Victoria’s Count Back System of Shame

The City of Melbourne has concluded the count back of the 2008 Municipal Election ballot to determine who will fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Councillor Peter Clarke.

The successful candidate was Jackie Watts (Peter Clarke’s number 2 on his ticket).

Over 6,000 votes that should have been counted were excluded from the count.

Raising further concern about the system of Proportional representation used in Victoria’ municipal elections.

Whilst the result of the count back are not brought into question the method used in the count back is very much questioned..

Under the system adopted there are seven councillors elected to the Council with a quota of just under 1/8 of the total vote. The total vote divided by (the number of vacant positions plus one) minus one. Of which Peter Clarke represents one eighth.

Peter Clarke was not elected on the primary vote and relied on the distribution of preferences from other candidates. Clarke’s surplus votes were also distributed on assisting the election of other councillors who were elected later in the count.

Peter Clarke had a primary vote of 5511 votes at full value (1.000)

He received an additional 3205 votes at full value and 18 fractional value votes following the distribution of preferences from excluded candidates and other candidates surpluses. Total value 8734

The quota for election was 7415. Clarke’s surplus of 1319 which was distributed to other candidates, remaining in the count, according to the voters nominated order of preference.

Under the VEC rules the recount only took into consideration the votes that formed Clarke’s original quota, they failed to take into consideration other unused residual votes that remained on the table, effectively a full quota of votes was ignored in the recount. Votes which could have determined the outcome of the recount and the candidate who filled the casual vacancy.

By only considering Clarke’s original set of ballot papers that were used to elect him the system has double counted some votes and excluded other votes which legitimately should have been counted.

The formula that should have been used should have proportioned Clarkes original set of ballot papers so that they together equal quota (Quota divided candidates total value of votes) times the value of the each vote.

This value should have then been added to any remaining residual value that had not been used at the conclusion of the original count brining the count to its final conclusion. In a full preferential ballot this should equal two quotas minus one. (Taking into consideration and exhausted votes that failed to express a valid preference for any continuing candidate.

All unelected Candidates should have been reactivated and include in the recount and value of the votes outstanding redistributed according to the voters nominated preference until a candidate has reach the original quota value.

This is not the process that the VEC or the legislation applied. They only considered the ballot papers that made up Clarkes original quota votes that when combined with the other residual votes could have produced a different result. But excluding the residual votes from the count these voters have been denied equal representation.

By Way of a theoretical analogy

The ALP number 3 Senate Candidate Jacinta Collins may have been elected on the back of preferences from the DLP who preferenced Jacinta Collins then preferenced Family First or some other candidate ahead of the ALP’s other candidates. The DLP vote when they were excluded from the Count continued on to elect Collins in the original election.

If Collins position subsequently became vacant and count back was used to fill the casual vacancy, under the VEC rules the ALP’s number 4 candidate would be elected but not on merit or on in accordance with the voters chosen candidate. The DLP vote would have been transferred to the Family First Candidate not the ALP and this vote could have resulted in Family First reaching quota before the ALP number 4 candidate. In a fair accurate system Family first’s Steve Fielding should be elected on the count back.

The City of Melbourne count back has highlighted some serious flawed in the system of proportional representation that has been adopted.

Flaws that were introduced by poor legislation drafting and designed to facilitate an outdated manual counting process. With the use of computer based technology it is possible and highly desirable that the system is reviewed and the rules amended to reflect more accurately the voters choice. Our system of Proportional representation and the count back rules, as they currently exist, is not really proportional but semi proportional at best.

If we cannot fix the system so that it accurately reflects the voters choice then we might as well do away with preferential voting which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to count and adopt a similar cheaper party list system as is used in Europe.

If we are going to retain the preferential voting and the associated expense of counting it then it should be accurate.

One thought on “Victoria’s Count Back System of Shame

  1. If you recount the original 2008 election excluding Peter Clarke from the count, and redistributing preferences accordingly, then Rohan Luppert (Greens) is elected to the seventh position with Jackie Watts missing out.

    Excluding the value of the residual vote (Value of votes that have not formed part of an candidates existing quota that are left on the table) clearly is wrong as these votes should be counted in any recount situation.

    The State Government should examine in more detail the legislative provision that have been adopted so as to ensure that the method of counting the vote is accurate and fully reflects the intentions of the voter. The guiding principle being that all votes should be treated equally and that the distribution of preferences should be such as if a candidate that is excluded from the count had never stood.

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