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Prospects for the 2003 Legislative Council Election

Prospects for the 2003 Legislative Council Election

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 03/2003 by Antony Green
At the 1999 New South Wales election, voters were presented with an unusual physical challenge in trying to cast their votes for the Legislative Council. A record 264 candidates nominated for 81 groups on a ballot paper measuring one metre by 700mm. Quickly nicknamed the ‘tablecloth’, the ballot paper also created novel administrative problems for polling officials and Electoral Office staff, ranging from the need to increase the width of voting booths and provide larger ballot boxes, to hiring larger forklifts, trucks and planes to cope with the extra weight of paper.

As expected, the problems encountered in 1999 have produced a legislative response. Changes for the 2003 election include:
  • Tightened rules for the registration of political parties. (See Section 2.4)
  • Changes to the operation of group ticket or ‘above the line’ voting to prevent parties from automatically feeding preferences to other parties. (See Section 2.3)
  • Groups will have to nominate at least 15 candidates before they have access to a group ticket voting square, forcing most parties to nominate more candidates and effectively increasing the deposit fee.
  • A new form of ‘above the line’ voting will be introduced, allowing voters to express preferences for parties, in the same way they can express preferences for candidates ‘below the line’. (See Section 2.3)

This research paper sets out to explain the complex procedures used to elect the Legislative Council, and also to speculate on how the new rules of the game will work at the 2003 election. The publication is arranged as follows:

Section 2 provides some historical background on the Legislative Council and its electoral system. A brief history of the Legislative Council is provided, along with background on changes to the ballot paper and the registration of political parties since 1978. A brief summary of the new procedures for the 2003 election is provided, along with a list of parties registered to contest the election.

Section 3 explains in detail the counting procedures and calculations used in the count. What is a quota? How are preferences distributed from excluded candidates? What are surplus to quota votes for elected candidates and how are they determined? How is the New South Wales system different from those used to elect the Commonwealth Senate and Tasmanian House of Assembly?

Section 4 looks at past Legislative Council elections for evidence on how voters fill in their ballot papers. The tendency for voters to number straight down party groups or to use the group ticket voting square is demonstrated, and the political impact of group ticket voting explained. The results of new research by the author on below the line voting from the 1999 election is also provided as a guide to the way voters for particular parties direct preferences.

Section 5 speculates on how the new electoral system will operate in 2003. Details of past elections are provided in Appendix 1, while details of the 1999 ballot paper survey are set out in Appendix 2.

Some Important Definitions
Proportional Representation (PR): Any electoral system that attempts to elect representatives of parties in numbers roughly proportional to their proportion of the vote. Many forms exist around the world.
Proportional Representation by Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV): The generic term for the form of proportional representation used for elections in Australia. There are minor variations in the form of PR-STV used in different states. (See Section 3 for details.)
Quota: Under PR-STV, the number of votes required for election, and also the number of votes set aside during the count as electing a candidate. (See Section 3.3.)
Surplus to Quota votes: Votes above the number required to elect a candidate, and which under PR-STV are then distributed as preferences to other candidates. (See Sections 3.4 and 3.5 for details.)
Partial Quota: Used in this publication to refer to the total vote for parties, expressed in terms of quotas, after the election of all candidates achieving a full quota during the initial stages of the count.
Group ticket voting (GTV) or ‘above the line’ voting: The option available in Senate and New South Wales elections where voters can select to vote for a group’s ticket of preferences rather than vote for individual candidates. (See Section 2.2 for details of the ballot paper.)
‘Below the line’ votes: The option available in Senate and New South Wales elections where voters express preferences for individual candidates. (See Section 2.2 for details of the ballot paper.)
Groups: On the Legislative Council ballot paper, candidates can ‘group’ themselves together and be allocated a column on the ballot paper. A group does not have to be a political party, and a group can also consist of two or more political parties.
Primary Vote: The first preference or ‘Number 1’ vote on a ballot paper.
Preferences: All numbers on a ballot paper other than the primary vote. The word is also often loosely used to mean the distribution of preferences, which is the process where preferences of ballot papers are examined, and the ballot papers transferred to other candidates in the count.
Effective Candidate: Either the top of ticket candidate for a group that receives less than a quota of votes, or the top remaining candidate on any group that receive more than a quota of votes.

I would like to thank NSW Electoral Commissioner, Mr John Wasson, for making available the data set of below the line votes from the 1999 New South Wales Legislative Council election. I would also like to thank staff of the State Electoral Office for their assistance, in particular the help of Mr Terry Jessop.

The Author
Antony Green is an Election Analyst with ABC Television, and has worked for the ABC on every federal, state and territory election coverage since 1989. He also writes regularly on electoral matters for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Antony studied at Sydney University, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and computing, and a Bachelor of Economics with Honours in politics. Antony has prepared many publications for the Parliamentary Library on different aspects of New South Wales electoral politics.