Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A bad system

The just-concluded Victorian by-election highlighted some of the anomalies in our electoral system, although I see very little comment about the issues.

There are two in particular that I've long believed need addressing.

For starters, voting is compulsory yet one of the two major parties didn't bother to field a candidate.

It's obvious that there are people in the electorate who wish to vote for the Liberal/National coalition.  Although they have to vote by law, the coalition offered them no candidate.

They had a choice of Labor, Greens or fringe candidates such as Family First, Australian Christians and the Australian Sex Party. So they have to vote for candidates they don't want to vote for.

For either of the major parties to not field a candidate in any electorate is showing utter contempt for the voters. It also makes a nonsense of compulsory voting.

The other issue is the system of preferences.

The Greens candidate was given about 500 more votes than the Labor candidate, but the shonky backroom preference deals that our elections attract gave the seat to Labor.

And showing up another anomaly in the system, we have a winner even though about two-thirds of the electors voted against her.

The preferences nonsense is detailed here:
Victorian Electoral Commission


Brad Rodgers said...

For either of the major parties to not field a candidate in any electorate is showing utter contempt for the voters. It also makes a nonsense of compulsory voting.

I don't think I agree with your prescription for addressing your first issue. Firstly why should only Labor or the Coalition be required to put up a candidate in every electorate in every election by-election etc. but other political parties not be required to do the same? Surely it would be unfair to single out these two political movements? Why should they be forced to go to the expense of putting up candidates in areas where they have no chance whatsoever of winning? If the politicians in a particular party think that it is not in their interests to do this, then surely that should be sufficient?

Secondly, would not such a requirement have the effect of giving preferential treatment to voters who are inclined to vote for either of the main parties but "short change" voters who are inclined to vote for other parties who might not feel inclined to put up a candidate? Why should a voter who will always vote for the Coalition have the benefit of a law requiring the Coalition to put up a candidate in his/her constituency but the voter who would vote for Nation First or the Communist Party or [insert name of relevant minor party] not have the same benefit of that law requiring those parties to put up a candidate? Seems unfair to me and we really do not need more unfairness introduced to an already troubled system (see your second issue).

Thirdly, on your point about the Coalition showing utter contempt for the voters by not putting up a candidate, this may or may not be the case (I tend to think not). But even if you do think it contemptuous, why pass a law to address such contemptuous behaviour? Can't the voters be left to decide how to reward such behaviour in the next election?

It seems to me that your problem with the first issue arise from the laws requiring compulsory voting. Rather than adding more complexity to the system by passing a law to address this particular issue, and in doing so introduce unfairness into the system (for it is unfair to single out one or two parties only) and make it an offence to "show contempt", perhaps the better solution would be to repeal the law requiring compulsory voting and allow people to decide for themselves (like the free adults they are) whether or not to vote as the fancy takes them?

On your second point, I completely agree that the current preference system is opaque and counter-productive and probably damaging to democracy. No doubt it was introduced as a seemingly fairer alternative to a previous "first past the post" system? Would you agree with me that a return to that earlier system would be an improvement?

Seabee said...

Brad, the reality is that the two major parties (just as in the UK, USA etc) are voted for by the majority of electors. The had 68% of House of Reps votes in the last federal election. The Greens fielded a candidate for every seat, got less than 12% of the vote and won 1 seat. Government is always Labor of Coalition.

In addition, public funding is given to candidates who get at least 4% of the first preference vote, to the advantage of the big two.

Given their dominant position IMO it's encumbent upon them to field a candidate.

First past the post is, in my opinion, an unfair system too. It too often produces a 'winner' a majority of the electorate voted against.

Much fairer (acknowledging that it's more cumbersome) would be a second or third round of voting after the lowest scoring candidates were eliminated until one candidate achieved more than 50% of the vote.