Voting Systems

Recently a friend was asking me to assist them with a speech they had to write for school. They decided they wanted to tackle the issue of voting systems. So we did a bit of investigation into the Australian voting system for the House of Representatives. This is what I discovered:

Currently, the House of Representatives elects MP’s with the Instant-runoff voting system. This system works by having individuals rank their choices, allowing for election results to be simulated had an MP with the least votes not ran. It follows the following diagram:

IRV

There’s an obvious flaw in this though, what if someone loses in a majority of seats, but still receives a large proportion of votes overall. Well, that has happened, as evident for the Australian Greens. They received 10.1% of the national vote, which should’ve entitled them to 15 seats in parliament, however, they only received 1!

This system is susceptible to some other flaws, including, it’s subject to the spoiler effect, can be influenced by gerrymandering, and doesn’t create a Condorcet winner.

The Australian Greens weren’t also affected by this, the major parties (Labour and the Coalition) received and extra 30 seats than what their votes entitled them too. Those 30 seats are equivalent to 20% of the population! The biggest losers in this system are third parties, they always receive fewer seats than their votes should ensure. Because of this, the major 2 parties will forever exist due to the spoiler effect.

The spoiler effect is the effect of votes splitting between candidates with similar ideologies. One spoiler candidate’s presence in the election draws votes from a major candidate with similar politics thereby causing a strong opponent of both or several to win.[1] This ensures that in the long-term only two large parties can hold power in Government.

This can be seen by comparing the Australian Federal Election of 2013 and 2016. In 2013, there were 6 different parties with the major parties taking 96.7% of seats and receiving 78.93% of the national vote. [2] In 2016 there were 7 parties with the major parties still taking 96.7% of the seats and only receiving 76.77% of the vote. [3]

Clearly, the introduction of a new party and fewer votes overall did not affect the margins of the major parties. That is because of the spoiler effect, and how it inherently affects all voting systems with roots in first-past-the-post voting.

Luckily here in Australia, our electorates are not subject to large scale gerrymandering as our electorates are drawn up by an independent commission (the AEC). As such electorates are not subject to political bias, creating a fairer result.

So what should Australia do instead to ensure a more fair, and proportional representation of voter interests in government?

There are a few options, we can either make the House of Representatives work like the Senate and take up a ‘single transferable vote’ voting system. However, for that to work there would need to be large changes made to the current electoral maps. If we wish to preserve electorates and local representatives, we should consider the ‘mixed-member proportional voting system’.

This system works by first doubling the number of seats in parliament, and then giving each citizen two votes. One vote goes to deciding their local member, and the other goes to their favourite party. Once the vote has been conducted, the results from the electorate are compared with the results from the favourite party votes, and members of each party are added into the extra spaces made free from the doubling to make the numbers match as closely as possible.

The advantage of this system is that it offers near proportional voting whilst maintaining local representation, it removes the effects of gerrymandering, stops minority rule, and allows for political diversity. However, it makes parties an official part of the political system, and it doesn’t discourage strategic votings from citizens.

Ultimately, I believe that Australia should make a change to a better and more egalitarian voting system that ensures proportional representation of its citizens.

 

 

[1] Wikipedia, ‘Spoiler Effect – Wikipedia’, Wikipedia [website] 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoiler_effect, accessed 17 June 2017

[2] Wikipedia, ‘2013 – Wikipedia’, Wikipedia [website] 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_federal_election,_2013, accessed 17 June 2017

[3] Wikipedia, ‘2016 – Wikipedia’, Wikipedia [website] 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_federal_election,_2016, accessed 17 June 2017

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