Sunday, August 25, 2013

which door would you like? asked the devil*

The introduction of above the line voting in 1984 seriously reduced whatever influence voters might be thought to have. It sucks, and was a cynical alternative to any kind of optional preferential voting.

By now, some of you will be aware the Victorian Senate paper will have to show the names of a record number of candidates. Because the maximum size of the paper is fixed, the names of candidates will be so small that voting booths will be equipped with magnifiers. This state of affairs lends a whole new meaning to the caveat that we should always read the fine print in any contract.

Above the line voting – an option used by around 95% of voters - is much simpler, but results in preferences flowing according to registered group tickets. The details of these preference deals are available to voters but complex and rarely consulted. Even I, possibly obsessive about the strength weakness of democracy in Australia, have never bothered to delve too deeply into the details of preference deals done.
[But then, that may simply be because I'm one of the 5% who insist on numbering every square. It doesn't bother me that I have to hog a booth for three hours while I check and re-check my ballot paper.]

In Victorian Upper House elections, a numbered ballot is considered formal if it has at least 10 candidates numbered in a proper sequence – preferences are required, but numbering every single box is not.

In Federal Elections, both above the line and below the line systems have, in theory at least, a validation effect on results. Even if the person nominated by me below the line as the least desirable is elected, I might ultimately contribute in some degree to their success. Above the line voting also means that the allocation of undesirable preferences legitimises results, creating the impression that a candidate has voter approval.

The only way to show disappointment with the calibre of candidates is to vote informal, with the informal vote then dismissed as an indication of voter incompetence rather than disaffection.

In 1984, when Peter Garrett represented the Nuclear Disarmament Party, he had ten percent of the primary vote in NSW but failed to get elected. This result is attributable solely to preference horse-trading for above the line votes – in other words, to the manipulation of votes.

During this 2013 election campaign, both Rudd and Abbott are pooh-poohing the notion that independents have any place in a parliament. Both claim that they will not do deals to take power if their party is not a clear victor in this election. This spits on the Constitutional and Traditional rule that the Prime Minister should be the person who has the confidence of the House. The claim they will not do deals is blatant hypocrisy: Both major parties will be using the flow of above the line preferences as a major strategy in their efforts to gain office, and to influence who else, not in their own party, will be in the house after the election.

The last election result has shown that it is possible an independent representative can have power outside the party system. It is possible for people to elect a representative willing to put their own electorate's needs and concerns before party politics. It need not be the case that blue ribbon seats will always be neglected because parties don't see them as a priority.

The influence of independents could grow as the parties become increasingly undifferentiated, but this will depend on what voters think were the pluses and minuses of having Julia cobble together a workable government.

Again, the changes in 1984 seem designed to limit the chances of any independent even getting their deposit back. "Ungrouped" independents are invariably slotted onto the paper on the extreme right hand margin. If someone does not 'come to the party', so to speak, they are usually fighting a losing battle.

Should anyone insist that this election is not about personalities as much as policies, I would strongly disagree. Whatever the policies of each party might be, on major issues the parties are largely undifferentiated.

One thing Rudd has said which does highlight a difference – and he deserves some credit for having the guts to be honest about his own plans – is that the Liberal Coalition refuses to say what it proposes to cut to meet the cost of its own pork-barrelling and its stated intention to quickly balance the budget.

On balance, the bundles of policies offered by each of the major parties – so far as we can know what these policies are – scare the crap out of me.

In personality terms, I'm not sure Rudd would maintain the confidence of his own party for long; I am sure the Rabbit is an incoherent walking gaffe on wheels [in lycra]; and I'm absolutely certain that the idea of Joe Hockey representing my country to anyone is ulcer-inducing.

In 1984 I repeatedly heard people collecting how to vote cards state that they were voting for Peter Garrett [even though he was not a candidate in Victoria]. The reason they gave, repeatedly, was that he had the cojones to say what he thinks and this was quite refreshing in politics. The issue of nuclear disarmament itself seemed a total non-issue.

At other elections, I have repeatedly heard people ask how they can vote for Fred Nerks, or Joe Bloggs. This is not a criticism of their level of understanding of [or even interest in] the electoral process, I'm simply making a point that personality is everything for a large proportion of voters. [I will happily concede that personal anecdotes are proof of nothing, and that I might simply be suffering confirmation bias.]

I don't pretend to know of any solution to these or a hundred other vexing things about our system of government. Really, I'm just venting a deep seated feeling of impotence, and wishing there were some way voters could show a level of disaffection that no politician could deny. Above the line voting and mandatory completion of an entire paper below the line, however, are both designed to conceal the level of disaffection, not reveal it.

*I dreamt I died and [everybody say oooh with a disappointed tone] was sent straight to hell without collecting $200.
The devil was waiting to greet me, and asked me which door I would like to stay behind for all eternity; door 1, door 2, or door 3?

His manner was friendlier and less evil than I'd expected as he offered to give me a peek behind each door before I made my final decision.
Behind door 1 there was no fire or brimstone, simply a crowd of people standing in a waist high pool of ka-ka.
Behind door 2, another crowd of people, only they were standing up to their necks in ka-ka.
It surprised me when I saw that behind door 3, although the pile of ka-ka was significantly more malodorous than behind the other 2 doors, the mess was only ankle deep. No surprise, then, that the crush of people behind door 3 was huge.
I quickly opted for door 3 and a few seconds later found myself in amongst the door 3 crowd. While I scanned the sea of faces to see who was or wasn't there, a whistle blew and then an announcement came over a loudspeaker: "Okay, break's over, back on your heads, everyone."


  1. I love that joke. I love the idea of a Hell whenever I contemplate the many people who should be in one.
    Above the line is the cop-out vote which has given us all those idiot infamous QLD senators (Vince Gair, A. Pat Field).
    I despair that much of the electorate is ignorant of the fact that any ballot paper which has any mark on it other than the boxed one, any message, word, or symbol, is cast aside as Informal. breaks my heart.
    We operate a TV without knowing how it works, and a car without understanding combustion, and our government without a clue about The Process.
    Then everybody whines off a Letter To The Editor.

    1. Ann, I suspect I am living behind door 3.

      I whine in cyberspace, where few hear me scream. How did Constance E. Little become a regular feature? She must have been dashing off 100 letters a day to get such an impressive hit rate. After nearly 4 decades of trying my score is 3.
      Occasionally someone's published letter will give me pause, but it's difficult to discuss a complex issue in 200 words or less, and even more difficult to contain my irritation.

      As for ignorance of the system, am I mistaken or must someone seeking U.S. citizenship first prove they understand the system of 'democracy' there?
      With so many here who rarely speak English, or others who do speak English but not educated here voting, it's hard to see the relevance of questions about Don Bradman.

      BTW the arrangements you made for your father were quite thoughtful in light of what I have heard.

  2. yes, it certainly is about personality. I don't want either of them near me or my country. Oh dear, what to do? What to do?

    On Peter Garrett - I remember when he had the cajones to say what he thought. He was in a band. He was brilliant. Then he became a politician and his soul died. True story.

    1. Not sure how you feel, M, but I think it was specifically when he became a Labor politician that his soul died.

      But yes, the big question is what to do?
      I can't wait to see if the squares on this paper are too tiny to fit numbers in.

  3. tiny squares to enter numbers with a stubby pencil, as supplied? Do not risk money by betting against the likelihood, but take a fineline pen.
    While at your Polling Booth try to spot the Person In Charge. If it is one who never usually has any authority, he will pounce on you and insist that it is against the law to go to the rubbish bin and collect a stack of how-to-vote cards to give back to the volunteer outside who is running short. oh hilarity.