On Saturday NSW local councils (or at least the ones that haven't
been dissolved) had their elections. I was handing out material for
The Greens in St Peters and one
of the voters asked me how we were directing preferences. This got me
thinking about how the votes are counted, and I'm still no wiser.
The ballot paper was arranged with parties or groups along the top
and, beneath the line, the candidates for those groups. Voters were
instructed to number either above the line or below the line, and I
seem to remember to number as many boxes as they wished. Confusingly
for those of us used to above-the-line voting in Federal Senate
elections, the ALP how-to-vote suggested voting 1 in the ALP group and
2 in the "independent" group, above-the-line.
First step was to go into the polling place and ask the person in
charge. She didn't know how it worked. When I got home, I tried
looking it up on the Electoral
Commission NSW site and didn't come out any the wiser, though it
appeared to be a straight optional preferential system. Then on
election night Antony
Green's results included a quota column, which got me very
confused, because that's something normally associated with our Senate
elections, which are proportional representation (by state).
Digging a little deeper, I discover
that Optional Preferential is used for popularly elected mayors (a la
Sydney, Byron Bay etc) and council wards with two or fewer council
positions. Wards with three or more council positions get Proportional
Representation. Helpfully, the Electoral Commission site gives a
good rundown on proportional representation systems, but doesn't
mention which system is used for NSW local government elections!
So I have two things that confuse me here. First is how are
preferences distributed for above-the-line voters? Since there was no
list of preference flows at the polling place, as you get with Senate
elections, I presume it's just numbered down the list of candidates in
that group list.
Next is how are quotas transferred? For example in Central Ward of
Council we seem to have 1.44 quotas in the current count. What
happens to the 0.44 quota in Group C if they don't make it over the
line? If it's optional preferential, if the voter didn't continue
from that group, are the votes thrown away? Wouldn't this lead to the
full quota not being filled?
You would imagine this kind of information would be kinda essential
for the Electoral Commission to disseminate. I'm sure the counting
handbook tells the returning officers how this works, but it's
not available online.
Anyone got any better information about how this works?
Update: Rich points out this
page (which I'm sure wasn't on the site this morning, but perhaps
I missed it) which answers my second question. It's a quota-based
system, with a formula similar to the Senate in federal elections.
Digging further I found this
page which answers my first question. Above-the-line votes go
down the list for the numbered groups, as I expected.