Wednesday, June 24, 2009

See no evil, Hear no evil , Speak no evil.

Electoral reform denied

The Australian Parliament fails to act to correct errors in the way votes are counted in Australia.

The Australian Labor Party forsakes its reputation on electoral reform to perpetuate a distortion in the way in which Senate votes are counted in Australia.

Three issues had been identified as needing attention and correction.

1. The method used in calculating the Surplus Transfer Value and
2. The methods used in distributing preferences of excluded candidates.
3. The need to publish detailed electronic preference data files in a timely fashion so as to ensure the proper scrutiny and open and transparency of computerised election counts.

Surplus Transfer Value

The method used in calculating the Surplus Transfer Values seriously distorts the one vote one value principle and as demonstrated by the analysis of the 2007 Victorian Senate vote (hypothetical) could have unfairly denied the Australian Labor Party's David Feeney a third Senate seat. David Feeney would have lost the election to the Australian Greens' Richard Di Natale, who would have been the beneficiary of the distortion in the value of the vote. A distortion that would have given the Greens a bonus value of 7,000 additional votes tipping the results of the election in favour of the Greens Candidate. (The analysis and hypothetical was independently confirmed by ABC media electoral analyst Antony Green).

Western Australia was the first State Government to address this the errors and correct the formula currently used to take into account the true value of the vote when calculating the Surplus Transfer Value. Under the current rules votes belonging to major political parties are inflated at the expense of minor parties. This gives an unfair advantage to one party above the other as the final result of the election does not accurately reflect the outcome or intention of the voters.

The proposed change in the way the vote is counted and the calculation of the surplus transfer value is minimal and could be readily implemented for less then $10,000.

The issue of calculation of the Surplus Transfer value is a time bomb ticking. One that will and can effect both major parties come time in the future. Western Australia State Parliament acted to correct this issue but the Australian Government and Opposition Parties failed to act.

The Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee in its final report on the 2007 Federal Election failed to act to correct this obvious error. Preferring instead to turn a blind eye to the flaws in the way the Senate vote is counted

The Australian Greens, represented by Senator Bob Brown, also has turned a blind and covered their mouth to prevent the correction of the the in the way the Senate vote is counted. Primarily because the Greens are the beneficiary of the current distortion. The failure of the Greens to address this issue in a their dissenting report demonstrates that the Greens hold no moral ground when it comes to electoral reform.

Method of Distribution of preferences

The second issue is just as important in ensuring that the Senate electoral system accurately reflects the voters intention.

Analysis of the Queensland Senate Election has shown that the results of the election did not accurately reflect the intention of the Queensland voters.

The method used in determining the order and transfer of preferences denied the Australian Greens the right of representation.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) failed to give due and proper consideration to the issues raised.

In supporting the argument for no change the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, backed up by a false and fallacious argument presented by the Australian Electoral Commission opted to deflect attention and criticism that the results of the election did not reflect the voters intentions.

The AEC falsely claimed that they were not in a position to verify the results of the analysis of the Queensland election in which the Greens Candidate, Larissa Waters, was denied the right of representation.

The AEC claimed that analysis of the election results would have required the development of software that was not readily available. This argument is false as the flaw in the counting system can be readily identified using existing software and existing procedures in the count.

The election of Larisa Waters was not dependent on the changes required to the way in which the Surplus Transfer Value is calculated as outlined above.

The results of the recount would have shown that Larisa Waters should have been elected and highlights the problem in the way preferences from excluded candidates are distributed.

All the AEC had to do to demonstrate and verify the error in the way the elections are counted was recount the electronic ballot excluding all candidates from the count except the last seven candidates left standing (Three Liberal, Three ALP and the greens Larisa Waters).

This requires no modifications to existing software and analytical tools are readily available to the AEC. The AEC could have also called on the expertise of other electoral authorities (Members of IDEA an international association of electoral authorities to which the AEC is a member) to help assist in the analysis of the other electoral system such as the "Meek method" (The time required to process the electronic data is less then three hours)

The AEC by failing to undertake a proper and detailed analysis of the method of election had compromised its professional independent standing.

Respected ABC Electoral Analyst Antony Green also failed to undertake a proper and detailed analysis of the Queensland results and the method used in the distribution of preferences .

Antony Green went to considerable effort to verify the identified issues raised in relation to the Surplus Transfer Value calculation (See Antony Greens supplementary submission and analysis of the hypothetical in relation to the Victorian Senate Vote) however Anthony Green was unable or unwilling to undertake analysis on the method of distribution of preferences from excluded candidates. Given the significance of the outcome one can only wonder and question why the Antony Green failed to review the results in detail. Had Antony Green analysed the result of the Queensland count he would have been better informed and aware of the distortion in the way the ballot is counted.

Antony Green like the AEC turned a blind eye to the errors in the system count and the fact that the Greens were denied the right of representation due to the method used. A method that is not accurate and was original designed primarily to facilitate a manual count not accuracy.

The JSCEM and the AEC put forward the false argument that the alternative method proposed could not be verified by a manual count and as such should not be used. If needed a manual count could readily be undertaken using the alternative proposals .Given that we now have use of computer based technology the system used should be changed to take full advantage of the new technology.

Open and Transparent computerised counts

The AEC should be congratulated by the fact that they published the detailed preference data for the Senate elections. However there is ongoing concern at the delay taken by the AEC in making this information available for independent analysis and subject to proper scrutiny. With the introduction of computer based counting systems it is fundamental and important that public elections and the results of the election are open and transparent.

Without publishing this data the computerised count and results of the election can not be independently verified or properly scrutinised. The lack of transparency and accountability and accuracy in the computersied count undermines overall public confidence in the electoral process.

The parliament needs to change the regulations and procedures so as to ensure that copies of computerised electronic preference data files are readily available for scrutiny and public review. As a minimum copies of the preference data files should be readily available to scrutineers though-out the count and official certified copies published as apart of the procedures related to the declaration of the poll - not three months after the declaration.

The JSCEM, disappointingly, failed to properly address these issues.