English: Leslie Cannold at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m usually the first to tut-tut when Twitter bursts into manic glee over political gaffes and stuff ups. It’s unseemly and undignified. We should endeavour to analyse policies and not occupy ourselves with the trivial nonsense of the sideshow.
But — I’ll admit it — when the Senate Group Voting Tickets were released, I was all too happy to join the scrum. Talk about own goals…
Australia’s Senate system blows chunks. I wrote in New Matilda that:
I am, despite being a staunch conservative, not a fan of the Senate, the House of Party Hacks. Party officials and MP staffers are bequeathed plump spots on senate tickets in recognition for not stuffing up so hideously that the media noticed. I’m hard pressed to spot a single senator that I’d trust with sharp scissors.
But while most of them are merely mediocre in their quasi-harmless crankery and kookery, few cultivate their inner bonsai of malevolent mendaciloquence like South Australia’s Cory Bernardi.
Although I went hammer and tongs after Senator Bernardi (and his support for the notoriously racist Geert Wilders), I could easily have turned my invective towards the entire system. Senate ballots use a form of proportional voting with a single transferable vote. Candidates require a quota of votes (rather than a majority) in order to be elected. As a result, preferences become hideously important. The ballot uses block voting, meaning an elector can either choose to number each candidate individually or — far more commonly — an elector can simply nominate which party it trusts with its vote. The Senate Group Voting Ticket indicates how the party will allocate that vote if (more usually when) the party fails to secure enough votes to reach the next round of selection.
This becomes important down in the minor party end of the system. There aren’t enough people drinking paint thinners to cause, for example, the Socialist Alliance Party to enter parliament. When they come last in the first round, their votes are redistributed amongst the existing parties. The party who then holds the fewest votes is eliminated and so on and so forth. The GVT shows the pathway that the votes take through the system. If your party is eliminated, the votes you received will go to their second preference. If the second preference has already been eliminated, it will go to the third. And so on and so on.
In effect, the votes usually end up back with the major parties for seats 1 through 5. The sixth seat is usually the most interesting, often causing unusual results as a result of preference flow (for example, the Family First candidate, Steven Fielding, who entered parliament due to a preference deal to exclude the Greens).
Today’s drama all started when we discovered that the Wikileaks Party (founded by Julian Assange) had decided to preference lunar right parties over the mainstream parties, including the Greens. This browser-destroying picture covers the main ideas: