We have ways of making you preference

A major tactical victory for the minority Labor government in Queensland, which has succeeded in tacking a return to compulsory preferential voting on to an Opposition-backed bill to increase the size of parliament.

In a remarkable development, Queensland’s parliament has legislated for the reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting, putting an end to an optional preferential voting regime that was introduced by Wayne Goss’s Labor government in 1992. This arises from a bill that was introduced to increase the size of parliament by four seats, which the Liberal National Party opposition pursued to win favour with the four cross-benchers who hold the balance of power. Each represents a seat in north Queensland – the two ex-Labor members, Billy Gordon (Cook) and Rob Pyne (Cairns), and the two Katter’s Australian Party members, Rob Katter (Mount Isa) and Shane Knuth (Dalrymple) – and supported the enlargement due to their concerns about regional representation. However, Labor has spectacularly turned the tables on the LNP by successfully moving an amendment to also revert to compulsory preferential voting. This leaves New South Wales as the only state with optional preferential, although it will also be introduced at the Northern Territory election in August. In the immediate future, this is sure to be a boon to Labor, who should now receive at least three-quarters of Greens preferences, as they do elsewhere. It will also make life a lot easier for opinion pollsters, who have faced the problem of how to convert primary votes to two-party preferred in a system where the option to exhaust has made voter behaviour highly volatile. Galaxy’s recent results have been based on an average of preference flows from the last three elections, which most recently produced a result of 51-49 to the LNP. However, that would probably have come out at 50-50 under the safer assumptions entailed by compulsory preferential voting.

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.

60 comments on “We have ways of making you preference”

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  1. WeWantPaul @ Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    That’s basically imposing a numerical and clerical-skill test for voting. Someone might be completely dumb about politics but good at copying numbers from a card and their vote is valid, but someone might be very politically aware but scatty with numbering and their vote is binned. I just don’t see how such selective exclusion is justified.

    I’m not really sure how or why you made up this example, but as a father of a brilliant child with significant diagnosed difficulties that you so very cutely called ‘scatty with numbering’ and as a person who loves democracy in action on polling day and who has participated in assisted voting as a booth captain, i suggest you study both issues a little.

    Completely jumping at shadows there. No reasonable reader would read my example as placing every person with numbering difficulties on earth under the label “scatty with numbering”. After all the number of people who have difficulties getting from 1 to some needlessly high n without making a mistake vastly exceeds the number afflicted by any specific and relevant “diagnosed difficulty”. I’m talking about people who are just generically bad with filling out numbers and forms and following instructions. They’re not obvious special-needs voters who seek assistance or have it sought on their behalf, because they don’t even realise they’re making mistakes.

    You’re accusing me of ignorance because you’ve misread/misapplied my post, either wilfully or oversensitively. That is no fit way to debate a point – especially not if your point is about it being easy to avoid getting things wrong!

  2. [You’re accusing me of ignorance ]
    My point was that at both ends (the voter and the ballot box) of your fictional illustration there are a broad range of strategies and methods to help people which genuine number difficulties get it right. That was what you were, and are still trying really really hard to avoid. I might say that is no way to debate a point if I was more like you.

    So you have refined your problem illustration, I think the appropriate word you are looking for, if a person has no actual real problem with numbers, and doesn’t want / think to get voting assistance, is careless, or you could use disengaged, or some other word like this. A word that identifies where the problem lies. Identifying honestly where a problem lies is step one in finding a solution. Of course the OPV case didn’t want to honestly identify the problem, and didn’t really want a solution to any real problem, the totally politically motivated solution had long been prepared and was ready to be rolled out on any possible excuse.

  3. Advocates of CPV want to restrict the choices of voters for no compelling public purpose. An OPV system empowers voters to rank all the options if they choose.

  4. If you believe it is best for voters to rank all of the options on the ballot people, you are free to appeal to voters to do this within the context of an OPV system. Voters should be permitted to accept or reject your recommendation.

  5. WeWantPaul @ Monday, April 25, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    You’re accusing me of ignorance

    My point was that at both ends (the voter and the ballot box) of your fictional illustration there are a broad range of strategies and methods to help people which genuine number difficulties get it right. That was what you were, and are still trying really really hard to avoid.

