Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s Democracy

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22 December 2015

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The term electoral system has broadly been used to refer to all elements of procedures used to choose or elect political representatives. However, the public discussion in Australian electoral system has narrowed down since the September polls. These include the mechanism voters preference over set of aspires are captured and further aggregated to produce the results of the elections. The description dismisses the important concerns considered critical criteria which should employed to select the groups, candidates and parties that will appear on the ballot paper. The two critical dimensions of the electoral systems are what Rae terms as ballot structure” and the “electoral formula.” According to Australian Government Electoral Reform Green Paper, (2013) the ballot structure is the choice of the electoral system that is presented to the electorate on the ballot papers and the procedures of recording their preferred candidate. Notably, the electoral formula is the rule applied, given specific set of recorded electorates, to determine the victor or the winners.

Ballot Structure of the Senate Elections

Since 1934, it has been established that the ballot structure of the senate elections has been one full preferential candidate. Essentially, the electorate is the prima facie that the law permits to indicate the order of preference for every candidate appearing on the ballot paper. However, in 1948, the formula for electing the senate was changed from the originally majoritarian one to the version in which the single transferable vote proportional representation. As noted by Bonham, (2013) from the initial application of the system in 1949 until 1993, the number of candidates per vacancy steadily went up. Together with the increased number of senators from each state from six to ten in 1949, and from ten to twelve in 1984, the increased number of the electorate per vacancy produced a shocking growth in the ballot papers. Therefore, the increased length of the ballot papers coupled with the full preferential voting requirement encouraged voluminous number of the citizens to vote by simply transcribing the numbers from how-to-vote cards given to the voters by the party agents at the polling stations.

Furthermore, disparities are observable in the electoral systems as reported by Australian Government Electoral Reform Green Paper, (2013) in its argument, the party voting concept allows the candidates with low votes to legitimately build their votes up to the level of emerging a winner. Besides, the system insists that the votes transferred to them from other candidates must mirror the considered will of the electorate. Unlike the ticket voting, it permits the voters to adopt the preferred order of which they are ignorant of, or they are less concerned thereby surrendering their votes to parties. Besides, the party voting rather than voting individual candidates denies the voters absolute flexibility as a proportional representative voting system.

Notwithstanding this, a trend emerged during the period of 1949 to 1983 for the senate elections to use the informal vote. Therefore, since 1970 to 1983, at every senate elections the rating of the informal voting nationally was over 9 percent. However, during the senate elections in 1974, in New South Wales, the voters had a task to order 73 senatorial candidates correctly for them to cast their votes formally. During the tenure of Whitlam Government, the stakeholders opted to retire the requirements for full preferential numbering; however, the overwhelming number of opposition senate in the opposition blocked the Bills. Finally, the current system of electoral system of ticket voting “above the line” voting system as well as full preferential electoral system referred to as “below the line” was introduced (Farrell & McAllister, 2003).

Notable differences in the two electoral systems are identifiable in the procedures. In the preferential system, the electorate makes decisions on the most desirable candidate to the least. However, when no candidate attains the required majority votes, the candidates in possession of the least number of votes are awarded according to her or his wishes and the following preference is then counted. This process is repeated until that time a particular candidate attains an absolute majority. Unlike the proportional representation system, the above the line system in which the candidates are elected on the preference of their proportional representation in the party. Farrell & McAllister, (2003) points out that the elected surplus of the elected candidate votes of the first quota is then distributed in a fraction that values the continuing candidate of the next preference shown on the line. In a nutshell, the candidates are elected until vacancies are entirely filled.

When selecting the senators, the voters use preferential voting system. The preferential voting system allows the voters to list the candidates in their preferred order. The Australian cross-party parliamentary committee has recommended tough and party rules and changes to the voting system of the senates. This is geared towards stopping the minor electoral games. The joint standard committee on electoral matters recommended the changing of the electoral laws for optional preferential above the line voting and optional partial below the line voting in the senate. According to the proposers, this would give the voters’ additional control over the flow of their preference by giving them the option to rank all the parties above the line (Farrell & McAllister, 2003). Above all, the process would make it easier for the electorate to choose to vote below the line requiring ranking a minimum of six candidates. The current senate voting laws, the voters have the power to choose one party above the line. Besides, their preference flows are determined solely by the party, or they must number all the boxes below the line to distribute their preferred candidate evenly.

Moreover, the current electoral system leads to election of senate candidates of those occupying their or second group of the popular party. This leads to election of the senators with very small votes. This system differs from the preferential representation system which their tally is an absolute indicator of their support by the people. In fact, in a preferential voting system, these are no scale of measuring popularity of senators. However, they are rather defined by the electorate in terms of comparison with the other candidates. In this voting system, it is easy to conclude on hypothetical examples in which the candidate with zero polls on first preference would have defeated all the other opponents in a head to head contest.

The absolute difference in the two voting systems can also be observed in the strategic manipulation of voters, thus sacrificing democratic rights of the electorate. Strategically, most commentators have argued that ticket voting system can be manipulated by preference harvesting. Kelly, (2008) asserts that the system involves micro parties exchanging their voting tickets, hoping party with least votes would ascend to senate. The preference harvesting was clearly observable in the 2013 voting results. Essentially, the preference harvesting differs from the individual electoral process because t is pragmatic. Unlike the representative voting system which considers the ideological alignments of the electorate, the system is based on the basis where the electorate hardly has control on the outcome.

