Bligh to abolish optional preferential voting in Queensland?

It’s being reported this morning that Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has asked Attorney-General Cameron Dick to examine whether compulsory preferential voting should be reintroduced in Queensland, ostensibly because of the growing rate of the informal vote.

As Possum remarks:

I’m sure that compulsory preferential voting having the consequence of boosting ALP electoral prospects in Qld with a large Green vote has nothing at all to do with it.

The Brisbane City Council by-election I wrote about the other day didn’t require a distribution of preferences because it was won by the LNP on primaries, but a commenter who’d been scrutineering reported 27% of Greens preferences at one booth exhausting after the first preference.

It’s interesting to see Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, who’s normally reluctant to take a partisan position in state politics, accusing the Premier of wanting to rig the electoral system to improve Labor’s chances in the state election due in 2012, and vowing to lead a strong campaign against such a move between now and the election.

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45 responses to “Bligh to abolish optional preferential voting in Queensland?”

  1. PinkyOz

    “Rigging the election” is a bit much, but to say the least there is a mighty bit of hypocracy here. We only have OPV here because of a electoral comission recommendation to change the system, undoing a bias favouring the conservatives in 3-corner contests. And of course, the ALP took full advantage when the system swung back based on their Primary ‘Party of the Left’ status and strong voter base.

    Now that they have lost that advantage, they are trumping up a statistically small number of informal votes at the federal level to justify once again swinging the system in their favour. It looks like desperate politics on the outside, and does nothing for promoting progressive government as the same right-leaning clods will be in charge with few alternatives.

    *sigh* It really never gets better does it.

  2. patrickg

    The irony in this case is that they bought it in purely to stifle the minor parties. But of course they always want to rig the electoral system in their favour. Show me one electoral change in the last fifty years that isn’t.

    Back in my pol sci days, a lecturer wisely intoned “The history of electoral systems is a record of parties attempts to stay in power.”

    Personally, I would like it got rid off. People need to hold their noses and vote for someone – real democracy is at its very core about compromise.

    We may dislike ultimately voting for a something that only marginally represents our interests, but damn it, that a decision that mps and legislators have to face every day, and hopefully the act of making that difficult, murky choice once every three or four years gives people more of an incite in the challenges of running a state. I hope…

  3. Fran Barlow

    I’m with Newman on this one. Forcing people to vote for a party or individual simply so that a vote for someone they marginally support will count is antithetic to democracy and a fraud on the public. It suggests coerced votes are a popular mandate. It suggests preferences for people one may never have heard of are meaningful

    It also has the perverse consequence that unintentional failures to number in sequence are discarded as informal, when someone who may have numbered the first 2 or 3 accurately had expressed a clear intent.

    In NSW next March the Greens will almost certainly get my first preference. yet if it were compulsory to vote ALP in order for a Green vote to count, I would sooner vote informal. One should never reward blackmailers or thugs.

  4. Razor

    Better still – make attendance at polling booths voluntary.

  5. Jacques Chester

    Forcing people to vote for a party or individual simply so that a vote for someone they marginally support will count is antithetic to democracy and a fraud on the public.

    I understand how you feel*, but I think that plurality voting (which is what OPV degenerates to in practice) is much worse.

    I would rather have elections where the vote for a minority candidate isn’t wasted and where the winner has a clearly derived majority than to have elections where third-party votes are wasted and the winning candidate has less than 50% of the vote.

    * I have a particularly hard time deciding whether to put Xian fundies, greens or socialists last

  6. Jacques Chester

    God, a missing full stop. I’m going to go nuts.

  7. Sam

    Gerrymanders, rigged voting systems …

    You can put in an arts centre, hold a a Valentino exhibition, give some money to biotech.

    But Queensland is still Queensland. It’s Alabama circa 1965, and always will be.

    All we need now is for the white shoes to reappear, and the picture will be complete.

  8. Fran Barlow

    I don’t suppose it has occurred to Ms Bligh that a more legitimate tactic for getting green preferences might involve governing like someone who cares about equity and sustainability?

    Doesn’t her rejection of this fairly obvious approach demand the conclusion that her attempt to use electoral coercion reflects her desire to have a boss class policy and yet secure the votes of those who oppose that policy?

    So the tactic is simply an attempt to hold together people who don’t belong together by violating the right of all to vote for whom they would prefer — unethical ends secured by unethical means.

