The button has been pressed on the Western Australian Senate special election, confirming what has been clearly apparent since the first batch of postals were added to the count: the Liberals have won three seats, electing David Johnston, Michaelia Cash and newcomer Linda Reynolds; Labor has been reduce to one, electing newcomer Joe Bullock but with incumbent Louise Pratt defeated; Scott Ludlam has been re-elected for the Greens; and Zhenya Dio Wang will be a third Senator for the Palmer United Party. I await a scrutiny sheet of the preference distribution to fully probe the innards of the result, but here are a few things to chew on from the party vote totals.
The table below divides the result into votes that were cast on polling day, namely ordinary and absent votes (also provisional votes, which are few in number and mostly from polling day), and those cast beforehand, namely pre-poll and postal votes. This is of unusual interest given the damage Labor was said to have suffered when Joe Bullock’s critical comments regarding his own party received widespread media coverage the day before the poll. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that the Greens picked up a 6.5% swing on polling day votes compared with a far more modest swing of 3.2% on votes cast earlier in the piece, and with Labor’s 5.2% swing on polling day comparing with 4.0% beforehand. However, the micro-party vote was also down on polling day and steady beforehand, which is consistent with them having done well in the September election out of voters reluctantly doing their bit to avoid the fine on election day, and sitting out the Senate election due to ignorance or apathy.
That said, turnout was nothing like as bad as predicted, at 88.54% of enrolled voters compared with 92.77% in September. By contrast, the most recent House of Representatives by-election, in Kevin Rudd’s old seat of Griffith, had a turnout of 82.08% compared with 93.14% at the election. As Antony Green observes, this is likely to do with the considerable number of voters who don’t know what electorate they live in and are thus unaware of their obligation to vote, a situation that does not apply if the election is statewide.
As has been widely noted, more Labor voters who went below the line gave their first preference to the number two candidate, Louise Pratt (5,390 votes), than to the number one candidate, Joe Bullock (3,982 votes). To my mind, a fairer electoral system would declare Pratt rather than Bullock the winner of the Labor seat. The only precedent for such a result that I’ve heard mentioned is the 2010 Senate election in Queensland, when Nationals loyalists saw that the number two candidate on the ticket of the newly merged Liberal National Party, Barnaby Joyce, polled 9136 votes against 8138 for his ticket-leading Liberal colleague, George Brandis.
UPDATE: The scrutiny sheet can be viewed here. The score at the final count was 188,169 to Linda Reynolds versus 176,042 for Louise Pratt, a margin of 12,127. Lest anyone was thinking below-the-line votes might have saved the day for Pratt, the projected margin on Antony Green’s calculator, which treats all votes as above-the-line, was in fact a slightly narrower 8109.