Saturday, December 4, 2010

Preference Deals.

Whose lame idea was it to allow this sort of thing? Preference deals are one of the strangest and stupidest aspects of the political system in this country.

The idea of preferential voting is that, if the guy you voted for doesn’t get in, you at least shouldn’t be stuck with someone you despise. I find this aspect of the system to be quite marvellous, actually. It means that more extreme candidates have a harder job getting in (this is part of the reason for the rush to the centre that defines our major parties, but it’s far from the whole story). It means that people are less likely to feel that their vote was “wasted”, as you can vote for a minor candidate while still affecting the outcome.

Contrast this with the American electoral system, where people vote for the major parties even if the minor ones are closer to their ideals, because if you don’t vote for a major, then the other major is more likely to get in: in Australia, he isn’t, unless you want him to be. Libertarians tend to vote Republican, and environmentalists tend to vote Democrat, even though the USA has both a Libertarian Party and a Green Party. Here, fundies vote Family First, and greenies and socialists by and large vote for the Greens, because doing so doesn’t waste their vote.

The part I don’t understand is this: every party hands out “How To Vote” flyers at polling booths. The idea is not to educate voters on how the polling process works (we have officials for that), nor even on how the policies of the parties compare, but to tell them that the party wants them to vote a certain way: Labor wants you to put the Greens ahead of Family First, for example. (Most of the time, they don’t even tell you that — the card I had foisted on me by a Labor rep at the state election didn’t even have the party names on it, just the list of candidates and the order they wanted me to preference them in.) It’s even worse for multiple-member constituencies, such as the Senate or the State Legislative Councils, because you don’t even have to follow the flyer — you just make a single mark to say “I’d like to whore away my democratic rights to Party X, please.”

The idea here, I imagine, was that this was the quickest way for the parties to inform voters as to how closely its own policies would be matched by the alternatives. But it doesn’t really work that way. The reality is that the candidates are ranked according to deals done between the parties themselves; two parties might do a deal to each be ranked second on the other’s How To Vote card. Labor, nominally a left-wing, vaguely social-democratic party, did a preference deal in 2004 with Family First, functionally a fundie Christian party, that resulted in FF sharing the balance of power in the Senate until this year. Labor has apparently since learned its lesson, but the backlash was significant.

A campaign, Below The Line, exists to challenge party preference deals. But as long as it’s easier to make one mark than twenty, or to follow a little card handed to you five minutes ago by a complete stranger than to ask yourself whether you’d rather see a Green or a Labor member in parliament if your Sex Party vote is unsuccessful, party preference deals will continue to be a problem. The only solution, really, is to ban the bastard little cards altogether, and save a few trees while we’re at it. Same goes for automatic preferences in the Senate.

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