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33 responses to “Two member electoral system with floating members”

  1. Luke Jaaniste

    Another benefit would be that candidates who know they aren’t going to win a seat may still have motivate to campaign in order to win the 2nd seat for the electorate. This could improve the quantity of campaigning and quality of debate at the local level.

  2. wilful

    I don’t mind these thoughts of thought experiments,as long as everyone knows that they are strictly ideas bubbles. The very idea that Australia would change its electoral system more than minorly is quite laughable.

  3. Paul Norton

    John D, it’s not entirely clear from your presentation how the two members (government and non-government) for each electorate would be elected. Would it be the two leading candidates on two-candidate preferred? If so, what would happen in situations like the Federal seats of Lyne, New England, Kennedy and O’Connor at the 2010 election?

  4. Darryl Rosin

    “The very idea that Australia would change its electoral system more than minorly is quite laughable.”

    Australia (and the colonies prior) has historically been a great innovator in election processes and is the world leader in electoral administration. We can make grand changes, but it will take time and effort from dedicated citizens.


  5. Alan

    This seems to me to come very, very close to the system imposed on Chile by Pinochet and it has the same disadvantages. Pinochet imposed 2 member districts using an open list system. His aim was to benefit the Right and he largely succeeded. The Concertación has to win approximately 70% of the vote in each district to win both seats and they have to co-ordinate on a single candidate which is a challenge for a very broad coalition.

    Using the 2PP to identify the government has its own problems because you effectively are asking people to vote twice with a single ballot. You then guarantee the winner of the 2PP a majority in parliament. Really what is the difference between this system and what we have now?

    Independent candidates do well on AV and quite well on STV. It’s hard to see how an independent could be elected under this system. I am not sure that minor parties would fare much better.

    I am not at all clear what the floating members are for and how they would be elected, but it feels like a very strange flavour of MMP where the list seats go largely to the government. I may be reading the thing compeltely wrong.

    Italy and Greece use a system called bonused PR where the leading party gets,in Greece, 1/6 of the MPs as a bonus. That is why the austerity parties were able to form government after the last election. Again, I may be reading it completely wrong, but it seems to me this system would be horribly confusing, not transparent at all and would result in a guaranteed majority for the 2PP winner.

    I don’t see those as advantages at all.

  6. Fran Barlow

    I’ve commented in the toher thread and before on my preferred system. I’m not in favour of state government in any event and prefer a unicameral Federal parliament working with regional government. “Local council” functions would be carried on subcommittees of the regional government.

    Briefly, candidate selection would be by resort to sortition and deliberative voting after a process in which the candidates were trained in areas they were interested in and began in consultation with experts to develop policies that they thought worthy. Parliament would be the result of this process though a broad brush national management plan covering timelines of up to ten years would be devised by the parliament and approved by the people in a direct vote. These could be amended in the same way.

    This is all pretty radical and realistically, not liklely to occur any time soon — if only because the current stakeholders — the major parties — would be sidelined from the process by what would amount to inclusive governance.

    So putting aside the radical in favour of a some tinkering at the edges …

    One could have a single member PR system for each level of governance.

    As is the case now, each party (or individual) could attempt to win a seat by contesting it directly. Each seat could then be allocated by proportion. A party that achieved 40% primaries would get 40% of the seats (rounded down to the nearest integer). In an 89-seat parliament that would be 35 seats. A second party achieving 30% of primaries would 26 seats and so forth. Any party that failed to get 3% of the primaries would get no allocation.

    Allocation would proceed in order of proportion. The candidates with the greatest primary vote in each seat would be sorted by support, and the seats allocated to each in sequence until each party had achieved their quotas (in the above examples, 35 seats, 26 seats etc). When all parties achieving 3% or better and having a winning primary candidate had been allocated their seats any remaining quota allocation would be from the second highest primary winner and so forth until all quotas had been met. Unallocated seats would then be awarded to the winner on 2PP in each seat. This last measure would ensure that candidates with a strong local base but lacking the resources to campaign state or Australia wide were not effectively excluded from participation.

