Saturday November 26th 2022, 17 days ago, was state election day here in Victoria. Australia’s system of government borrows from the UK and USA as well as being influenced by our own history – we have federal (national) and state governments and local councils. State government responsibilities include schools, hospitals, roads, railways and public transport.
The Victorian parliament, comprising two houses, is elected for fixed four-year terms. The upper house (Legislative Council) consists of 40 members, five each from eight large electoral areas, elected by proportional representation. It’s rare for any one party to have a majority in the Council so to get legislation passed the government of the day must get the agreement of the opposition or a certain number of cross benchers.
The lower house, the Legislative Assembly, consists of 88 members, each representing one constituency. Unlike the UK which uses first past the post voting, members are elected using alternative voting. The ballot paper lists all the candidates and their party affiliations. For the vote to be valid the voter needs to preference all candidates: 1 for the most favoured candidate, 2 for the next and so on. Failure to number all the candidates renders the vote invalid. Virtually everyone on the electoral roll is required to turn up and vote (or be fined) but there’s nothing to stop anyone putting a spoiled paper in the ballot box, alternatively making a ‘donkey vote’ – numbering the candidates 1, 2, 3 … regardless of who they represent.
At the polling stations party workers hand out ‘how to vote’ cards, obviously each one showing their candidate as number one. When I first moved here I was naïve enough to think that the list order was determined by candidate merit but it’s all down to pure self-interest: at this election the Libs (Conservative in UK parlance) were second preferencing the Greens with whom they have next to nothing in common whilst advocating ‘put Labor last’, even behind some very unsavoury right-wing candidates. Pure cynicism.
At count time all the first preferences are counted. If one candidate has more than 50% they are elected, no further counting being necessary. Otherwise the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated and the second preferences replace the discarded first preferences. If a recount now produces a candidate with more than 50%, they are elected. If not, the elimination and recount procedure is repeated until a successful candidate emerges. A better system?