  9. PinkyOz

    Fran @ 8

    What, the ALP face political reality? Never. 🙂

  10. Paul Norton

    PinkyOz #1, it’s also worth recalling that the Electoral & Administrative Review Commission Report which recommended OPV also considered the possibility of introducing proportional representation. It recommended against PR at the time, partly on the grounds that there was little evidence of support for parties other than the majors, but basically said that the issue should be revisited if minor parties began to achieve significant levels of support. Since that time we’ve seen the meteoric rise, splinter and fall of One Nation and its fission products, the election of a number of independent MLAs, and the rise in the Greens vote, so the conditions set by EARC for revisiting the PR question have clearly ripened.

  11. Paul Norton

    In news just in, former Queensland Labor Government Minister Gordon Nuttall has been found guilty of multiple charges of corruption and perjury.

  12. Steve at the Pub

    Voting itself should be optional.
    Votes should be able to be OPV for as many candidates/boxes as the voter wishes, rather than just [1] or else number every box.
    “Intent of the voter” should not be allowed. If a voter is not able to follow simple instructions “Number every box, in order of your preference, from [1] to [whatever]”, then they shouldn’t be voting.
    That is, no ticks, crosses, or any other “alternative” to a numeral.

  13. Fran Barlow

    Jacques Chester said:

    understand how you feel*, but I think that plurality voting (which is what OPV degenerates to in practice) is much worse.


    You reasoned this way last time but it remains flawed.

    In considering what one should do, or refrain from doing, it is right to consider the likely consequences, and whather these would be desirable or at any rate results with which one could live, but one must weigh these against the ethical quality of the acts that inform the results. The mere fact that the consequences of one course would be pernicious does not warrant any course that would not have these results or even one that might have less pernicious results if the course is itself ethically indefencible on the face of it.

    There are some things that should never be done under any circumstances. Suppose it were argued for example, that if one set in motion a killer virus that reduced the world population by 80%, and which tended to harm the disadvantaged a lot less than the advanatged that the end result might be that the survivors and their successors would live better and that the common happiness of all of them would be double what it was now. Would that warrant democide? I’d say not.

    One should bear in mind that ends and means are not entirely separate things. Those that think concepts such as moral hazard are meaningful must especially refrain from this view. Ends and means are in constant dialog and shape each other, for ends are always new means to new ends and so forth.

    It doesn’t matter that a winning candidate has less than 50% of the vote unless one thinks that there is something especially significant and qualitatively better about the value produced by the last operand in 50% + 1. This is a sorites paradox, is it not?

    What we want of our winning candidates is that they should act rationally and honestly to implement the consensus of those they ostensibly serve and that they should be seen as the consensus manifest.

    If it is the case that those who might, for argument’s sake, have banded together to prevent someone with 35% primary support from becoming the representative, chose not to because no less unappealing candidate were unavailable, then perhaps Mr or Ms 35% really does represent the closest approximation of the consensus. That would not be an artefact of the selection system. It would be an artefact of the sentiment of the voter pool.

    Now IMO, if we are to have representative governance at all there should be sortition + Direct Democracy, because the problem of legitimacy lies also with the candidate pool and the institutions that stand behind them. But if we can’t have that and Direct Democracy is out then PR seems a better approximation of the will of the populace as a whole than what we have now. That way, there are very few wasted votes, and none for people and parties one abhors.

  14. Jacques Chester

    In considering what one should do, or refrain from doing, it is right to consider the likely consequences, and whather these would be desirable or at any rate results with which one could live, but one must weigh these against the ethical quality of the acts that inform the results.

    I’m a black sheep amongst libertarians for advocating compulsory, exhaustive preferential voting in lower houses. I do so because I consider the outcomes to be so deleterious to the prospects of personal and economic liberty that the cost has to be paid.

    In a sense, this makes me a utilitarian liberal. That puts me in decent enough company.

    But ethics is not binary, either. Ethical issues are at least ordinal; each of us has different orders. The ladies at skepticlawyer have been trying to make this point in other contexts. Ethics is, it is distressing to discover, also subject to a kind of economics. We cannot have all the ethical outcomes we desire as some of them are incompatible. Instead we must choose amongst them and wear the opportunity costs. This conundrum is explicitly and mathematically visible in voting system, thanks to Kenneth Arrow.