    Taken as a whole the system would have the following features:

    1. no excess of MPs over existing situation
    2. no wasted votes or blue ribbon seats; malapportionment becomes moot.
    3. localism largely preserved
    4. incentive to tailor candidates to capture local votes even in seats where under the present system this is pointless as there’s no chance of winning
    5. incentive to campaign to maximise primaries rather than 2PP — so more likely to produce parties with clear policy differentiation
    6. harder for purely local factors to do major damage to a party state wide or Federally
    7. All substantial bodies of opinion represented in parliament in rough proportion to their support at vote.

    The only negatives might be that in some seats, the highest primary winner wouldn’t get the seat and it would be allocated to a rival from another party or perhaps the 2PP winner. Since each party would be getting its fair share though this is trivial.

  7. Alan


    That’s a straight ListPR system. It’s deeply punitive to independents, less so for minor parties. Assigning MPs to fictional single-member districts is not going to convert ListPR into a system with local members. The German state of Baden-Württemberg uses something close to it. I’m not clear if your proposing open, flexible or closed lists.

  8. John D

    Paul @3: The government member for a particular electorate would be the government candidate for the electorate.
    The non-government member is elected using the normal referential vote counting system. All ballot papers who gave first preference to the government would be excluded from the count.
    If a party (or registered coalition) has more than one candidate in an electorate, the counting system starts by reducing the number to one using the ballot papers that gave their first preference to that party. Candidates that are rejected at this stage stay rejected after their preferences are distributed.

  9. Alan

    John [email protected]

    That procedure would severely distort the count. In some districts the government MP would have needed preferences other candidates. The electors who cast second preferences for government candidates then also have their votes counted again for the non-government MP election? It’s hard to imagine a system more prone to tactical voting.

    Indeed, a party that expects to win the 2PP doesn’t have to worry about electing candidates at all so the obvious tactic would be suggesting their supporters influence the election of the non-government MP by voting for that candidate.

    The alternative case is a blue ribbon seat. In Australia that can mean the winning party takes the seat by up to the low 70s. Less than 30% of the electors in such a district get their own MP. You do have the list MPs, whom you call floating MPs, to address overall proportionality, but your fundamental problem is that electors in different places are going to have wildly variable values for their vote.

  10. John D

    Alan @ 5: You really need to read my post. One of the things I emphasized was that this particular system was required to produce a fair result that could not be corrupted by gerrymandering or the accidents of geographical distribution of supporters. My system doesn’t favour either side of politics.
    The floating members are there to bring the distribution of members closer to what would have been achieved if proportional preference counting had been used and the state had been one big electorate. It is a mechanism for producing a fairer deal for minor parties.
    Table 2 in my post predicts my system would have given the government a majority in its own right. This is only because the government did so well at the last election. It would be most unusual for the 2PP winner to have a majority in its own right.
    I did think at one stage of awarding the 2PP winner bonus members as a mechanism for producing strong governments. Campbell Newman has reminded me that checks and balances are far more important.
    It is quite likely that a strong independent would win the non-government vote.

  11. John D

    Alan @ 9: You are quite right, a cunning LNP supporter might give their first preference to an independent conservative, second to LNP with the idea of influencing the non-government vote if the LNP wins the 2PP. However, the distribution of floating members will tend to compensate for that. The other risk in this case is that, if the LNP doesn’t win the 2PP it runs the risk that the independent conservative will win the non-government position leaving the LNP without a member in that electorate.
    At one stage I thought of weighting MP’s vote in parliament as a way of dealing with different size electorates and the differences in level of support you talk about. It has it’s merits but it also adds to the complication.

  12. jumpy

    Outside the box eh?
    Restore Australia have a draft Constitution that fits that description.
    LONG as hell pdf.
    Any thoughts?

  13. Alan

    What you need to do is adopt an idea from STV by Wright method and and treat all 2PP winning candidates as if they had not stood. Identifying government voters only from first preferences is going to lead to massive inequities.

    You will still have to deal with the possibility, as happens in Chile, of dummy candidates who run as independents or members of ghost parties to try and hijack both seats in a district. Perhaps after yesterday’s farce the practice could be called Creaning.

