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 Marrickville 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.