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Voting in Local Government Elections

Posted by Pete on July 26, 2017
Filed under: Election Commentary

As the Queanebyan-Palerang Regional Council elections approach, it’s a good time to review how votes are distributed under the proportional representation voting system that is used for Local Government elections. The following is by necessity a simplified overview. The interested reader should consult Schedule 5 of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 for more detail.

The first thing to bear in mind is that, while you will be asked to vote for at least six (6) candidates, your vote will ultimately rest with only one. The process by which that one candidate is determined is the complicated part of any preferential voting system.

The second thing is to note that nominating the minimum number of candidates—in the case of the Queanbeyan-Palerang LGA, with eleven councillors, that will be six individual candidates if voting below-the-line, or one Group if voting above-the-line—may not be enough to make your vote count, even though it would otherwise be a perfectly valid and legal vote.

The proportional representation voting system used in Local Government elections includes the option to vote either above or below-the-line. Above-the-line voting is a simplified form of voting, which only requires the voter to place the number “1”, or even just a tick, in a single (above-the-line) box to cast a valid vote. A valid below-the-line vote requires the voter to place a number against at least six (6) individual candidates (in the case of the Queanbeyan-Palerang LGA).

Above-the-line voting in Local Government elections was often confused with the earlier style of voting used in Federal Senate or State Legislative Council elections, where political parties decided on the order of preferences that would be allocated if a voter did not specify any. In a Local Government election, however, placing the number “1” in an above-the-line box only allocates preferences within that Group (in the order in which the relevant candidates are listed). There are no preferences ‘automatically’ allocated to any other Group. The only way to allocate preferences to more than one Group when voting above-the-line is for individual voters to place numbers in the above-the-line boxes for more than one Group. If there is no number in an above-the-line box, there will be no preference distributed to that Group.

The point here is that, in Local Government elections, the preferences that might be recommended by a Group on their How to Vote card are irrelevant in the final analysis—preferences can only be nominated by individual voters.

Returning to the process of actually counting the vote, a candidate will be elected if and when they accumulate a quota of votes, a quota being equal to the number of votes cast, divided by one more than the number of candidates to be elected, plus 1 (e.g. if there were 12000 formal votes cast, then for the election of eleven candidates a quota would be 1001 votes).

When the ballot papers are first counted, they are ‘allocated’ to the first preference candidate (i.e. the candidate with the number “1” against their name). Any candidate with a quota or more of votes at this point is declared elected. Any over-quota votes, known as surplus votes, are then distributed to the nominated second preference candidates.

In the 2004 & 2008 Palerang Council elections, eight of the nine candidates elected have been those with the highest vote after the first preference count, and any distribution of surplus votes. Put another way, the first eight candidates have been effectively elected based on the first two preferences identified on ballot papers. Therefore, when casting your vote, you should take care to identify candidates in the order you would like to see them elected.

In contrast, all preferences have had to be counted to decide the last successful candidate. This is an indication of how close the competition is for that last seat and the upshot is that it is important to nominate as many preferences as possible—i.e. allocate a preference to any candidate that you would be happy to see on Council, not just the first six (6). Your last preference could be the vote that counts.

Just for the record, in both Palerang and Queanbeyan City Council elections in 2012, all nine candidates elected in each case were those with the highest vote after the first preference count, and any distribution of surplus votes. i.e. in these 2012 elections, preferences had no bearing on the outcome.

At the 2008 Palerang Council election, however, 593 ballot papers exhausted before the vote was complete—i.e. 593 voters didn’t offer enough preferences for their vote to count. The last five candidates, vying for the last seat, were separated by just 253 votes, and the last candidate was elected with just 559 votes, 34 votes fewer than the number of votes that exhausted. (A comprehensive analysis of the 2008 election is available on the Wamboin Community Association website.)

To be sure that your vote counts on September 9:

  1. Place the number “1” against the name of the candidate, or Group if voting above-the-line, you would most like to see on Council, and allocate your preferences in a similar fashion. For around 85% of voters, the first two preferences are all that will count;
  2. Allocate preferences to every candidate, or Group if voting above-the-line, that you would be happy to see on Council, not just the minimum number. For around 15% of voters, their twentieth preference (if there are that many candidates vying for the last seat) could make a difference.

One Comment

  1. Getting the most out of your vote on Sept 9 cross-reference
    August 29, 2017 @ 21:39

    […] former Palerang mayor, Pete Harrison, points out in his blog, that in the last two council elections, “eight of the nine Palerang candidates elected have been […]


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