    I’m avoiding nothing because these strategies are irrelevant to the point and to the empirical fact of high informal voting when there are even modestly long candidate lists. There are two possibilities here. Firstly, that you are defining “genuine number difficulties” very restrictively. In this case it is a fact that a large number of people without what you call “genuine number difficulties” are continuing to make numbering errors while unaware that they are doing so, and to have their vote invalidated as a result. That they are doing so so often indeed implies that your definition in this case is too narrow. A person who tries to vote formally and fails will struggle with numbers in other common situations; it just may not be at the level of an obvious disorder.

    The second possibility is that you are defining “genuine numbering difficulties” more broadly than is apparent. In this case it is just a fact that the measures taken to address this do not reach enough of their targets to prevent the problem. Doubtless they reduce it, but it still happens.

    Also, I didn’t refine my illustration at all, just rescued it from an attempt to more narrowly (and differently) apply it for which there was no basis whatsoever. As for the other words you suggest: voters who make these errors are not necessarily “disengaged”, since the same thing can be seen in elections where voting is voluntary (in which disengaged voters largely don’t bother voting). Don’t think to get voting assistance? I already covered this; they’re often unaware that they would benefit from it, people often overestimate their abilities. Careless? Hardly a million miles from my “scatty with numbering”. Some voters may not think to double-check that they have every preference once and once only, or may think they have checked this but make a mistake when checking. Some may be even so busy they don’t feel they have the time to check – that doesn’t mean their whole vote should be invalidated.

    I also think that supporting compulsory voting and supporting overly harsh formality provisions are inconsistent with each other. If someone supports compulsory voting it is generally on the grounds that it is necessary for the most representative result. But if compulsory voting is supported but votes binned for irrelevant reasons (such as failing to express a preference between two uncompetitive candidates in a situation in which that failure cannot possibly matter) then it defeats the representativeness of the forced vote.

  6. Kevin ultimately it is a difference of opinion.
    I had forgotten that the pro-OPV case had to be innovative and agile with its understanding of voters. To his credit and consistently Nicholas has been one of the more thoughtful and more consistent on the case for OPV. He asserts, as just here, a right to cease to vote at any point. I don’t think there has been a satisfactory answer to why that right doesn’t extent to just not showing up, but apparently it is a selective right that doesn’t extend to not showing up.

    Other than by Nicholas it hasn’t really been put, but you could develop a case for OPV for voters like Nicholas. There is no doubt they could vote below the line with relative ease and the change to OPV makes it easier and quicker for him, and a broad class of intelligent engaged careful voters to vote.

    Most critically it gives them (as individual voters not a party) an extra political tool, against the two party system. It is not unreasonable to ask for a tool so you can vote for your beloved minor party, and then not have to vote for either of the detested parties of the largely closed two party system.

    If you analyse what is essentially a two party system as a negative then any political tool to give the new minor parties on the block an extra tool and some leverage, to level the field to some extent, against the dominant players, and I have no doubt many would find a better developed and fleshed out thesis for OPV on this basis (there or there abouts – it always matures and shifts a little as you develop it and flesh it out) quite compelling.

    If on the other hand you consider it the likely outcome of the nature of the game that you’ll have, more or less, a two party solution when the game of democracy is played right in a largely stable environment you might not come to the same conclusion. You might decide that the nation benefits more from forcing Nicholas (my apologies to him for using him as the example, but as I said IMHO he made the most consistent and compelling case for OPV) to vote for the least detestable of the parties left after he votes for his beloved minor party. That is you are deliberately taking away from the minority voter a chance to stop after the minor and making them choose further, such that based on a faith in the concept of democracy we end up with the lesser of the two evils.

    You might well respond that forcing all voters to the lesser of two evils produces a short term benefit but at the cost of reinforcing the two party system. You could even argue that the very small short term gain by getting the better of Arthur and Martha this election, will be far outweighed by the rise of the particular minor party of your faith and their transformation of the country into the land of milk and honey.

