On the subject of provisional votes, the Howard Government changed the law, as indicated in previous comments, in order to make it more difficult to obtain such a vote. Many voters who are likely to need a provisional vote do not carry ID around with them (aboriginal voters, the homeless, for example) are also most likely not to vote for the Coalition.

    This legislative amendment on provisional voting by the Howard Government was similar in intent to the abolition of the grace period for last minute enrolments, to supress the votes of those who might support Labor. All bought to you courtesy of Senators Minchin, Abetz and Nairn, former Special Ministers of State.

  18. Yes, without a doubt postal votes have stopped Labor winning an extra 3 or 4 seats. Nothing new there: they always favour the Liberals, but it’s still a tragedy that Rodney Cocks, George Colbran and perhaps Jason Wood couldn’t make it into parliament. Oh well, Labor supporters can’t be too greedy, 83 seats is more than I predicted for Rudd.

  19. William, thanks for presenting such interesting data regarding non-ordinary voting patterns. Most of my friends and rels voted at the pre-poll centre located in the middle of our CBD shopping mall, and all used the Labor HTV. There were at least two Labor HTV volunteers stationed outside the pre-poll centre at all times.

    Here’s a different type of consolation prize for Labor supporters disquieted by losing so many close icing-on-the-cake seats. (Hey, Graham Richardson predicted 80 seats, so every seat over that is a bonus).

    Skynews’ online/remote control polls during the election campaign invariably showed the Coalition winning 60% to Labor’s 40%.

    Today’s online poll question is:

    “Who has the stronger frontbench lineup?”

    Shockingly, all morning the result has stuck around Labor winning 54% to the Coalition’s 46%.

    Perhaps, there’s a lot of disgruntled Turnbull supporters in Skynews’ demographic.

  20. Postal votes favour incumbents without a doubt. There are also resources that members are allocated that challengers have to scramble for, eg letter folding machine.
    Someone mentioned low fruit- next election I predict Labor 101 seats. The only seats that won’t fall in easy reach are turnbulls and bilson’s (hard working). The coalition will win WA at the next state election. They should be able to win Vic if Baileau can get it together, and NSW with a credible opposition. Queensland minumum 2 more terms, as is SA. Not sure about NT?

  21. Or perhaps, Julian@21, the incumbency factor is already kicking in.

    It’s amazing to think that the ALP could be ahead in any SkyNews poll! How things change.

  22. If any state government deserves to lose office, it’s Morris Iemma’s N.S.W Labor govt. The good thing for them is that they don’t have to go to an election until 2011, but methinks Iemma won’t last that long.

  23. Centaur @22

    Good call about the impact of voting out some rancid state Labor governments before the next fed election.

    Alas, the next NSW election will be approximately 6 months after Rudd’s re-election campaign, yet that should be close enough for people to feel more inclined to vote for Rudd safe in the knowledge it’s dollars to donuts they’ll soon be rid of Iemma or Watkins.

  24. They should have lost the last one progressive but there was no opposition. as for queensland I reckon i could do better myself running family members and friends in every seat.

  25. Who is advantaged by Absent voting really varies from seat to seat. Absent votes are cast by people outside of their electorate on polling day. The biggest absent vote take is in polling places near electorate boundaries. For example, the electorate of Wentworth, where the absent vote has clearly favoured Labor. The best Liberal booths are on the South head peninsula, well away from the electorate boundary. The best labor booths in Darlinghurst and Kings Cross, and in the south around Coogee, are near a boundary with neghbouring Sydney and Kingsford Smith. Most of the absent vote in Wentworth will have been cast in Sydney and Kingsford Smith by people who lived near the electorate boundary and have rocked up to a booth not in Wentworth. In both cases, many people have gone to the same booth they usually go to, only to discover the boundary change. As these people come from the Labor part of Wentworth, it is therfore not surprsiing that the absent vote favoured Labor.

    It is also why the vote tends to swing back and forth in post-election counting. If you count the absent or pre-poll vote for Wentworth that was cast in North Sydney, you get a different sample of voters than if you count the same categories of vote from Grayndler or Sydney. It is why some of the talk of ‘trend’ in post-election counting is meaningless. It’s not a trend, it all depends where the vote you are counting came from.

    As to postals, it depends on the category. In Flynn, the postal vote hugely favoured the Nationals. But Flynn is a seat with an outback component, where voters a large distance from polling places can register as permenant postal voters. This group largely consists of farmers and is always heavily anti-Labor.

    In seats with few permenant postal voters, there is a tendency for postal votes to work in favour of the sitting member, which is why in all those close seats, mostly held by the Coalition, they tend to favour the Coalition. The gap isn’t quite so glaring in Labor held electorates.

  26. I’ve always wondered what happens if Joe Bloggs (either the real one or an imposter) turns up at several booths within his electorate and casts multiple votes.I assume that it is subsequently discovered that someone claiming to be JB has voted several times. What then?