    Based on my view of the rest of the world, I prefer compulsory exhaustive preferential single-member votes for lower houses and compulsory exhaustive proportional representation for upper houses. It’s a good mix.

  15. Fran Barlow

    Jacques Chester said:

    Ethics is, it is distressing to discover, also subject to a kind of economics. We cannot have all the ethical outcomes we desire as some of them are incompatible.

    For me that would force the conclusion that choices would need to be made about the things we could count amongst “ethical outcomes we desire”. It would not simply be a matter of ranking one less highly. If they cannot exist in the same ethical universe than at least one of them is not ethically warranted at all. One should be careful about one’s ethical desires. One must be able to reconcile them all or start discarding until one can.

    I’m also not quite sure why you’re fixated on 50% + 1. It seems to me that a candidate that achieves 50%-1 is not really much less well placed to articulate what most people want than someone who had two more votes, both of which might have been the result of faulty marking or some other frivolity. It may be more consistent with having a warm inner glow to think that a candidate like Wilkie, who achieved IIRC about 21% of the primary vote should have a nominal 2PP above 50%, bit that for me isn’t really a significant benefit, especially wehn Liberals were voting tactically, even if I suspect that in practice he’s probably about as good an exemplar of the consensus as the Greens or SA or perhaps even the ALP candidate might have been. Perhaps under OPV, the result would have been the same.

    Personally, given that voting is an almost entirely symbolic act, I’d like the symbols to be as untainted as possible, and certainly I’m against having them mugged, gagged and forced at gunpoint to nod mutely in the direction of candidates and parties against whom their iteration began to make sense.

  16. Hal9000

    [email protected]

    A major factor in EARC’s deliberations was the physical size of electorates, which was held by the Nats to be the reason why there should be zonal malapportionment – although of course the 1985 redistribution (all records mysteriously disappeared!) and the legislation on which it was based actually weighted in favour of smaller near-urban seats that happened to vote National. This is why the eventual system did include weighting for the five western and northern giant seats, which conveniently are all safe ALP (Mt Isa and Cook) and National (the other 3). The advent of the NBN and improved roads may well make this ancient argument about electorate size effectively redundant too.

  17. PinkyOz

    Paul @ 10

    Right you are of course, you will have to forgive me if my memory of a fairly routine electoral review is a bit choppy (I was only 8 when it was released).

    I’m right with you on PV, and obviously a more formal review makes sense, especially if you think a current version is causing issues. Which of course makes the ALP approach look even more cynical.

  18. Darryl Rosin

    Patrickg @2 “But of course they always want to rig the electoral system in their favour. Show me one electoral change in the last fifty years that isn’t.”

    South Australia, 1968-9. The LCL government of Steele Hall abolished the “Playmander” that kept them in power from 1933 – 65.


  19. Andrew Reynolds

    To pick up on one of your points – if you are genuinely unable to pick between the fundies, the greens and the socialists for last place wouldn’t it be the most correct result to exhaust your ballot at that point? In effect, that means that your vote is evenly spread between all of them, rather than (essentially) arbitrarily allocated to one of them.

  20. Alexander

    Better still – make attendance at polling booths voluntary.

    It is. It’s voting that’s compulsory. If you have a real problem with attendance at polling booths, you can get a postal ballot. Phrasing it the way you do deligitimises your case (a case which I wholly disagree with, but that’s another thing).

    The difference between your objection and the real world is that in the real world we are compelled to have an opinion, to which one can legitimately object; whereas in your objection no-one is forced to do anything except spend about half an hour on a Saturday once every year or so thinking about whether or not their desire not to participate in the electoral system is actually reasonable. I cannot see a legitimate objection to that.

  21. Bird of paradox

    if you are genuinely unable to pick between the fundies, the greens and the socialists for last place wouldn’t it be the most correct result to exhaust your ballot at that point?

    It only exhausts if one of those somehow finish in the top two. Last federal election, only 8 out of 150 seats featured a third party taking one of the spots in the top two (ALP and Libs missed out in 4 each), so voting 1 for a major party would only have exhausted in those 4 seats. Numbering both major parties 1 and 2 would not have exhausted anywhere, and hardly ever does; that would require the top two to be both minor parties, which is fantastically rare. It’s only happened once in Australia in the last 50-odd years, state or federal: the Qld seat of Nicklin in 2001, when an independent won and One Nation came second.

