"The Electoral System"
The Electoral System POLS 2103 Australian Democracy Characteristics of electoral systems To understand electoral systems, three basic dimensions must be considered: • District Magnitude • Ballot structure • Electoral Formula District magnitude (DM) District Magnitude refers to the number of representatives chosen from an electoral district. DM may range from one (i.e. one member is elected from a constituency) to the total number of seats (i.e. the entire province or country is one constituency) Proportional systems require some districts with more than one representative The limit to how proportional a system can be is determined by the district magnitude – increasing DM size will increase the potential for proportionality There is no need for district magnitudes to be the same in every electoral district The ―personal connection‖ between voter and representative is likely to shift as the number of representatives from an area changes Ballot structure Ballot structure simply refers to the kinds of choices voters can make on the ballot paper when they go to vote. The range of choices includes: marking a single choice for a party or candidate indicating a set of preferences weighting choices by ranking candidates The structure of the ballot can: influence the balance of control between the parties and the voters, with respect to who actually gets elected as a representative influence internal party decision-making with respect to nominations – closed list systems give the party ―list makers‖ significant power control the nomination process, especially if it effectively determines election prospects, can affect the nature and strength of party discipline in the legislature Electoral formula The electoral formula determines how votes are turned into seats given the district magnitude and the ballot structure. It incorporates the mathematics and procedures for determining how many votes are required for election, and just who gets elected. It may also specify some kind of minimum electoral success – or ―threshold‖ – before a party can gain any representation. While electoral formulas vary widely, they tend to be grouped by three basic principles: plurality, majority, and proportional representation. Questions to consider ���� If elections are a contest, who are the contestants? Political parties or candidates? ���� Do you want a proportional system? If so, how proportional must it be? ���� Do you want to provide for local representation? If so, how big should the area represented be? How many representatives should it have? ���� What kind of choices should voters have on their ballots? ���� How important is it that the mechanics of the systems be simple and transparent? Arguments in favour of compulsory voting: Voting is a civic duty comparable to other duties citizens perform (e.g. taxation, compulsory education, or jury duty). Parliament reflects more accurately the "will of the electorate." Governments must consider the total electorate in policy formulation and management. Candidates can concentrate their campaigning energies on issues rather than encouraging voters to attend the poll. The voter isn't actually compelled to vote for anyone because voting is by secret ballot. Arguments against compulsory voting: It is undemocratic to force people to vote - an infringement of liberty. The "ignorant" and those with little interest in politics are forced to the polls. It may increase the number of "donkey votes". It may increase the number of informal votes (ballot papers which are not marked according to the rules for voting). It increases the number of safe, single-member electorates - political parties then concentrate on the more marginal electorates. Resources must be allocated to determine whether those who failed to vote have "valid and sufficient" reasons. Free and fair elections Australian electoral administration has an enviable reputation. In particular, the professionalism of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and the efficiency of its work have made it a source of best practice internationally. Elections are held regularly and different voting methods are used for upper and lower houses of parliament. This makes those houses that use proportional representation (usually upper houses) more representative of the population and their opinions than those that use single-member electorates and the alternative vote (AV). Turnout remains high by international standards, thanks to efficiently administered compulsory voting. But… On the downside, Australia has fallen behind comparable democracies in the regulation of party finance and has made electoral enrolment more difficult, particularly for new voters. Parliamentary terms (lower houses) Fixed term Date Component Term changed to Parliament (as of April 4 years 2008) CTH 3 years N/A Nil NSW 4 years 1981 4 years VIC 4 years 1984 4 years 3 QLD Nil years* WA 4 years 1987 Nil SA 4 years 1985 4 years TAS 4 years 1972 Nil# ACT 4 years 2003 4 years Always 4 NT 4 years 3 years years Federal elections that changed the government since World War II Result Election year 1949 Election of Liberal-Country Coalition government (Menzies) 1972 Election of ALP government (Whitlam) 1975 Election of Liberal-National Coalition government (Fraser)* 1983 Election of ALP government (Hawke) 1996 Election of Liberal-National Coalition government (Howard) 2007 Election of ALP