Preferencing in Fraser

An article in today's Canberra Times discusses the preference-ordering on the ALP How-to-Vote card for Fraser. The journalist made no attempt to contact me before going to press, leaving readers with the unfortunate impression that I support an extremist party.

As someone who is passionate about multiculturalism, eliminating discrimination, and building community, I was disappointed not to be offered a chance to respond. So here's a summary of what's going on.

In federal elections, it's compulsory to number all boxes. So major parties' How-to-Vote cards typically number all the boxes.

In choosing a recommended numbering for the ALP How-to-Vote card, we could do one of two things.

  1. We could number all the boxes in our order of preference. For me, this would put the Greens above the Liberals, above any party with a racist agenda.

  2. We could number the boxes in the simplest way possible, to reduce informal voting caused by people making mistakes.

Whether you do strategy #1 or strategy #2 depends crucially on whether you think there's a chance of your preferences being distributed. Any candidate who comes third or lower has their preferences distributed. The top two candidates' preference ordering is irrelevant.*

And here's the thing. Since the seat of Fraser was created in 1974, preferences of the Labor and Liberal candidates have never been distributed. In other words, it has never mattered in Fraser how Labor voters numbered the other boxes.

So that brings us to informal voting. From 2007 to 2010, the number of informal votes in Fraser nearly doubled, from 2679 in 2007 to 5171 in 2010.

Faced with the choice of worrying about a near-zero chance of Labor preferences being distributed, versus worrying about the very real rise in informality, Labor's How-to-Vote in Fraser opted to focus on reducing informality.

I haven't come lately to the issue of reducing informality. My 2010 book Disconnected crunches the stats on the rise in informal voting, I've spoken several times in parliament about reducing informality (eg. here, here and here), and Sunday's Canberra Times contained an article about my concern about reducing informality in Fraser.

Labor voters in Fraser should number the other boxes any way they want - our How-to-Vote just suggests the easiest option. The key is: if you want to vote Labor in Fraser, please don't make a mistake!

PS. The article also incorrectly describes me as the member for Canberra, but I'll leave it to another time to take umbrage with that error.

* This differs from the Senate, where most candidates have some of their votes distributed to other candidates. There, you really do need to worry about where parties' preference flows are going.

Post-election update (as at 10 Sept): As expected, my preferences were not distributed. Nationally, the informal voting rate rose, but in Fraser, current figures indicate that it has fallen from 4.4% in 2010 to 3.7% in 2013 (a larger drop than was recorded in the ACT overall). Had the 2010 informal voting rate prevailed, nearly 1000 people would have been excluded from the democratic process in Fraser.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.