    Even with Wright-STV, it is not at all obvious how proportional the overall result would be or whether independents would have any chance of election.

    You would then be proposing a strange form of MMP where (1) government and opposition always get 50% of the district MPs and (2) you are using a relatively small compensatory tier of list MPs to try and achieve proportionality. The classic ratio of district MPs to list MPs is 1:1 as in New Zealand and Germany, but in those systems there is no rule that the government gets half the district seats.

    Labor actually won the federal 2PP in 2010, but from a base of 37.99%. Under your system they would have half the district seats and I am not at all sure the size of compensatory tier your propose could correct that imbalance between seats and votes.

  14. Alan

    I guess it would be reasonable for me to put forward my own ideas on electoral reform, which I agree is vital to moving from a winner takes all democracy to a consensus democracy.

    Arend Lijphart studied a set of 36 countries in Patterns of Democracy. At p276 he compares the performance of consensus democracies and majority democracies:

    Consensus democracies demonstrate these kinder and gentler qualities in the following ways: they more likely to be welfare states; they have a better record with regard to the protection of the environment; they put fewer people in prison and are less likely to use the death penalty; and consensus democracies in the developed world are more generous with their economic assistance to the developing nations.

    I’d argue quite strongly that there is a clear link between winner takes all politics in countries with very low district magnitudes like Australia and the adoption of neoliberal polices.

    I would not re-invent the wheel. I would use STV.

    A single preference would make a valid vote. Districts would have variable magnitudes, but the ratio of electors to MPs would be uniform. All districts would have an odd number magnitude ranging from 1 in remote areas to 9 in urban centres. You would probably restrict 3-member districts to country areas. There is a reasonable case for an option for indigenous representation on the model of the Maori seats in New Zealand. Boundaries would be drawn by an independent authority the way it is now. Each electorate would be organised into the same number of subdivisions as its magnitude. By-elections would be held in a subdivision if the MP for that subdivision left the parliament.

    The system of ticket voting from the NSW legislative council would be used, where you number parties according to your own choice, not theirs. I would also allow people the option of numbering candidates within a ticket differently from the registered ticket.

    This would produce a representative parliament. It would treat all electors equally. It would not discriminate between parties or between parties and independents.

    I agree there are some problems with minority and coalition governments. I do not think those problems are significant enough to try and create artificial majorities for the party that wins the 2PP.

    Australians are used to STV. They would not find this system unthinkable.

  15. Fran Barlow


    That’s a straight ListPR system.

    No it isn’t. Every person elected has faced a his/her electors as an individual.

    It’s deeply punitive to independents, less so for minor parties.

    No it isn’t. If you win the primary in your electorate as an Indy, you will almost certainly win the seat in practice, because the major party allocations will go to others of the party standing in other seats. If Indies collectively get about 20% of the vote for example, the major party quotas decline a lot, opening up far more seats for 2PP distribution. If the Indy wins the primary, he/she has an even better chance of getting the seat.

    Assigning MPs to fictional single-member districts …

    They aren’t fictional. People stand for the seats.

    The party as a whole controls who stands, as is the case now, but obviously, not who wins. The only weakness of the system — and I’m not sure it is a weakness in the bigger picture — is that in some seats the member may be the first choice of a minority in that seat and will have, in effect, been got across the line as a consequence of the support of those electors of the whole country, state, or local government, who would have been disenfanchised in their own electorates by the operation of our current system.

    In my case, for example, there is virtually no chance that my vote will ever assist a Green to either achieve office (or as in the case of Adam Bandt, resist being ejected from office. I will always be ‘represented’ by someone I oppose — which is one reason I choose not to cast a formal ballot. Under my arrangements however, I could assist a Green somewhere in the country get across the line. In 2010, there would have been about 17 of them.

  16. Alan


    If the number of seats a party wins is determined by their vote across all seats then it is a list system like the Netherlands or South Africa. If you then allocate individual reps to local districts that’s fine but it is the statewide count that matters. Allocating reps to districts is probably a good idea in itself because it allows by-elections, a characteristic weakness of PR.