  22. Martin B

    South Australia, 1968-9.

    Ok, so show us a change in the last 40 years that hasn’t. 🙂

  23. Iain

    Yes Sam, Queensland is exactly like Alabama in 1965 and of course it always will be, nothing whatsoever has changed here, except the place being filled with people from all over the place, and having a Labor govt for basically forever, and electing the first woman premier, and a significant proportion of the population voting for the greens etc. But why let reality get in the way of whatever little feeling of satisfaction you get from your amazingly witty and insightful comments.

    On the positive side, while it is embarrassing when Queenslanders vote in conservative governments, at least it pisses people like you off. I actually think that is why some of them do it. Yes, I know its immature but I can understand the impulse.

    And hey, our proportion of the national population just keeps on a growing and we got lots of swinging voters. So suck it up. And good on you – you make me want to vote for Tony Abbott. And I live in a seat where that counts.

  24. Ginja

    Good idea.

  25. John D

    In a previous post on informal voting I included a table that gave data correlating informal voting to various factors. The table indicates that OPV did correlate with increased informal voting in the federal election. However, factors such as number of candidates and the percentage of people in the electorate with low English skills were also factors. The speculation is that OPV correlates with higher federal election informals because people in OPV states assume that the feds would have switched to the fairer OPV system. There may also be confusion arising from the above the line Senate voting system. (The senate system may also prompt some voters may assume that preferences will be allocated by the party if they just vote 1.

    I have seen claims in the past that the percentage of informals were higher for people who clearly supporting Labor. So, in this sense, OPV would favor Labor.
    However, with the creation of the LNP and the growing importance of Green preferences to Labor, OPV would be expected to result in a loss of more preferences to Labor compared with the LNP.

    If Bligh were concerned about electoral fairness she should be arguing for OPV to be adopted federally instead of arguing for the end to OPV in Qld.

    So far I have seen little evidence that political parties have twigged that OPV means that they have to take more effort to actually convince people they are worth taking the effort to give preferences to. Bligh might even take the radical action of lifting her game and listening to her supporters in an attempt to improve her standing in Qld.

  26. Jesterette

    Mucking about with the electoral system when you are unpopular looks more desperate than bringing up the daylight savings debate, and as crooked as gerrymandering. I personally like OPV, and enjoy being able to vote for minor candidates and parties while still ultimately preferencing one of the major parties. Electoral reform is only a good thing when it results in a more just process for all involved.

  27. Graham Bell

    Let’s face it. Voting anywhere in the Australia of 2010 is almost as dodgy as a presidential election in the Former “Afghanistan”.

    The major “parties/factions” have the game sewn up from fake pre-selection right through to the “2-party-preferred” swindle. The only way things can possibly change for the better is to have a peaceful Velvet Revolution or some such mass protest against the crooks.

    My own concept of voting reform is to have a simple 1:2. That is, to mark ONE for your preferred candidate who would then get ONE full vote …. then mark TWO for your second choice who would then get HALF of a vote. When the counting is done, see who gets the higher score.

    Easy. Simple. Harder to cheat. Faster. More accurate (hands up all scrutineers who ever saw a perfect count). No moral outrage at having been forced to see your own vote go to an absolute rat. And it would better reflect what the community, rather than what the “party/faction”, wasnts. Fat chance that will happen in the present set-up though.

  28. Jacques Chester

    Andrew (and indirectly Fran);

    In effect, that means that your vote is evenly spread between all of them, rather than (essentially) arbitrarily allocated to one of them.

    That’s one of the drawbacks from the Impossibility Theorem. I must express a ordinal ranking, even if it is partly arbitrary.

    OPV means that I don’t have to express a complete ranking, but makes it possible for a candidate to win who the majority did not want.

    There is an unavoidable tradeoff. Both outcomes are ethically desirable, but both cannot be achieved.

  29. Tom R

    Doesn’t matter whether they replace OPV with FPV or not. I for one am going to continue voting either [1] Labor [2] Green, or [1] Green [2] Labor, or [1] decent Independent [2] Green [3] Labor, or [1] decent Independent [2] Labor [3] Green, even if the Electoral Act says that I’m supposed to number One Nation and half a dozen others as well for my vote to be valid. If that means Labor loses a valid vote that would otherwise end up with their boy (no pun int’d) a few days after polling day, well, sucks to be them.

