QUOTA    NOTES

 

Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia

 

 

     QN1999B                      June 1999            www.prsa.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First PR Polls to Elect All of the UK’s Members of the European Parliament

 

The European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 this year became one of the very few Acts of the UK Parliament to have ever received Royal Assent without it having been passed by the House of Lords, however reluctantly. The Government invoked the Parliament Act 1911 to advise the Queen to assent to the Bill. As reported in QN1998B, the Lords’ resolute view that the closed party list proposal in the Bill lacked a mandate was fortified by speakers from the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland. One was its President, Professor Earl Russell, who succeeded the third Earl Russell (Bertrand Russell). The first Earl Russell had brought in the 1832 Reform Bill (QN60) of Earl Grey’s Liberal Government. Another speaker was the Earl Kitchener of Khartoum, who has visited Australia, met PRSA members, and helped with our ACT campaign.

The polls to elect the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) representing the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held in June 1999 were the first held under the above Act, and were thus the first polls when all MEPs from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) were indirectly elected (by a restrictive closed party list PR system) from multi-member electoral districts, instead of the previous direct election using the unrepresentative single-member district system with first-past-the-post voting. On the same day, the MEPs for Northern Ireland were directly elected, with ballots being counted using a quota-preferential PR system, which has always been used for electing MEPs there. Results for Great Britain were:

 

PARTY

England

(71 Seats)

Scotland(8 seats)

Wales

(5 seats)

 

%

Vote

%

Seats

%

Vote

%

Seats

%

Vote

%

Seats

Conservative

38.4

46.5

19.8

25.0

22.8

20.0

Labour

27.5

35.2

28.7

37.5

31.9

40.0

Liberal Democrat

13.2

11.3

9.8

12.5

8.2

0.0

UK Independence

7.9

4.2

1.3

0.0

3.1

0.0

Green

6.5

2.8

5.8

0.0

2.6

0.0

Scottish Nationalist

-

-

27.2

25.0

-

-

Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nat.)

-

-

-

-

29.6

40.0

Others

6.5

0.0

7.4

0.0

1.8

0.0










 

The three MEPs directly elected for Northern Ireland each gained the quota of 25% of the vote plus one vote. They were the same people, from the same parties, that were elected in 1994, Rev. Ian Paisley (MEP, MP and Northern Ireland Assembly member for the Democratic Unionist

Party), 28.4% of first preference votes; John Hume (MEP, MP and Assembly member for the Social Democratic and Labour Party), 28.1%; and James Nicholson (MEP and Assembly member for the Ulster Unionist Party), 17.6%. Mitchel McLaughlin of the Sinn Féin Party won 17.3% of first preference votes, but gained only 32 votes when Ian Paisley’s surplus over the 25% quota was distributed, whereas James Nicholson gained 22,162 from that surplus.

The turnout in Northern Ireland, a single electoral district, was 48.7%, whereas the turnout in the other multi-member districts in the UK ranged from 19.6% in the North West district to 27.8% in the South West district. For the previous four polls for MEPs, the UK turnout had been increasing, from 31.6% to 36.4%, while that of Europe overall had been steadily falling from 63.0% to 56.8%. The 1999 polls saw both these turnout figures plunge – the UK to 24.0% and Europe overall to 49.4%. The total UK votes cast were 10,481,931 – a lower figure than the 11,105,376 votes cast in Australia’s 1998 Federal polls, despite Australia’s population being less than half the UK’s. Of course, in Australia, attendance at a polling booth is compulsory.

 

 

Concerns by British Electoral Reform Society Members about Hybrid Option

 

A group of members of the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland is campaigning within that Society to have that ERS oppose the mixed-member hybrid electoral system that was recommended for the House of Commons by the Jenkins Commission as the only ‘PR’ option to be put in a promised UK referendum on the electoral system.

The PRSA has participated positively in quota-preferential PR (Single Transferable Vote) campaigns overseas, such as the first of New Zealand’s two electoral system plebiscites, when our preferred quota-preferential PR (STV) was one of the options, and likewise San Francisco’s recent referendum on PR. Unfortunately it appears that the promised UK referendum might lack such an option, and that is not the fault of the ERS. The PRSA does not involve itself negatively in disputes within fellow overseas societies, but publishes, for the information of PRSA members, the following succinct statement circulated by the above group, which includes a former Chairman of the ERS Council:

 

"THE CASE AGAINST JENKINS

The Electoral Reform Society has campaigned single-mindedly for STV for over a century. That has been its raison d'être, based on an awareness of Britain's democratic weakness and its consequences. There are siren voices, however, who are now urging the Society to support the Jenkins Commission recommendation.