    The problem with statewide proportionality followed by a best winner rule is that you get fewer independents than with AV or FPTP, so you don’t have equality between electors , between parties and between candidates. You also get counter-intuitive district results where a candidate rejected by the district still becomes the ‘local’ MP.

    PR is a really good idea, but it doesn’t have to be reimagined from the ground up.

  17. Fran Barlow


    The problem with statewide proportionality followed by a best winner rule is that you get fewer independents than with AV or FPTP, so you don’t have equality between electors, between parties and between candidates.

    I’d like to see the stats on that. I’d say the infrequency of Indies reflects the difficulties they have in achieving name recognitiion along with the perception that as they are not a governing party and hung parliaments are the exception that they will have no effective power to achieve any outcome. Few wish to ‘waste’ their vote on an independent or even a minor party. The Nationals only get as many as they do because they are part of typical coalitions.

    The system I’ve proposed would relatively advantage neame recognised Indies by preventing parties good at getting across the line in 2PP contests from scooping up more seats than their proportional support merits — and handing off the leftovers to others who could get 2PP or nearly get 2PP.

  18. Fran Barlow

    PS: While I recognise that one can’t assume parties and electors would behave the same way as they do now in voting terms under a system as I’ve outlined it, if they did, Windsor, Oakeshott, Wilkie, Katter and Crook would all have been easily elected. Mopre impressively, they’d probably be re-elected on September 14 under my system because the Libs and Nats would probably have to trade as separate parties and the Nats are over-represented. If the Nats fell back to their 3-5% New England and Lyne aren’t places they’d lead on primaries.

  19. Alan

    The Tweede Kamer in the Netherlands and the Knesset in Israel are both elected by List PR with the whole country forming a single electorate. If your proposal were to produce independent representatives you would expect them there. There are none. There are some very small parties but there are no independents. That is true for the last 3 general elections in each country. After that I stopped counting.

    The explanation is that it is very difficult for an independent to build up name recognition across an entire country or state. Even Nick Xenophon started off as a state MLC before running for senator. Independents are not restricted to country areas. The NSW seats of Bligh, Balmain, Manly, and North Sydney have all elected independents, some for several terms.

    Ditto the federal seat of North Sydney.

  20. jumpy

    No legitimate vote is a ” waste “.
    In a post election autopsy all votes are an important peace of data.
    To vote informal is the biggest ” waste “. It gives no indication of voter preference.
    Informal in the 2010 election was %5.55, a massive block of voters whose intentions are unknown.
    Anyone got the good oil on the changes in electoral legislation that pasted this week ?

  21. Alan

    Like John’s system you have the problem of ghost candidates. We now know that Richard Torbay, the former alleged independent for the NSW seat of Northern Tablelands and speaker of the legislative assembly,was actually a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of the Obeid interest, and had a very good chance, until the ICAC hearings, of becoming the federal member for New England.

    The Obeid/Torbay strategy can partly be cured by better campaign disclosure laws, but Torbay simply did not disclose the Obeid contributions. Incidentally one of the reasons you and I disagree over the prime minister is because she murdered the federal integrity commissioner idea, even though establishing one was in the agreements she signed with The Greens, and with Oakeshoot and Windsor.

  22. Fran Barlow


    No legitimate vote is a “waste”.

    1. For years, this is what the majors said of votes for minor parties and Indies. “Don’t throw your vote away” they urged.

    2. While all votes are formally counted, in practice, very few are decisive. This is one definition of “waste”. It really doesn’t matter if the governing party wins every seat in the house by just one vote. They will have 100% of the seats and the other side 0% despite having defeated them by 150 votes. By definition all those who voted for the losing side have wasted their votes. Their votes were counted, but they were moot. They failed to stop a landslide.

    Indeed, one can argue that the 74 people across the country whose voted ensured that the winning team got 150 seats also wasted their votes since they didn’t change who formed government. Had they voted for the other side, the winning side would have won 76-74 and that would have made a huge difference.

    Another interesting variant is one in which the losing side wins its seats with huge majorities but the winning side simply scrapes across the line. The losing side has been inefficient in marshalling support and paid a serious price. It may well have achieved 60% or 70% support but still lost.