  27. Yes Julian but none more rancid than the Howard coalition government that just got trashed. The party that stood for nothing and did nothing. Using every underhanded trick in the book, the Dick Dasterdley 00 was eventually derailed and destroyed, never to be seen again in its present form. The more I think about it the more i think p*ick from head to tow.

  28. Jude, the rolls are all scanned, and multiple instances located. Most multiple voters turn out to be clerical errors, and the person voting twice can be matched with someone in the next spot on the roll who was not marked as voting but claimed they did.

    Someone who votes mutliple times (like more than twice) is spotted and quizzed. The number is tiny. If someone actually tried to stack an election by getting lots of people to vote multiple times in an electorate, it would stick out like dogs bollocks. And if this had happened and the election result was close, the courts would probably invalidate the result and a major electoral fraud conspiracy case would be launched.

    The question of multiple voting with fraudulent enrolment is different again, and is the real area that the AEC and parties put effort into pursuing. But simple multiple voting is not a major problem.

  29. Re: The ABC site. Antony Green here yesterday seemed very well informed about the real status of vote counting as opposed to the computer input data, which seems to lag behind the ABC tally site.

    If the ABC’s prediction of 84 is borne out, then let me think for a moment which famous blogger website called that number of Labor seats……….geez, it’s right on the tip of my tongue!

  30. Julian, that list shortened because I changed a paramater in the computer system to give away more seats. The decision algorithm is designed for election night counting, and I have to keep narrowing its parameters as the post election count continues.

  31. Julian, the number is between 83 and 85, and it rounds to 84. There are 2 seats sat on under 100 votes. The prediction is all based on probability. Labor has a definite 83 seats, plus a 31% chance of winning Bowman and 23% chance of winning McEwen on the current count. That rounds to 84 seats as a prediction. I can tighten the parameters so that the chance of Labor winning either seat falls and Labor’s prediction falls to 83 seats, but then that gives away both seats when they should be left in doubt. There is uncertainty here you know. We don’t publish it on the ABC website, but the seat prediction always comes with an error margin, and it is currently +/- 1 seats on 84.

  32. 22 –
    “The coalition will win WA at the next state election. They should be able to win Vic if Baileau can get it together, and NSW with a credible opposition. Queensland minumum 2 more terms, as is SA. Not sure about NT?”

    I very much doubt the Coalition will win WA at the next state election, with their current leader, at least. Being a Victorian, I think they have a good chance of winning here, especially with Bracks now gone. Queensland you’re right to rule off for quite some time. I don’t know about SA. But the CLP would have to come back from a long way to win at the NT elections. What about ACT? It is, after all, the next state/territory election, and has been in the news a bit of late.

  33. Prepoll and postal are always likely to favours the coallition.

    They are either farmers who will find it hard to vote, or older people who do not have the mobility, both of those are people who votes for the coalition

    as for voting muliple times, nothing stops you from going to many booths on election date to vote, exept you will be fine by the AEC

  34. centaur – I wouldn’t be so sure that the Libs will get their act together in Victoria. The branch is so broke that they couldn’t afford to stand candidates in a couple of by-elections recently, and Baillieu seems to attract crackpots and crank schemes, which then make their way into party policy. Not that I wouldn’t like to see a shake-up down here, but I can’t see the Libs managing it in their present state.

  35. Antony Green @35

    Many thanks for your lucid explanation of the ABC website prediction methodology. Since I am a Rudd voter, ’tis most heartening that you consider Labor has 83 definite seats.

    As League coach Jack Gibson would say, Antony, you played strong, done fine!

  36. Forgive me Anthony but did you manage to get out Nuntucket sleigh ride on election night. As i was scruteneering i didn’t catch the count until 8 ish.

  37. Priorities Antony, maybe next time! (of course i am only joking and thoroughly enjoyed the coverage and the eelection site)

  38. Just to prove the system works, the latest update for Bowman puts the Liberals 105 ahead, meaning the probability of a Liberal win goes to 86%, and the seat prediction for Labor rounds back down to 83 seats. It’s through my election night system and should be on the website within minutesl.

  39. “Prepoll and postal are always likely to favours the coallition. They are either farmers who will find it hard to vote, or older people who do not have the mobility, both of those are people who votes for the coalition.”

    That might have been the case many years ago dovif, but these days, with the major political parties blanketing marginal seats with postal vote applications, attached to their own party propaganda, the conventional wisdom no longer holds (and see Antony Green above on differentiating Registered Postal Voters, such as farmers and the elderly who might usually vote conservative, from the more numerous opportunistic postal voters, who should not be assumed to vote conservatively).

    “as for voting muliple times, nothing stops you from going to many booths on election date to vote, exept you will be fine by the AEC.”

    yes dovif, but its not simply a fine. Multiple voting is a criminal offence prosecuted through the courts. See here for Electoral Backgrounder No 14 “Electoral Fraud and Multiple Voting (pdf file):

  40. At the 2010 federal election West Australians will credit Rudd for the Chinese boom and Labor will pick up a pile of seats. The first majority Labor govt legislated to make postal voting harder so this argument has gone on for ever.

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