When discussing why the Senate is borked, the problem we’re trying to solve needs to be understood. I argued this yesterday in an analysis of how the hubris of various parties caused batshit preference flows. The problem is not — and never will be — the number of candidates on the ballot. The problem is the way senators are selected through the Hare-Clark model.
I have two models with which I’ve been playing around: one is a tweaked Hare-Clark model; the other is a positional voting system with a quota-balance.
Before I discuss those two things, let’s revisit what the problems with the current Senate system are.
The problem that most people seem to understand intuitively is the final selection of candidates who pulled a tiny number of first preference votes. For example, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party was elected despite receiving 0.51% of the first preference vote in Victoria.
The second problem — which is often more difficult to explain to people — is that the order in which bottom-feeding parties get excluded from the count ends up affecting the selection of successful candidates.
Here’s one of the classic examples of this. There are four candidates in a two-seat electorate using Hare-Clark: Prima, Secunda, Goody, and Baddy. A third of the vote goes to each of Prima, Secunda, and Baddy (so Goody receives none of the primary vote). Although Goody receives none of the primary vote, she receives 100% of the second preference tally. It seems logical to conclude that Goody being elected as one of the two members would be acceptable to the vast majority of the electorate. Instead, Goody will be excluded from the race at the first count and her preferences will flow to the other three, each of whom is disliked by two-thirds of the electorate.
This example is the one that is best deployed against people who don’t believe you can split a vote in Australia. The meme spread like wildfire through social media during this election, but it’s 100% false. In Western Australia, Greg Barns’ weirdo game with the Wikileaks preference system showed that the Greens vote could be split, nearly causing them to be excluded from the count early. Barns still has the audacity to both claim credit for calculating that Ludlam would be elected while criticising the Greens’ preference deal with Clive Palmer’s party (Ludlam wouldn’t have been elected had it not been for that preference deal).
A tweaked Hare-Clark model addresses the first problem well but still falls victim to the Goody problem. Here’s the model:
1. People fill in the ballots in the same way that they currently do.
2. On the first count, exclude everybody who polled less than one in ten votes (so less than 10%) and redistribute their votes as a group (rather than taking them out one by one).
3. See if anybody has a full quota yet and then proceed as usual.
The second step makes it impossible for minor parties to harvest votes or play weirdo games with tiny numbers of votes. It also changes the language of what it means to be a senator: not only did the electoral machine result in my election, but at least one in ten people gave me their first preference vote.
A positional voting system with a quota-balance is more complicated, but would enable Goody to be elected.
Instead of having above-the-line and below-the-line ballots for the Senate, you’d have a ballot paper similar to the lower house. Political parties would nominate their lead candidate and independent candidates would be listed by name. Voters would list the preference of the parties and independents but wouldn’t necessarily need to fill in every box.
The first preference is a vote worth 1. The second preference is a vote worth 1/2. The third preference is a vote worth 1/4. The fourth preference is a vote worth 1/8. And so on and so forth (1/(2^(n-1))). You can tally up the votes for an overall score.
A party (or independent) who receives twice the score of another should get double the representation in parliament. Thus, the lead candidate (or independent) can nominate before the election who would occupy the additional seats if they attract a significant amount of the vote. So the leading candidate gets one seat. If the second candidate has less than half of the first candidate’s vote, the leading candidate gets an extra seat and the second candidate gets a seat. The process continues until you’re out of seats. Effectively, a quota is built on the relative value of the votes in comparison to the other candidates.
In the Goody example, this would mean Goody would receive the equivalent of 50% of the total number of formal votes, the other candidates would have received only 33% (then a maximum of an additional 1/24th 33/200th on the third preference vote [two-thirds of the voters could have given, say, Prima their votes worth a quarter]).
In the example of Nick Xenophon in South Australia, this would have resulted in him getting two seats. In the example of Western Australia, it would have meant Ludlam wouldn’t have had to wait for Wikileaks to be excluded before benefiting from their supporter’s vote.
Both systems have problems, but they’re harder to game and result in more representative outcomes than the current system.
They’re also not a scratch on random selection from the electoral roll, or a House of Lords.
- Now it’s three in the morning, and I’m trying to change your mind… Is the Senate cure worse than the disease? #auspol (onlythesangfroid.wordpress.com)
- Senates and sensibility: how best to reflect the people’s will? (oddonion.com)
- Quick Post: A leadership ballot could change the image of the ALP #auspol (onlythesangfroid.wordpress.com)
- How to vote – your own preferences (ashaind.wordpress.com)
- #auspol is just so meh (ataudreys.wordpress.com)
- Why extremists matter in persuasion but not in Australian elections #auspol (redearthbluesky.wordpress.com)
- Are there any @WikileaksParty voters left? And did @aussexparty betray its base? #auspol (lefthack.wordpress.com)
- With less than 1% of first preference vote, two candidate still won seats in Australian senate! (sluggerotoole.com)
- Australia votes: A guide to the election (bbc.co.uk)
- Re-elected Xenophon urges Senate voting changes (abc.net.au)