Many long-standing members believe it would be profoundly wrong to do so, not just out of a fastidious regard for the Society's integrity, but because of the importance of what is at stake. The Society must be true to itself precisely because the political parties, over a long period, have deliberately obscured what is involved. The Jenkins recommendation is a result of that obscurantism. It is based primarily on so-called political realism, i.e. a need to meet the government's wishes, and only partly on the four criteria laid down in its terms of reference. The only institutional voice of significance now in a position to argue that the implementation of the Jenkins recommendation would be a historic mistake, is that of the Society.

Britain's democracy is a rudimentary one. It is limited to the electorate having the opportunity, once every five years, to change the colour of the government. Such a democracy is inadequate for a modern, innovative society demanding qualities of responsibility, initiative and skill from millions of its members. The elective dictatorship existing between elections cannot stimulate those qualities. The Jenkins recommendation will do nothing to remedy the position for the following reasons.

The key institution of the British governmental system is the political party. It is a private institution which fills the constitutional vacuum within which the state functions. The accountability of MPs is far greater to their party than it is to their constituents, and the pressure on them to obey the party whip is immense. Thus governments, through their control of party, usurp the authority of parliament.

To justify such arbitrary authority, party has to be more representative of the electorate, not just in the crude sense of seats and votes being proportional, but as a more comprehensive reflection of the attitudes and views of voters at large. To achieve that representativeness voters within a constituency must be able to rank a party's candidates as well as supporting the party. In this way they could 'fine-tune’ party nearer to their liking, a process leading to more representative and prudent government. The Jenkins recommendation guarantees neither proportionality nor fine-tuning. The Commission has missed an historic opportunity.

A final point: no one should be deluded that the Commission's recommendation is a step towards STV. If it is implemented, there will be little chance of further reform in the foreseeable future. Constitutional incrementalism will yet again have pulled off the trick of appearing to meet demands for greater democracy while keeping the polity resolutely undemocratic. The Society must not be seduced by the ‘change at any price’ argument of those who do not appreciate exactly what is at stake."

 

 

Local Government Electoral Laws

 

In December 1998, partly in response to representations from municipal councils, the Tasmanian Parliament amended its Local Government Act 1993 to apply Robson Rotation to the printing of ballot-papers in municipal polls. The amended Local Government Regulations 1994 prescribe the details. The system has applied to polls for both of Tasmania’s Houses of Parliament since 1979. Its first use for municipal polls in March 1999 appears to have been its first municipal use in the world. Ballot-papers must be printed in batches, with the order of candidates’ names varied among the batches to give all candidates equal prominence at various favourable positions.

The Robson Rotation cancels out the effect of ‘donkey voting’. It also ends the undeserved power of groups that print and distribute ‘how-to-vote’ cards, which invite voters to cast their vote in a manner that the group favours, rather than have voters choose their particular order of preference. Without the Robson Rotation it is far too easy for voters to take the line of least resistance, by copying a how-to-vote card and thus helping to hand parties ‘safe seats’ rather than voters deciding and indicating their own preferences among the candidates. Both Houses of Tasmania’s Parliament and, more recently, the ACT’s Legislative Assembly, have greatly benefited from this useful reform.

Earlier this year the South Australian Legislative Assembly passed the Local Government (Elections) Bill 1999, which would discontinue the idiosyncratic ‘bottoms up’ electoral procedure (See QN1998A) that SA municipalities have been able to adopt, up till now, as their only alternative to using quota-preferential proportional representation. Fortunately that quite unsound procedure is used by a diminishing minority of municipalities, and the Legislative Council, which is now examining the Bill, is likely to accept its end.

One weakness in the Bill is that it still leaves the minimum number of vacancies to be filled at any one poll as one. Hon. Ian Gilfillan MLC, an Australian Democrat, proposes that the Bill be amended to require the minimum number to be increased to three, to let quota-preferential counting give proportional representation of electors, which is impossible if an electoral district returns only one representative. His proposed amendments also include a requirement for Robson Rotation in the printing of all ballot-papers. Its introduction and recent successful municipal use in Tasmania should strengthen his case for that.

There are also moves in the Upper House to amend the Bill to make postal voting or attendance at a polling booth compulsory, which has never applied in municipal polls in South Australia. Another desirable amendment would be the abolition of wards, requiring that all polls have the entire municipality as the only electoral district involved, as now applies in Tasmania. Nevertheless, there is valid concern that the Government might abandon its Bill if the Upper House wishes to amend it too extensively, and that voters might lose the proposed major benefit of discontinuing the unfortunate ‘bottoms up’ procedure.

