PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA (VICTORIA-TASMANIA) INC.

 


Tel +613 9589 1802, +61429176725

 

www.prsa.org.au


A0048538N Victoria

 

info@prsa.org.au


ABN 31 010 090 247

 

2016-11-30


 

Filling Casual Vacancies after a PR Election

 

 

Ensuring Voters Directly Elect All the Representatives:

The PRSA recommends that the important principle of direct election by the electors of all the representatives, as also specified in Sections 7 and 24 of the Australian Constitution for general and periodic elections, but unfortunately not for filling Senate casual vacancies, whose filling is determined by Section 15, aspects of which regressed in 1977, be maintained in the filling of casual vacancies by a prescribed re-examination of the ballots cast at the election at which the vacating representatives were elected.

 

It is necessary for this that either the ballot-papers (manual count) or the ballot files (computer count) be securely retained until the next general or periodic election, and that expressions of interest in filling the vacancy, and serving for the remainder of the vacating representative's term, be invited from all the candidates at the last election that were unelected and still remain eligible for election. The candidates that accept that invitation and meet those criteria are termed consenting candidates.

 

For a countback where a vacating candidate had a quota or more of first preference votes, very little time is needed, but more time is required where that is not the case, and the pattern of the vacating member's support is more fragmented. The alternative, which is a full recount approach, gives an extremely quick, impartial result that is, like countback, based entirely on the decisions recorded by the voters at the same poll as filled the seat that has been vacated.

 

An organizationís electoral rules can be altered to provide for such recounts by whichever method its Constitution prescribes, i.e. either a referendum of electors, a general meeting, or a resolution of the governing body. It is also desirable for the rules to include a default proviso that the governing body should fill the vacancy if a countback or total recount is not practicable for lack of consenting candidates, or other valid reason.

 

The two alternative approaches for conducting that re-examination that have been used are:

 

  • Countback of the Vacating Candidate's Quota

The alternative recommended by the PRSA is the countback approach as prescribed for House of Assembly and muncipal council elections in Tasmania, any PR municipal council elections in Victoria, and Legislative Assembly elections in the Australian Capital Territory.


The reason for countback being the alternative recommended by the PRSA is its strict adherence to the principle that the only votes that should determine who should fill a casual vacancy are those votes that formed the quota of votes that elected the vacating candidate. The other quotas of votes are already associated with elected, continuing representatives. The residue of votes that is less than a quota, and therefore did not elect anybody at the original election, should not contribute to the election of a replacement representative any more than they should have contributed to the election of those originally elected.

That approach normally results in the election of a candidate of the same school of thought, or the same associates, as the vacating candidate presented to the electorate at the preceding general or periodic election, unless the voters have specifically voted otherwise. In a countback, only the quota of votes that elected the vacating representative is examined. This recommended method of filling casual vacancies best ensures that the voting balance on the representative body is maintained at the same position it was after the original election, and is not arbitrarily or unexpectedly disturbed. Where the re-examination shows a continuing candidate that gained, at that election, an absolute majority of the next available preference votes after the preferences of the vacating candidate at that election, that continuing candidate is declared elected to fill that vacancy.

 

If no candidate gains an absolute majority then, the candidate with the fewest next available preference votes is declared to be excluded, and that candidate's next available preference votes within the quota of votes being re-examined are transferred to the remaining continuing candidates. If a continuing candidate then gains an absolute majority of next available preference votes, that candidate is declared to be elected, but if no candidate does, the process of excluding the continuing candidate with the lowest total of next available preference votes and transferring that candidate's votes continues, and is repeated for successive continuing candidates until one such candidate gains an absolute majority of next available preference votes.


Countback is less time-consuming for manual counts of ballot-papers, as only one quota of votes is involved; and it works best for maintaining the complexion and balance in the spectrum of views reflected at the relevant original election. The countback scrutiny that first elected Dr Bob Brown of the Greens Party to the Tasmanian House of Assembly to fill a seat vacated by an Australian Democrat MHA was an exception to the normal outcome where a candidate of the same mutually declared association is elected, but it shows how countback always faithfully reflects the choices made by the voters at the election at which the vacating candidate was elected.

 

If a vacating member gained a quota or more of first preference votes at the election at which that person was elected, and if an organization used for the original election the economical computer-based service PRSAV-T Inc. offers, and it authorizes PRSAV-T Inc. to retain the computer files involved, until the next general or periodic election, PRSAV-T Inc. will conduct a countback to fill such a casual vacancy during that time for no charge, as the computer program readily enables that to be done in those special circumstances. The result, with full details, can be provided by return email.



  • Total Recount of the Original Election  
    This alternative approach - which is not the one recommended by the PRSA - is more time-consuming for manual counts, but is simple and straightforward for computer-based counts. It lacks the rationale of countback above as, instead, all the votes cast at the original election are examined,
    as is prescribed for Legislative Council elections in Western Australia, and for elections to the General Synod of the Church of England in the UK since the 1920s. The only preferences that are passed over are those for the vacating candidate, or candidates, and any non-consenting candidates, who are those candidates that have not, by an indicated date, notified in writing their willingness to be included in the recount.

    The reason this alternative approach is deprecated by the PRSA is that it lacks the desirable rationale of countback described above, which is to ensure that the quota of votes that forms the basis of the replacement member's right to a seat is identical to the quota of votes that elected his or her predecessor. The total recount method departs from that principle, and in doing so is including votes in a different quota freshly assembled from a new count of the original election, but with the vacating member's quota not necessarily identical to that newly-derived quota.

    A "savings provision" in the prescription for this approach [WA Electoral Act 1907 Section 156D (9)] states that any non-vacating already-elected candidate cannot be displaced by this recount. For manual counts this total recount approach is more time-consuming than countback by a factor similar to the number of candidates, and could, on many occasions, be less likely to maintain the complexion and balance in the spectrum of views mentioned above.

     

    However, if an organization uses for the original election the economical computer-based service PRSAV-T Inc. offers, and it authorizes PRSAV-T Inc. to retain the computer files involved - until the next general or periodic election - PRSAV-T Inc. will conduct a recount to fill casual vacancies during that time for no charge, provided that the full recount method is sought to be used, as the computer program readily enables that to be done. The result, with full details, can be provided by return email. The program that PRSAV-T Inc. uses does not yet provide for the countback system to be used, except in the special case above. Filling of casual vacancies by countback must normally be done by PRSAV-T Inc. manual counting at the hourly rates stated on the website page about our vote-counting service.

 

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