    Those surplus votes were also wasted because they made no difference to the result, relative to the situation that would have obtained if the losing side had also won its seats all by 1 vote.

  23. Fran Barlow

    PS: Informal votes are not a waste — at least, not necessarily.

    If someone intends to vote for Party A and makes an error that renders it informal, that’s a waste. OTOH, if they wish to vote “none of the above” and instead vote informal, then they have voted so as to avoid contaminating the voting record with misleading data. The data may not be useful but at least it’s consistent with a correct inference. That makes it as useful as the system permits.

  24. Alan

    I think every ballot should have a none of these option so people can formally reject all the candidates. How to apply a none of these vote ( beyond not counting it for any party) is seriously complex where magnitude >1.

  25. jumpy

    Voting ” none of the above ” indicates a few thing about that individual voter and none of those things are constructive.
    Having said that I encourage you to continue voting the way you do and if a fund to help you spread this behaviour among far left progressives is established, I for one will consider donating generously as will the LNP and ALP. 🙂

  26. Fran Barlow


    I think every ballot should have a none of these option so people can formally reject all the candidates.

    Although I’m in favour of making voting voluntary, I’d regard this option as a reasonable compromise. Optional preferential would also work even better in concert.


    Voting ” none of the above ” indicates a few things about that individual voter and none of those things are constructive.

    As always, YMMV …

    Having said that I encourage you to continue voting the way you do and if a fund to help you spread this behaviour among far left progressives is established, I for one will consider donating generously as will the LNP and ALP.

    I’d be happy to run it, though as many of us are in blue ribbon seats, it would scarcely matter, as our votes are moot in any event.

    AIUI, it’s an offence under the Electoral Act to encourage someone to vote informal. That also says something about the legitimacy deficit of governments.

  27. jumpy


    As always, YMMV …

    A quick google of ” YMMV ” meaning shows ” You Make Me Vomit ”
    I sincerely hope you have a stronger stomach than that.

  28. tigtog

    I shudder to think why you’ve been doing so many searches on vomit that Google gave you that as the first result, jumpy.

    For the rest of us, the first several pages return the classic “Your Mileage May Vary”.

  29. jumpy


    For the rest of us, the first several pages return the classic “Your Mileage May Vary”.

    Thanks Tigtog and apologies Fran ( although ambiguity it on your head on this )

    I shudder to think why you’ve been doing so many searches on vomit that Google gave you that as the first result, jumpy.

    My laptop is shared with a woman, perhaps that’s it.

  30. Fran Barlow


    I shudder to think why you’ve been doing so many searches on vomit that Google gave you that as the first result, jumpy.

    YMMV (your mileage may vary) is really just “your own experience may differ from mine) figuratively following the classic US disclaimer on vehicle fuel consumption.

  31. tigtog

    I shudder to think why you’ve been doing so many searches on vomit that Google gave you that as the first result, jumpy.

    My laptop is shared with a woman, perhaps that’s it.

    Unless she’s in the early stages of pregnancy, doing enough searches on vomit to distort the results that way means something is not normal. Even if she does have morning sickness, that’s not trivial, either.

    Perhaps you should encourage her to visit her GP?

  32. jumpy


    Perhaps you should encourage her to visit her GP?

    Being a would-be/future nurse I’m sure she need no encouragement from me.
    She may wonder why Tasmania has a disproportionate number of Senate representation in regard to population than other states and how that unfairly give the greens unwarranted influence.
    I’d tell her Tasmania should be striped of statehood and be a Territory.
    What would you tell her?

  33. Alan

    I’d tell her Tasmania should be striped of statehood and be a Territory.

    I would point out to her that the senate has reflected the popular vote more accurately that the house since the adoption of STVPR, despite the disparity of representation in the senate, and that dealing with reality is more important than imagined concerns. I would also point out there is no democracy with Australia’s population and area that has a unitary government and that even the ‘classic unitary’ countries like France and Britain are fast evolving along the lines of multilevel governance like everyone else.

    I might even point out that France and Britain adopted unitary government as a way of subjugating regions with different cultures like the Scots, Irish, Basques, Bretons, Occitan-speakers. Australia has a severe democratic deficit but Tasmania is not one of them.