    I’m not really the guy or the mind for it, but I’d have loved to see great minds having thrashed out great ideas like this (or lets be frank a lot better than this) but we didn’t get that we got spin, drivel and partisan posturing, for which we are all the poorer.

    I won’t critique the public debate we did have again, except to say that the very best system to ensure both those with a diagnosed, or diagnosable condition that affects their abilities with numbers (like very short term memory deficiencies, dyslexia and many others) and those who are just scatty or careless would be some kind of novel system where they could just vote 1 above the line, and have the party they trust their vote too (having had free and fair opportunity to consider not just the the party’s platform but its published preference flows as well) decide how the preference flows for them.

  7. I can’t speak for those who support optional preferencing without supporting optional booth attendance since I’m not one of them, but I suspect many are concerned with politics as the art of the possible. They might personally support optional showing up as well but see no point pushing for it.

    As for the case you outline there, support for optional preferencing as a tool is by no means contingent on the two-party system being beatable. One could conclude that the two-party system is hopelessly entrenched and still easily support optional preferencing along very similar lines. The argument is simply that if a voter for a minor party might withhold their preferences from the major party they would otherwise consider the lesser evil, then this gives that major party a positive reason to appeal to that voter rather than take their preference for granted. Suppose a voter thinks Labor is 80% evil and the Coalition 90% evil, but decides they will exhaust their vote until Labor is only 60% evil. This may be, in the long term, in that voter’s political interests, provided that Labor can move towards that voter without losing more votes from the centre. Under CPV Labor can just go on being 80% evil forever, and there is no incentive to change. That is what I think all this is really about, in fact. Labor don’t want Green voters to go back to exhausting their votes in protest over Labor’s environmental record in government.

    It’s far from clear that having OPV instead of CPV helps third parties supplant majors in the long or short term. I can’t see why it should and it hasn’t done so in practice. After all the distribution of a preference is only relevant after the non-major party is eliminated from the count in a seat. Many third-party wins in single seats are achieved by a third party candidate overhauling one major on the preferences of the other and this is actually easier under CPV. Wilkie and McGowan for instance may not have been elected under federal OPV. A third-party candidate who is opposed by the majors benefits under OPV, but most others don’t. It’s no wonder that the Queensland crossbench jumped at a chance to support restoring CPV. For KAP, compulsion is great; they can lose by much more on primaries now and still hold their seats.

    As concerns single-seat systems, what you suggest in the last paragraph isn’t that novel; it exists more or less in South Australia. But I think some of this is getting mixed up with the Senate reform debate. I consider the Senate reform debate to be off-topic for this thread with the exception of the stark comparison between federal Labor’s pious calls for more consultation and Queensland Labor’s spectacular disregard for that concept.

  8. Everyone with an opinion about the parties and candidates should express that opinion on a ballot so that the election result is as representative of the public’s will as possible. Without the benign threat of a small fine and the culture of universal participation fostered by this benign threat, a large segment of eligible voters who have opinions about the options in the election would not express their opinions because of apathy, laziness, and busyness. Compulsory participation is a nudge policy that helps people surmount the apathy / laiinnn☺️I’m jkkkiiiikjiu

  9. A nudge policy helps people to surmount the apathy / laziness / busyness barrier and follow through on what they truly believe. A nudge policy does not oppress.

    Compulsory participation in elections does not force anyone to confect an opinion they don’t hold. The duty is to account for yourself in the election – to confirm your name and address to the AEC, and to submit a secret ballot. You aren’t forced to do anything with the ballot other than receive it and then submit it. You can submit it without writing anything on it.

    Compulsory participation is a very minor burden on people’s freedom (either paying a small fine or submitting a ballot paper) in return for a larger public good (election results that represent the will of almost all eligible voters).

    Full Preferential Voting tampers with people’s opinions. It forces people to confect an opinion they don’t truly hold because the alternative is that their vote will be binned. This is a major burden on people’s freedom to choose representatives. People whose will does not extend to ranking all of the options are forced to either fudge their opinion or forfeit their right to influence the election outcome.

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