There is clearly a major problem in the system we use to elect the Senate. For the third election in a row it seems that Senators will be elected on the basis of preferences allocated by other parties which would be deeply offensive to the supporters of those parties. In 1998, the openly gay Democrat Brian Greig was elected to the Senate from WA with the preferences of the Christian Democrats. In 2001, the Greens' Kerry Nettle polled just over 4% in NSW but managed to secure a massive flow of preferences. In 2004 Steve Fielding from Family First secured less than 2% of the vote, but managed to get elected with the preferences of a range of parties including the ALP and the Democrats.
What's the problem? The problem is that voters who vote above the line give the party of their choice complete control over where those preferences go. Sometimes they use that power wisely, otherwise they simply use it for political advantage. The only way that voters can control where their preferences go is to number each and every box below the line - 78 candidates in NSW this year - a complex task that discourages more than 90% of voters from utilising it.
What's the solution? We need a slight variation on the existing voting options. Instead of either one box above the line or every box below it, we need the following alternative:
- Voters can number every box below the line OR
- Voters can number every box above the line, and this will be as if the voter had numbered the candidates from top to bottom in each list in the order of the parties chosen
The advantages are significant:
- Parties no longer decide on the allocation of preference for the bulk of voters, instead the voter themself does this
- Voters who are overwhelmed by dozens of names on the ballot paper can instead chose from the smaller list of parties
- Preferences will no longer flow away from the intention of the voter who votes above the line
It's easy, it's practical, but most of all it's democratic.