 

 

ACT’s Hare-Clark Likely to be Strengthened

 

At the 1998 ACT general elections, there were several close contests within parties for a number of vacancies. For instance, in Molonglo, just over 400 first preference votes separated five of the seven ALP candidates, and in the recount the last two exclusions were determined by margins of 3 and 23 votes respectively. In Brindabella, Liberal Louise Littlewood was excluded when just 45 votes behind her then colleague Trevor Kaine.

While Robson Rotation again performed well overall, it was noticeable that a high proportion (between 35 and 55%) of votes for Liberal and Labor candidates with limited support was obtained straight down the column when they were at the top (this high ‘party-linear’ vote contrasts with the more deliberative patterns under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system). A consequence was that, when some of these candidates were excluded, their continuing colleague closest to the top of the column, when it was occupied by the person excluded, obtained a much stronger flow of preferences than did others. Even though no defeated candidate cried foul about losing, it was clear that a small number of MLAs could count themselves somewhat lucky to be elected.

In 1997, ACT Greens MLA Kerrie Tucker sought to double the number of rotations by always adding the reverse of the order currently below any top position. For instance if ABCDE was a Robson Rotation column order, AEDCB would be too. Such a scheme would automatically share out the down-the-column or party-linear vote for two-candidate comparisons, but it could introduce anomalies in situations where three or more candidates were vying closely for elected positions. Front-runners might be excluded in some cases just because others shared the party-linear vote.

At the time, the PRSA’s ACT Branch therefore urged MLAs not to amend the entrenched original rotations (it would require two-thirds of them to make a change). This stand was vindicated in 1998 because the second ALP candidate to be excluded under the operation of the Robson Rotation would have been elected in Molonglo under such revised arrangements because of the times at which he would have received flows of party-linear votes.

In December 1998, when ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green published detailed figures about the extent of party-linear voting in his review of the operation of the ACT’s electoral legislation, he suggested that the number of rotations be significantly increased by letting each colleague appear in the second spot when someone was at the top of a column. Instead of column orders matching candidate numbers, for five and seven candidates there would now be 20 (5x4) and 42 (7x6) orders respectively.

New printing techniques direct from disc made that technologically feasible. Hon. Neil Robson has said that he had devised a more elaborate system of rotation in the 1970s, but was persuaded to simplify it for ease of printing.

Independently of those efforts, in March 1998 the Canberra Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia undertook a project to seek to eliminate chance effects from the operation of Robson Rotation. In December, sampling specialist Dr Ken Brewer circulated an alternative proposal based on known optimal properties of 4x4 and 6x6 Latin Squares (arrays where each number appears just once in each row and column). [www.ozemail.com.au/~ssacanb] He showed that under his proposal the advantage to any candidate when it was not possible to share out the next-best places perfectly evenly (for instance, if there are 42 column orders and four continuing candidates, they cannot all obtain an advantage from the same number of columns) was minimized.

Deputy Chief Minister Gary Humphries announced the Government’s in-principle support for additional rotations in February, and the PRSA’s ACT Branch also obtained publicity for its endorsement of improvements that did not also create new anomalies. Since that time, Dr Brewer and the Electoral Commissioner have extended their ideas. The Select Committee on the Report of the Review of Governance, chaired by Independent MLA Paul Osborne and comprising also Liberal Speaker Greg Cornwell and Labor Opposition Leader Jon Stanhope, reported unanimously in June 1999 that there should be additional rotations, and that the maximum number of candidates in any column should be reduced from the current twelve.

From an individual voter’s viewpoint, such changes would make no difference at the poll, but candidates lacking sufficient support to be certain of election should appreciate differences in flows of preferences from excluded colleagues reflecting just the considered wishes of voters.

It is pleasing to see the ALP’s apparent endorsement of such changes, after accepting recommendations of Michael Aird (MLC, Tasmania) and Jenny Beacham to embrace Hare-Clark, and end restrictions on individual campaigning that hampered its electoral efforts at the last two elections.

The report to fellow members by these two ‘external’ reviewers of the ALP’s dismal 1998 electoral showing said ‘because the Federal seats are not marginal seats, the sub-branches do not have a marginal seat campaigning culture’. It recommended an ongoing close relationship between the ACT and Tasmanian Branches ‘to exchange Hare-Clark campaigning expertise’, and against urging ALP voters to follow a recommended order for numbering candidates.

The Osborne Select Committee quoted from the ACT Branch’s submissions when it made other recommendations disagreeing with some of the less satisfactory aspects of the Pettit Review. For instance, all said that the Assembly should not automatically increase with population, and a majority indicated that on balance there were no current grounds for an increase in Assembly numbers from 17 to 21. A different majority rejected calls for the reintroduction of how-to-vote cards on election day.