government (Rudd) Political parties Although the centrality of political parties to Australian democracy was established by 1910, parties scarcely existed in a Constitutional or legal sense and were regarded as purely private organisations. They were not mentioned in the Commonwealth Electoral Act until 1984, when provisions were introduced for party registration, public funding and the inclusion of party names on ballot papers. The lack of party names on ballot papers had constituted a serious disadvantage for minor parties unable to provide workers for thousands of polling places across Australia. Without booth workers distributing how-to-vote cards, potential voters for minor parties had little chance of finding out who to vote for. Bias against independents The rise of Independents, particularly in rural and regional seats, is attributed to disillusionment with the major parties. Despite this rise in support for Independents, in general they do not experience a level playing field in systems designed for and by parties. For example, they are generally precluded from the popular option of ‗above the line‘ or ticket voting where that exists. The bias is least in the case of the South Australian Legislative Council where Independents are not only allowed to appear above the line but may have five words in addition to ‗Independent‘ with which to describe themselves. Past examples include ‗Independent No Nuke Dumps No Pedophiles‘. In Western Australia Independents can also participate in the ticket voting option, which in that State is ‗beside-the-line‘. Access to media Unlike countries such as New Zealand and the UK, Australia does not control political parties‘ purchase of political advertising time in the electronic media. The public broadcasters do provide free time in accordance with a formula similar to that in other democracies. However, on top of this, parties that can afford it can purchase unlimited amounts of paid advertising in the electronic media. The cost of television advertising, in particular, has caused an exponential increase in the cost of election campaigns and the increased dependence by the major parties on corporate donations. Responding to the existing ‗arms race‘ the federal government attempted in 1991 to ban the purchase of paid political advertising and substitute blocks of free time proportional to primary vote share at previous elections. The legislation was generally welcomed and supported by minor parties and Independents, subject to the free airtime being allocated in a way that encouraged diversity. Their support is easy to explain on grounds of political equality. Broadcast advertising is expensive and only available to well-funded parties, lobby groups or corporations. In the case of parties, only those seen as ‗business- friendly‘ can attract sufficient donations to engage in significant paid advertising. But… Australian Capital Television took the 1991 legislation to the High Court, which struck down the ban in 1992. The High Court found the ban contravened an implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution. Consequently the situation with regard to the electronic media reverted to that previously, with a ban on political advertising for the 48 hours prior to polling day (from midnight on Wednesday) being the only real limitation. Canada In the important case Harper v Canada (2004) the Supreme Court found that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression might be necessary in the interests of electoral fairness. In Canada there has been a ban on corporate political donations in force since 2003 and a cap on third party election spending, to prevent private money finding its way through other channels. It was the limit placed on third-party election advertising that was being challenged in Harper v Canada. The Court determined, however, that the restriction on freedom of expression was necessary to maintain a level playing field for political discourse and prevent wealthy voices from overwhelming others. The restriction of some voices was necessary so that others could be heard. Public funding some, but not all, Australian jurisdictions have introduced public funding to assist political parties to communicate with voters during election campaigns. In three jurisdictions (South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory) there is no public funding of parties and candidates for election purposes. Political equality? While Australian public funding systems maintain the principle of political equality and the level playing field reasonably well (despite drawbacks in being retrospective) they are undermined by the large corporate donations given to some parties. While all parties may receive around $2 per vote in public funding (if they are over the threshold), major parties are receiving five times as much this per vote once private donations are added in. Public and total funding of main political parties, 2000-03 Public $ Total $ % Public Party Australian Democrats 2 563 422 7 749 674 33.9 ALP 24 798 651 132 147 768 18.6 Greens 2 044 583 6 438 504 31.8 Liberals 21 012 402 120 178 248 17.5 Nationals 4 850 000 25 140 003 19.3 Incumbency benefits Incumbents have access to significant campaign resources relative to non-incumbent political candidates and incumbent governments have even greater access. Parliamentarians have the advantage of substantial parliamentary