Friday, October 05, 2012

Melbourne's Electoral System Seriously Flawed

Melbourne's electoral system is seriously flawed an in need of urgent review.

The system in place provides an unfair disadvantage to unaligned  independent candidates and the method of calculating the surplus transfer value and distribution of preferences is tainted and not accurate.

Mr van der Craats, who is running as an unaligned candidate said "that the above-the-line voting system should be scrapped and the method of counting the votes revised to address the anomalies in the system that make the system unfair".

Voters who wish to support  independent candidates or those that are not included on group tickets have to vote below-the-line. Above-the-line voters in most cases do not know where their votes or preferences are allocated or aware of the impact they have on the outcome of the election. A team or party vote locks in voters preferences which are then allocated according to the groups ticket.

The City of Melbourne is the only Municipality in Victoria that uses an above-the-line-voting system

As a team vote is able to be directed this provides an unfair advantage in the preference deals that decide the election. Un-grouped candidates are placed at the bottom of the ballot paper and denied the same rights as ticket votes in that voters have to vote below-the-line to cast a first preference vote for them. 

Most candidates running on group tickets have little to no chance of being elected and are only listed to bolster the groups appearance or to direct preferences to support other candidates.  A lead candidate on a team ticket can be elected with less than half a quota (>5% of the total vote) where an un-grouped independent candidate would require 9% or more below-the-line primary votes.

Melbourne's Council election is already decided as a result of predetermined preference deals. It is a question of magnitude and only 11 candidates are placed to have a chance of being elected.

Victoria's voting system is additionally flawed by the way in which the vote is counted.  The system of "proportional representation"and the method of calculating the surplus transfer value (The number of votes that a candidate receives that is over the 10% quota)  is not proportional. Ticket/Party votes are inflated in value at the expense of  minor parties and independent candidates.

The system used is, at best, semi-proportional and is not accurate.

Add to this technical issues related to the distribution of preferences from excluded candidates where votes are segmented and distributed in such a manner that they do not apply equally to all votes.

The principle that a a vote for an excluded candidate should be distributed in order of the voters preference as if the excluded candidate had not stood does not apply to Local Government elections. Votes skip candidates and are allocated to other candidates at a higher value than they would otherwise be had they been distributed according to the order of preference indicated by the voter. The system in use is akin to dealing from the bottom of the deck and giving higher value to some votes at the expense of others.  These distortions in the way we count the vote came about as a result of trying to ease the manual counting of votes. With the use of computer-based technology there is no justification or need to maintain the flaws in the way our votes are counted.  

If we calculated financial dividends the way Victoria calculates the vote our financial system would collapse overnight with a loss of confidence.  

In addition: The method of filling causal vacancies by count-back is also flawed in that the system does not include votes that retain a value and are left unused on the table. In the City of Melbourne count-back that was held last year over 6000 unallocated votes were ignored and voters disenfranchised.  The wrong candidate was elected to fill the casual vacancy. 

Successive Labor and Liberal Government's have failed to review the system in place and address these issues. 

The Victorian Parliament's "Electoral Matters Committee" has responsibility and oversight of Victoria's local government electoral system.  whilst they have reviewed the State election they have not reviewed the system as it applies to Local Government.

Anthony van der Craats is the National Secretary and a Life member of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

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