The Committee also took up the ACT Branch’s suggestion that the Electoral Commission devote considerably more resources to explaining the mechanics of preferential voting to help many more voters realize the implications of curtailing the number of preferences they indicate. Another long-standing concern of the ACT Branch was addressed when the Committee agreed with the Electoral Commissioner’s proposals to tighten party registration procedures to deny sitting MLAs sham structures.

The 18 months that the Review of self-government has taken has seen ill-thought-out proposals largely fall by the wayside. Improvements in the rotation of names on the ballot-paper are now likely. This shows the importance of maintaining ongoing contact with the political process, making constructive suggestions, and clearly stating why particular defective ideas should not be entertained.

 

 

SA Branch Treasurer Retires after 59 Years

 

Mr Leonard Higgs has retired as Treasurer of the PRSA’s South Australian Branch (the Electoral Reform Society of South Australia - founded in 1930) after having held that position continuously, and with distinction, since 1940 – a period of 59 years, possibly a record term of office for any Branch. Len remains a keen member of the SA Branch. Len went on to very ably serve the Society as its National Treasurer as well, for the ten years from 1986 to 1995. Len was elected an Honorary Life Member of the SA Branch at its special meeting held in 1990 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the world’s first public PR election - that for Adelaide City Council in 1840 (QN60).

The PRSA greatly appreciates Len’s long service, and is very grateful for all he has done. Few of us have witnessed the improvements that Len has: quota-preferential proportional representation introduced for the Senate in 1948, then PR for not only his own State’s Legislative Council, but also later for that of NSW and then that of WA, and then PR for the ACT Legislative Assembly. He has also seen PR introduced for local government in NSW, then SA, then for all of Tasmania, and even for some major municipalities in Victoria, not to mention the nation-wide PR poll for the 1998 Australian Constitutional Convention.

He has also shared in the success of our PR movement, in the cases where party list PR was originally proposed (NSW) or introduced (SA and ACT), in having that inferior party list approach replaced with the quota-preferential principle. Like all of us, he remains watchful as current attempts to tamper with the Senate’s PR system persist.

 

 

Northern Ireland’s Assembly Elections

 

One feature that Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have in common, and that contrasts with Great Britain, is the use of quota-preferential proportional representation for elections to both the European Parliament and to the Irish-based legislatures. The March 1998 polls for the election of Northern Ireland’s 108-member Assembly, based in Stormont, reverted to that form of PR after a single unimpressive use of a party list system.

As each of the 18 Assembly districts has six members, the percentage quota for election is 14.3%, the quota that elects State senators in the periodic elections to the Australian Senate. The table below gives results for those polls and the 1997 polls for Ulster’s House of Commons seats.

Each of the 18 districts used in the 1997 polls to elect a single member of the Commons by plurality count was used in the 1998 polls to elect 6 Assembly members by a quota-preferential PR count. The single-member poll gave gross over-representation to the Ulster Unionist Party.

 

 

PARTY

Ulster Assembly

1998

House of Commons

1997

The largest two ‘Other Unionist Parties’ were the United Kingdom Unionists and the Progressive Unionist Party.

Quota-preferential PR

Single-member plurality

‘*Others’ include the two seats won by the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition.

% votes

% seats

% votes

% seats

Social Democratic and Labour Party

22

22

24

17

Ulster Unionist Party

21

26

33

55

Democratic Unionist Party

18

18

14

11

Sinn Féin

18

17

16

11

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

6

6

8

0

Other Unionist Parties

11

9

4

6

*Others

3

2

1

0

 

 

Inaugural Nunavut Assembly Elections

 

Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, created from the North-West Territories, gained self-government on 1st April 1999. Larger in area than Queensland, its population is 25,000. Its 19-member Legislative Assembly is directly elected from 19 single-member districts by plurality counting. The February 1999 polls for the inaugural Assembly had an 88% turnout of electors. In 11 of its 19 districts the elected candidates gained less than 50% of the vote (a mean of 38% of the vote). The 19 MLAs elected gained a total of 4938 votes, with the remaining 5764 votes cast all wasted, and contributing in no way to anybody’s election. About 53.8% of the voters were unrepresented, had no effect on the election, and wasted their time voting.

 

 

© 1999 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

National President: Bogey Musidlak 14 Strzelecki Cr. NARRABUNDAH 2604

National Secretary: Deane Crabb 11 Yapinga Street PLYMPTON 5039

Tel: (02) 6295 8137, (08) 8297 6441    info@prsa.org.au

Printed by Prestige Copying & Printing, 97 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000