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5 Ways the Senate Voting System is Broken -- and How to Fix it

Lee Rhiannon 14 Jul 2015

1// It’s undemocratic

The current Senate voting system is almost like a lottery. You vote for one person, then your vote ends up electing somebody totally different.

Convoluted, complicated, and often secretive preference deals means you have no control over where your vote ends up. Some micro-parties are even created for the sole purpose of funnelling preferences and being a cog in the machine that manipulates your vote, distorting our democracy.

2// It’s secretive

The system we’ve got now gives political parties power over your preferences, letting them wheel and deal with ‘Group Voting Tickets’ to maximise their own chances.

If you vote [1] above the line and your choice doesn’t receive enough votes to get elected to the Senate, you have no control over where your vote goes next, and often no idea where it will end up.

In 2013 votes for progressive sounding parties like the WikiLeaks Party went toward conservative parties. Your vote can end up electing a Senator you don’t support - and you wouldn’t even know it.

 3// It produces perverse outcomes

In 2013, the Sports Party candidate in Western Australia was set to be elected on 0.2% of the vote (that’s less than 3000 votes out of more than a million). Think getting elected on 0.2% of the vote is perverse? It gets worse. The current rules allows for “leapfrogging” - where micro-parties negotiate complex preference arrangements that mean they can get elected instead of someone who wins more of the vote than they do!

Micro-parties have become very good at swapping preferences amongst themselves to allow them to “leapfrog” over candidates who have won a much bigger vote than them.

4// It’s too complicated

Backroom dealers who game the system are making elections easier for their candidates, but harder for voters. More tiny parties - and more parties that are just fronts for funnelling preferences - means bigger ballot papers, many more candidates, and means voters are more likely to vote above the line and hand over control of their preferences.

We support small parties and independents running for the Senate. We don’t support front parties trying to game the system and get elected on a unrepresentative vote that doesn’t reflect your voting intentions.

5// It undermines the Senate as a house of review

The Senate acts as a check and balance on the government of the day. The current electoral system undermines the integrity of the Senate as a house of review as candidates who win only a tiny fraction of the votes can be elected. This is not how an elected house of review should operate.

So what do we do about it?

The simplest and most democratic way to fix the Senate voting system is to outlaw secretive preference deals by abolishing Group Voting Tickets. This takes the power over preferences away from political parties, and gives it back to voters. It protects the rights of small parties to run and get elected if they have genuine voter support, but removes the incentive for micro-parties to set up “front parties” to funnel preferences through secretive and convoluted backroom deals. Your vote is as you intended.

Click here to read Lee's op-ed on some of the myths and miconceptions surrounding Senate reform.

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