Make a scene, make it real, make it feel… Two models for Senate selection #auspol

English: Portrait of Andrew Inglis Clark.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Make a scene, make it real, make it feel… Two models for Senate selection #auspol

  1. With your first model, what would happen if there were enough candidates that resulted in no one (or not enough to fill the seats) getting a clear 10%? Would this model exclude group voting or require a vote for each individual (e.g. below the line). If Group voting was still a thing, then if there ends up being one or two groups getting over 10%, how do you decide which members of that group get the allocation? That could lead to individuals within a group getting less than another non-group candidate but still being voted in on the group number.
    I don’t have even the slightest idea of a system that would work though.
    Your second system makes more sense, but again I see complications in how groups vs indivuals would play out.

    • If no party/candidate were able to get over 10% of the vote, something’s gone hideously wrong with your democratic system that can’t be resolved.

      I went with 10% because — in the current political climate, at least — it’s reasonable and practical, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t go with a proportion system (less than a third of the first-ranked, for example). Either way, you need a system which effectively punishes people for setting up front groups. People will run because they want to campaign of a platform; not because their removal from the count will(/might) result in a manufactured result.

      If only one party/candidate got over 10%, they’d take the lot. No other party could claim that it had the support of more than one in ten voters.

      • So would you still have above and below the line voting? How would you split a group vote among group candidates in addition to any below the line first preferences they also have? What if below the line first count gave a different outcome to the parties own group candidate order?
        Looking at the NSW Senate results for example, only Labor and the Coalition (not even Liberals or Nationals alone) have counts over 10%. So that would effectively turn the senate into the same two horse race as HoR wouldn’t it?
        I agree with the need to prevent people gaming the system, but the only systems I can think of would prevent anyone other than large well funded groups being able to run in the first place. Seeing as the Senate is just becoming an extension of “voting on party lines” rather than the representatives of the interests of each state, do we really want a system that just allows the major players to become further entrenched? Perhaps the whole “group” system is what needs to go in the first place?

        • For the first system, it doesn’t matter whether you have above or below the line voting. Ideally, you’d scrap below the line voting and have independents exist as above-the-line options.

          The Nationals didn’t run in a stand alone ticket. Indeed, this would be an advantage of my system as it would encourage parties who are just fronts for each other to consolidate their FP vote by having only one ticket.

          In NSW, you’d end up with only ALP and LNP senators, that’s true, but I don’t see that as a flaw. I do see it as a flaw that LDP got a seat.

          In SA, Nick Xenophon would have got his seat (SHY wouldn’t have). In Victoria, the Greens’ Janet Rice would have got her seat but Ricky Muir wouldn’t have.

          In other words, I disagree with your statement that my system ends up with bigger parties entrenching their power. On the contrary, it gives us faith that when a non-major party steps up to the senate, they’ve got the backing of the people they represent.

          • I do like your system, mathematically it makes sense and it brings a much greater degree of fairness, and I don’t disagree that it would have prevented the mess we ended up with this time, but would it keep working in future as intended is what I’m wondering.
            I believe LDP won based mostly on name confusion and/or donkey vote being first on the list rather than preferences, but not sure how you would prevent the donkey advantage. Perhaps electronic polling where candidates are randomly ordered for each voter is the only way to prevent that.
            People already seem to be viewing the HoR vote based on the leader of the party (the presedential election thing) now rather than what their local candidate can offer. In fact, for the most part the local candidate offers very little (if anything) that differs from the national parties line.
            Are people seeing the senate in the capacity it is supposed to hold or is it just another “party lines” vote? If the majors continue this campaign of “independants are bad”, then what’s to stop them simply outspending any new minors or independants from getting a seat. Xenophon already has a profile that gets him votes, but how would a new candidate stand a chance of being noticed?

  2. Pingback: Laugh with me, hyena… Was Wikileaks to blame for @SenatorLudlam losing his seat? #auspol | Only The Sangfroid

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