Monday, April 02, 2007

Electoral games

Given electoral systems tend to bore most people, I've stayed away from them for a while.

However, reflecting on the recent NSW (Australia) election I really am
appalled by just how much democracy can be diminished by skewed systems.

The most important aspect of the recent election is the Legislative Assembly (or lower house) from which government is formed. The house is elected under a systemcalled optional preferential.

When voting for the Legislative Assembly you must place the number '1' in the square next to the name of the candidate to whom you wish to give your first preference vote. Optional preferential means that voters have the option of allocating further preferences, allowing an ‘if not my first choice then I prefer xxx.

The anomaly of this method over the earlier exhaustive preferential, where all preferences must be marked, it that it becomes de facto first past the post voting. The justification to adopt this diminished democracy is that voters become confused if they have to fill out more than one square. Most voters seem to agree and be happy to give their rights away.

The Legislative Council is an anomaly in itself, but the voting method really raises questions about relevance. The Council consists of 42 members elected to serve a maximum of two terms (8 years) of the parliament.

Each four years half the house faces election. The method is proportional representation and the whole state is one electoral district. That creates the ‘table cloth' ballot paper (right) required to accommodate the hundred or so candidates.

Now if voters get confused marking four or five boxes on the lower house ballot, the table cloth is a nightmare.
More so because candidates are selected by the backroom boys and very little information is ever given out about them.

So we use the pig in a poke method and allow voters to tick just one box above the line. Effectively the parties and independents lodge their own preference list so that the electoral commission can determine the flow from the single box method.

No surprisingly there has been little news on the Council results. The house is undemocratic but it is also irrelevant. I might come back to that one.

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