allowances for printing and postage, which are often used for electioneering purposes. They also have electorate and other staff whose travel is paid for even during campaign periods (conventionally up until the formal campaign launches, which now occur well into the period). The late Independent federal MP, Peter Andren, proposed that all parliamentary entitlements stop as soon as an election is called, but this proposal fell on deaf ears. Electoral systems Australian electoral systems are all preferential, whether the single-member alternative vote (AV) systems used in most lower houses or the STV form of proportional representation used for most upper houses. Under AV, if no candidate has won a majority of the votes, preferences are distributed, starting with the lowest-polling candidate, until one candidate has a majority. STV uses multi-member electorates and candidates need to achieve a quota to be elected; surplus votes and then the votes of lowest polling candidates are distributed according to preferences indicated by voters. These preferences may be allocated across party lines as well as between candidates of the same party. In the Tasmanian and ACT versions of Hare-Clark casual vacancies are filled by countback of the votes cast for the departed member to ascertain the next preferences. This is claimed to be the most democratic system in the world as the same minority that elected the member elects their successor—rather than it being left to a party or to a majority of voters at a by-election. Electoral systems of Australian parliaments, 2008 House No of Voting system Jurisdiction seats CTH Senate 76 STV, full preferential or above-the-line House of 150 AV, full preferential Representatives NSW Legislative Council 42 STV, partial preferential or above-the-line Legislative Assembly 93 AV, optional preferential VIC Legislative Council 40 STV, partial preferential Legislative Assembly 88 AV, full preferential QLD Legislative Assembly 89 AV, optional preferential WA Legislative Council 36 STV, full preferential or beside-the-line Legislative Assembly 59 AV, full preferential SA Legislative Council 22 STV, full preferential or above-the-line House of Assembly 47 AV, full preferential TAS Legislative Council 15 AV, partial preferential House of Assembly 25 STV, partial preferential ACT Legislative Assembly 17 STV, partial preferential NT Legislative Assembly 25 AV, full preferential House of Representatives: Elections won with a minority of votes Winner’s Leader of % of 2- winning party Winner’s % of seats Election date party preferred vote October 1998 Howard 48.9 54.1 March 1990 Hawke 49.9 52.7 October 1969 Gorton 49.8 52.8 December 1961 Menzies 49.5 50.8 May 1954 Menzies 49.3 52.9 Average enrolled voters per federal electoral division before 1983, after 1983 and at the 2007 federal election Average enrolment per division Average enrolment per division Average enrolment per division State March 1983 after increase 2007 election NSW 75 536 63 687 91 759 VIC 78 028 64 023 93 022 Qld 73 643 61 369 90 086 SA 80 085 67 764 97 838 WA 72 507 61 352 87 547 TAS 56 493 56 493 69 951 ACT 68 662 68 662 119 393 NT 57 471 57 471 59 023 Australia 74 989 63 335 90 977 How far does the legislature reflect the social composition of the electorate? Australian parliaments have never been a mirror of the population; groups that are significantly under-represented include women, Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds, blue-collar workers and Indigenous Australians. Although Australia was the first country in the world where most women could both vote and stand for the national parliament (under the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902), Australia soon fell behind European countries in terms of women‘s entry into parliament. As of 30 September 2008 Australia ranked 30th in the world in the Inter-Parliamentary Union‘s league table of representation of women in national parliaments Composition of Australia’s nine parliaments by gender and party, 30 October 2008 Male Female % Female Party ALP 274 161 37.0 Liberals 188 53 22.0 Nationals 55 10 15.4 CLP 10 2 16.7 AD 1 100.0 Greens 12 12 50.0 Other parties 10 2 16.6 Independents 21 11 34.4 Total 570 252 30.7 Source: Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia Turnout of registered voters Election date Turnout % Country Australia October 2004 94.7 Canada January 2006 64.9 New Zealand September 2005 80.9 UK May 2005 61.4 Problems In terms of fair elections, it is often difficult to achieve reforms because governing parties regard existing arrangements as being in their political interest. Often major scandals are required to prompt action. One example is the lack of effective regulation of corporate donations to political parties and the consequences of this both in terms of an equal basis for electoral competition and equality of access to political influence. A number of scandals built up momentum for change and in 2008 reform initiatives were being introduced both at federal and State levels Free and fair elections Strengths Tradition of non-partisan electoral administration Compulsory voting ensuring high turnout Some element of proportional representation in most jurisdictions Free and fair elections Weaknesses Elections sometimes won with a minority of votes A ‗shrinking‘ electoral roll Parliamentary under-representation of women, immigrants and Indigenous Australians