Queanbeyan-Palerang Community Voice

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Why form a Group?

Posted by Pete on July 27, 2017
Filed under: Election Commentary

As in both Federal and State government elections, candidates in Local Government elections can choose to stand as either a grouped or ungrouped candidate. In Federal and State government elections, groups are almost the exclusive domain of registered political parties, but this is not so much the case in Local Government elections.

Speaking as a member of a group of independent candidates standing in the upcoming Council election, there are several advantages over standing as an ungrouped candidate.

The first is purely pragmatic. There are two ways to vote in Local Government elections—either above-the-line or below-the-line. Check out the format of the ballot paper if it’s not immediately clear why the options are named this way.

Voters can cast a valid vote by simply placing the number “1” in one of the above-the-line (group) voting boxes, or by writing (at least) the numbers “1” to “6” (in the case of the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, where 11 councillors are to be elected) in voting boxes for individual candidates below-the-line. Provided more than two groups of candidates are registered for a particular Local Government Area, each group can be (and invariably is) allocated an above-the-line voting box.

In the 2004 Palerang Council election, around 40% of the population voted above-the-line, in 2008 the proportion rose to 50%, and in 2012 to more than 60%. In the 2012 Queanbeyan City Council election, the above-the-line vote was almost 90%. This alone is a compelling reason to have an above-the-line voting box—most of the population don’t even consider voting for individual or ungrouped candidates.

The second reason for standing as a group is also somewhat pragmatic. There is a lot of work to do in an election campaign, even before considering the size of an area like the Queanbeyan-Palerang region. It takes pretty much the same amount of work to campaign for a group of candidates as it does for a single candidate, but there are more people involved with a group, so there is a simple economy of scale.

And finally, working as a team there is the opportunity to draw on a much broader skill base than might be available to a candidate standing by themselves.

So, that’s groups for the candidates. What about the voters? What’s in it for them?

What’s in it for you?

Well, if you just want to get in and out of the voting booth as fast as possible, and avoid the prospect of a $55 ‘no show’ fine, you can’t get anything much easier than above-the-line voting.

For the less cynical, grouping of candidates does provide a means of identifying candidates with a common platform. If one candidate in a group is a known quantity, it might reasonably be assumed that the other candidates within the same group have a similar focus. Also, with above-the-line voting working as it does, there is an implicit casting of preferences from the leader of the group through the other candidates in the group.

Of course, voters can also vote for group candidates below-the-line, so grouped candidates still draw votes and preferences from voters who want to ‘hand pick’ their candidates. A critical difference, however, is that ungrouped candidates cannot draw any votes or preferences from people who choose to vote above-the-line, because ungrouped candidates have no above-the-line voting box.

And the disadvantages for the average punter…? Well, I can’t really see any, except maybe for the fact that there invariably end up being two or three times as many candidates as there might otherwise be, making the voting choice more difficult if a voter hasn’t taken the time to familiarise themselves with the candidates. But then, that’s precisely what the above-the-line group voting box is all about—find a candidate that you do know, and just vote for that group. Valid vote. Job done.

If only electing a good Council was that easy…

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