  30. Lefty E

    A vote for Liberal is a vote for Labor! etc..

  31. Ginja

    Optional preferential voting just encourages the bitter and the feeble minded – i.e. many Greens voters – to throw away their votes.

  32. Fran Barlow

    Ginja said:

    Optional preferential voting just encourages the bitter and the feeble minded – i.e. many Greens voters –to throw away their votes.

    So is that an endorsement of OPV or a criticism?

    FTR:I reject the claim that many Greens voters are bitter and/or feeble-minded. I doubt that bitterness or feeblemindedness is amenable to objective measurement, but I rather suspect that if these were, they would be found in far greater weight amongst those giving their primary support to the major parties, along with animus, self-doubt and ignorance.

  33. Lefty E

    Quite teh opposite Ginja_ Gren voters are famous for ingoring their own party’s prefs and voting as they see fit. If they choose not to pref in an OPV situation – generally its because they dont want to.

    Its the major voters wmore likely to ‘drop off’ – unless told otherwise by their party.

  34. paul walter

    Anyone who falls for the Anna Bligh line deserves the title “feeble minded”, rather than QLD labor’s critics.

  35. Eric Bogle channelling Ginja

    Now here’s a song I’ve written
    ‘Cos it really is obscene
    How many Labor voters
    Have now gone and voted Green
    I just can’t understand why
    You’re all making such a fuss
    There must be something wrong with you
    There’s nothing wrong with us

    You’re a bloody rotten populace
    Whilst Labor’s very good
    If brains were made of oak and ash
    Then you’d have balsa wood
    We’re ethnic and authentic
    And we’re really working class
    While you’re ignorant, you’re cultureless
    You’re philistines en masse

  36. Lefty E

    Meanwhile in VIC: About time someone proposed the obvious solution to Melbourne’s formally excellent – but rapidly deteriorating – public transport systems.

    Privatisation has been a complete failure. The public knows it – and the Greens are saying it. Return it to public ownership, reinvest the income in infrastructure for a growing urban centre.

    The VIC ALP should be worried: this is a BIG vote winner. People in Melbourne are sick to death of this inefficient, shambolic private monopoly. Even neoliberals would agree there’s absolutely no logical reason why a private monopoly should deliver a good service. End this stupid Kennett policy, Brumby – or the Greens will!

  37. Ginja

    C’mon Green voters – you know you’re feeble minded.

  38. Ginja

    …but Left E is right about privatisation of mass transit – it never works out.

  39. Ginja

    …Lefty E.

  40. harleymc

    A compulsory vote for someone who does not represent you is not a free vote it is tyranny!
    I think it is within a strong moral framework to oppose (by any means) being forced to vote for your oppressors.
    Yes I am saying the ALP are oppressors! They are only one wing of the capitalist party in Australia, they are not friends of workers.

  41. Ginja

    Bugger me, tyranny.

  42. Graham Bell

    for harleymc (on 40):

    Yep. Yours is as concise and as accurate an assessment as you’ll find anywhere.

    Though let’s keep permanent voter enrollment. And keep compulsory voting too …. but with stiff penalties for failing to attend a polling place and place the ballot paper (marked or unmarked) directly into the ballot box.

    An eight-word (or 64-character) description or slogan or affiliation or party name by each of the candidates on ballot papers, under or beside their names, would be helpful for the voting public too.

  43. Paul Burns

    If voting was non-compulsory (and just one look at the shambles of the US system convinces one it should be compulsory, even if its just to put a blank ballot paper in the box) I would not delight in having the local Nats bombarding me with Liberal Party filth in an effort to get out my vote.
    OTOH, I spose I would alway get a lift to the polling booth.
    Besides, I get a perverse pleasure putting the Xtan democratic Party or some 4 sheets to the wind racist last on my ballot paper.

  44. Paul Norton

    WHat we are seeing today in the US illustrates what is wrong with voluntary voting. It empowers loud minorities who are under the delusion that they are the silent majority, whereas Australia’s system of compulsory voting requires the silent majority to bring their votes to bear on election outcomes.

  45. Fran Barlow

    And of course in Australia the system doesn’t compel anyone to cast a vote, but merely to have one’s name crossed off by a polling official