Why should the Electoral Act be able to stage-manage candidates' order of election?
voted at my party's call, I never thought of
thinking for myself at all.”
Ballot Paper Order: Australia's political party organizations first stage-managed Australian Senate elections - insofar as it has an effect on which of the individual Senate candidates of each of the parties participating is elected and which is not - by simply recognizing, and then exploiting, certain provisions of the then law relating to the order in which candidates' names were printed on ballot papers.
Party organizations' growing awareness of their power: That first achievement showed how much easier and more convenient stage management seemed to be for the party organizations than having candidates within a party publicly and genuinely competing against each other, and also having such competition between parties. Australia's electoral laws have since evolved to give party organizations their present much greater de facto control of candidates' fate. Such ploys have been a contentious, unsavoury aspect of Australian Senate elections for a long time - existing well before proportional representation for Senate elections began in 1948. Initially it was not deliberately built into the Commonwealth Electoral Act, but was possible by exploitation of at least one of its earlier weaknesses.
Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 of Edmund Barton's Protectionist Government, Senate ballot papers listed candidates' names in a single column in alphabetical order, without any indication of, or grouping by, party affiliation. Voters had to mark exactly as many crosses as there were vacancies. That single column was of no significance until the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919 of W.M. Hughes's Nationalists, which changed the winner-take-all, multiple vote from its original 'first-past-the-post' form to a preferential form, and required that ballot papers be marked with consecutive preferences for at least twice the number of vacancies plus one, in order to be valid.
1919 parties realized that the order of
candidates' names on the ballot paper was of
significance, so Hughes's Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1922 retained the single
column on the ballot paper, but instituted
grouping of names down that column by candidates'
mutual consent. The groups were identified solely
as 'A', 'B', 'C', 'D' etc. Surnames within each
group were listed alphabetically. The order of the
groups down the ballot paper was set by the
'alphabetical order rank average' of candidates'
surnames. Presumably the drafters of that
provision expected it to operate fairly and
impartially. Some party organizations' focus on
the order of candidates' names grew after the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1934 of Joseph Lyons's
United Australia Party Government required voters
to mark all preferences consecutively for a valid
vote (The CEA 1940 removed that requirement for
the last preference)
first attempt, in 1937: At
the periodic Senate election in
voters', fulfilling their duty to vote [a
citizens' duty still imposed by Section
245(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act]
by mindlessly numbering the squares on the ballot
paper from '1' downwards, would have effectively
supported the Four ‘A’s. As the figures at
that hyperlink show, under the winner-take-all
majority-preferential counting system in
force, all four NSW Senate vacancies were won by
the ALP, each by an absolute majority of 0.6
percentage points or less. The informal vote was
8.9%. The ALP's rivals accused it of adopting a
grubby stratagem for electoral advantage.
Retaliation increased stage
management, in 1940: The
response by R.G.Menzies's
UAP Government, the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1940, was for the
electoral law to explicitly let party
organizations exercise an almost overwhelming
influence on which of a party's Senate candidates
would be likely to be elected, and which would not
be. The Act replaced the single column with the
present below-the-line layout of separate
vertical group columns set by lot side-by-side
left to right, but with the order of names down
each column set by a joint written statement of
the candidates in the group that they would have
their names appear in the order specified in the
statement (the amended Act did not refer to
parties, but candidates within each group were
inevitably of the same political party).
Group Voting Tickets, from 1983 to March 2016: That critical, very manipulative, move from an alphabetically-based order to an order by candidates’ mutual consent, rather than a randomized order, was made 43 years before the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983 of R.J.L.Hawke's ALP Government introduced Group Voting Tickets, and the related new layout of Senate ballot-papers with their above-the-line and below-the-line voting options. Statutory display of Group Voting Tickets was not always effected at polling places on election day and, even if it had been, the very fine print deterred their use. The below-the-line option continued (with some minor relaxation from having to mark all preferences) the system that had applied since the end of alphabetical ordering within columns. Continuing it seem to be needed to save the 1983 law from a High Court challenge that omission of the below-the-line option would conflict with the important requirement of Section 7 of the Australian Constitution that State senators be '... directly chosen by the people ...'.
That established and customary system was put in the less immediate and noticeable position below-the-line on the ballot paper. The new option was put in the conspicuous position above-the-line. The dividing line was the thick black line printed right across the ballot paper between the provisions for the two options. The easy option was marking a single box above-the-line. That implemented one or more fully preferential voting orders pre-registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, covering all candidates, either a single order, or an effective division of the vote into two or three orders (fall-back provisions in the Act recognized grave constitutional doubts there). Revealingly, on how-to-vote cards, as shown at that hyperlink, the Coalition discouraged the use of the below-the-line section by stating, 'No need to use this section'. The ALP also discouraged its use by stating, 'Do not use this section'.
From 1934 to 1983 voters had to mark a preference number against the name of all but one of the candidates, but after 1940 the parties' how-to-vote cards invariably instructed voters to effectively 'donkey vote' within each column, i.e. mark the squares in each consecutively downwards - an outcome tailor-made to the wishes of nearly all party organizations, but only for Senate polls. Voters' tendency to take the easy course and follow the party instructions certainly strengthened the power and influence of those few party people that were empowered to determine the order in which candidates' names would appear on the ballot paper. The Group Voting Ticket system consolidated that tendency of voters. The percentage voting above-the-line at the 1998 polls was:
Party operators' power
works against maximizing their electoral
stage management of the Senate's single
transferable vote system of proportional
representation to its near-ultimate 1983-2013
stage of success in making it extremely easy for
voters to implement their party's wishes, and
relatively hard, and unusual, for voters to differ
from those wishes, developed gradually. A little-realized
self-defeating outcome of that stage
management is that a party's representation is
minimized for a given level of support where it
has more than one quota. In impressive contrast,
successive changes in
pre-selection disputes lower parties'
squabbles within parties over the position of
their candidates' names on ballot papers is
the inevitable consequence of the Senate ballot
paper law. Such Assembly squabbles in
A classic case of the rancour caused by a party organization's involvement in an issue that should be the exclusive province of the voters occurred in the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party in 1998. At the October 1998 periodic election of senators, the three Coalition senators seeking re-election were Senators Judith Troeth, Julian McGauran and Karen Synon. The first two, and Senator Jim Short, were elected at the 1993 periodic election of senators. Karen Synon replaced Senator Short when he resigned in 1997. She was in favour then.
The Liberal Party's choice and order of candidates for the 1998 periodic election of senators was made within the party. Party rules provided that a number of State Liberal MPs, chosen by the State Liberal MPs overall, form part of the group that determines that choice and order. However, accounts suggest that, instead of calling for nominations in the party room, and holding a ballot, the Premier, Jeffrey Kennett, proposed that certain MPs be appointed, and the party room meekly acquiesced in his proposal.
The choice and order selected for the
Group Voting Ticket was Senator Troeth, Senator McGauran,
Mr Tsebin Tchen, and
Senator Synon. Senator
'dumped' - to use the term used for this
manoeuvre. She was relegated to an effectively
place on the ticket, and was
reported to have obtained advice of a Queen's
Counsel as to whether the action of the party had
invalidated the choice made. Reports indicated
that she might have a case, but no further action