Tuesday, November 13, 2007

So is STV easy to use?

There's been several posts related to Australia lately - I guess that's what Googling the elections can do to you! But before I turn my attention homeward I've just been glancing at the Australian Electoral Commission: 2007 Federal Election - Candidates details and Senate preference flows website. This rather dry sounding page lists all the candidates for the election including the Senate which is elected by single transferable vote. (For more details see my past post On second chambers: The Senate of Australia.)

One thing that stands out above all else is that the ballot papers can be HUGE. The candidates in New South Wales are no less than seventy-nine.

How are voters supposed to be informed about every single one of these candidates so they can work out an order of preferences for all seventy-nine candidates? Even the most ardent follower of politics would find this task hard.

Of course there are two ways round this. One is to pick a few candidates you like then number the rest in the order they appear on the ballot - a donkey vote. Alternatively they can "vote above the line" which is to select just one box for a party, and their vote will be allocated in accordance with one of the party preference tickets submitted (also available on the site).

Curiously most of the ardent STV advocates in this country who are aware of how the Australian system works are fiercely critical of making it easier to cast a valid vote. Would they rather have lots of donkey and spoilt votes?

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