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How optional preferential voting works

By Graham Young - posted Wednesday, 31 January 2001


For those who have come in late to the Queensland political scene, a brief explanation of what I am talking about. In Queensland, voters are able number each square on their ballot paper in order of their preference so that if the candidate who is their first choice is excluded their vote will pass on to the candidate of their second or subsequent choice. For example, there might be four candidates for a seat. Assume that their votes are - National (38 per cent), Labor (19 per cent) Independent (5.5 per cent) and One Nation (37.5 per cent), as in the table below.

 

First Distribution %

Second Distribution

%

Final Distribution %

National

38.00

39.00

52.00

Labor

19.00

19.00

-

Independent

5.50

-

 
One Nation

37.50

40.50

42.50

Exhausted  

1.50

5.50

Total

100

100

100

In this case none of the candidates has achieved 50 per cent of the vote on first preferences. The returning officer would go to the next-lowest scoring candidate - the Independent - and look at each ballot to see where second preferences were allocated. For argument’s sake 3 per cent might have given 2nd preference to One Nation, and 1 per cent to the National Party, with the other 1.5 per cent not indicating a preference. Still no one has more than 50 per cent of the vote, so the Labor vote is distributed. In this hypothetical example 13 per cent goes to the Nat, 4 per cent exhausts and the rest goes to One Nation. Result - National Party candidate takes 52.0 per cent of the vote and is declared the winner.

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While the National Party and the Labor Party are arch enemies, in this case the Labor Party has ensured the election of the National Party candidate.

Let’s roll the reel back to the scene in our hypothetical to where the ALP preferences are counted. Alert readers will have realised that at this stage the National Party is sitting on 39 per cent, Labor on 19 per cent and One Nation on 40.5 per cent. If there was no allocation of Labor preferences the One Nation candidate would have 51 per cent of the remaining vote and would win.

 

First Distribution %

Second Distribution

%

Final Distribution %

National

38.00

39.00

39.00

Labor

19.00

19.00

-

Independent

5.50

-

 
One Nation

37.50

40.50

40.50

Exhausted  

1.50

20.50

Total

100

100

100

This is more than academic as the hypothetical example that I have given is modelled on the results in Callide in the last election. In the last State Election three other seats - Burnett, Crow’s Nest and Gympie - would also have gone to One Nation if Labor had not allocated preferences, giving them 15 rather than 11.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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