It is established in the outcome of the elections that the above the line voting system has no credit to the voters. Above all fundamental differences in the two electoral processes, the outcome of the election should be determined by the wishes of the voters. In the evidence of the last election, there was no observable connection between the preference that the ticket voting system attributed to the voters and the ones they actually held. This raises a key difference in the electoral systems and on which covers the wills of the voters.

Proportional representation

The common feature of proportional representation is that the political parties must exceed a certain vote threshold in order to win the seats. It is clear that the previous election results have led to effortless demands for electoral reforms with the constitutional objectives addressed. Essential research done on the 2013 election found that the 38 percent of the small parties in the senate were beneficial for democracy. Besides, the most favorable, if the public opinion is to be observed is the abolition of the group voting tickets, currently operational. The proportional representation is critical to chapter seven of the constitution that requires the election process to be left in the conscious decisions of the voters. Thus, the obvious route to consciously respect the constitution in the electoral reforms is to copy the example of the New South Wales and distribute voting preference as the voters allocate them, or authorizes the voters to number the every box above the line.

Additionally, the determination of the parties to respect section seven of the constitution is reflected in the representative voting system. According to section seven of the constitution, the senate shall be compost of senators for each state, directly elected by the electorate. Justifiably, the in 1984 the Chief Justice of the High Court rejected the above the line senate voting on grounds that the section required the voters vote for individual candidates as they wish to choose as senatorial representatives (Ghazarian & Monash University, 2010). However, the rule did not admit that above the line voting system amounted to any contradiction other than section seven.

Notably, the principle that held by the proportional representation system of the electoral system of the senate must be based on choosing individual candidates rather than parties were, nevertheless, objective. As noted by (Kelly, 2012) more than a single authority involved in electoral reforms suggested that the voting system would be violated by the provisions that limited individual candidates in respect to aggregate of their party votes. Ideally, this is can be observed from the electoral threshold based on individual candidate would eliminate all the major party candidates with the exception of those at the top of the party ticket.

Critics of the proportional representation voting system highlights that it not clear that the preference threshold would attain this. They assert that there might not be a handy alternative for challenging the above the line voting system that limited the candidates from choosing their preferred candidate. Besides, holding to the backers of the individuals with the good taste of the proportional representative voting, voting for the parties remains a constitutional disorder (Kelly, 2012). Arguably, it is unreasonable to penalize the political parties performing poorly for failing to meet the threshold seems to pass the consequences to the electorate who voted for them. Besides, democracy foundations of any conscious voting system respects the fact that the vote belongs to the electorate who registered, however, not to a particular party that the above the line voting which happen to give first preference to particular political parties.

Happily, a report from Australian Government Electoral Reform Green Paper, (2013) asserts that the adoption of the proportional representative will grant observable credit to the most honest alternative of optional preferential voting above the line. Besides, the electoral body in the line of meeting section seven of the constitution examined photo identification, no-brainer of prohibiting people as serving the state as registered officers for more than a single party and tightening of the late campaign blackout.

The senate electoral system should be changed to adopt the optional preferential voting. . The greatest impact of the 2013 election of preference harvesting should be abolished. Notably, the results of 2013 elections were unusual and interesting, preferably in the senate where small parties enter into back door negotiations. This raises the integrity of the voting process and the constitutional threshold. Holding that below the line voting system is constitutionally required, it is wise to argue that the basic criterion for election of the senate should that that puts the democratic rights of the voters in the heart. This can be achieved by allowing the voters to record their preferences truthfully and meaningfully. Therefore, considering the role of the senate in the constitutional reforms, the nearly and easily achievable deal is the OPV. However, the OPV does not achieve it fully. Essentially, the system does not permit the electorate to express equal preference for more than one candidate.

Besides, it does not permit voting indifference to be shown with an exception from the least preferred candidate for the voter. The good news holds that the OPV does not require the voter to write large numbers on the ballot paper purporting to express preferences that are never held. But the system will ensure that the numbers on the ballot papers express the true preference of the voters. Besides, the introduction of the OPV below the line will automatically default the use of above the line voting. The key policy for implementation will be to use ne ballot paper to suffice the votes. The single ballot raises expresses as genuine preference the voter holds. Bonham, (2013) argues that unless the voters are required to write more than one ballot paper, vote exhaustion may lead to the election of candidates with less than a quota.


Voting in Australia is compulsory and uses preference ballot in single seats for the representatives of the house. Today, there are many parties that usually vie for the senate. Although it varies from state, dozens run and some parties gunners no votes. However, due to the preferential allocation system, it is equally possible to be elected to a senate even with less than 14.3 percent of the primary votes (Ghazarian & Monash University, 2010). For instance, in New South Wales the senate papers are printed in 7-point font and the voters are given magnifying lenses to read them. In a nutshell, proportional representation system is advised to lead to proportional results of the election. Besides, parties should win the senatorial seats on the proportion of their vote size. However, to uphold the integrity of the constitution, the senate should adopt democratic voting variations such as single transferable vote which votes for candidates rather than parties.


Australian Government.( 14 November 2013) Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s Democracy (2009), at

Bonham, Kevin.( 14 November 2013) “Senate Reform: Change This System, But To What?”, at http://kevinbonham.blogspot.jp/2013/10/senate-reform-change-this-system-but-to.html, accessed

Farrell, D. M., & McAllister, I. (January 01, 2003). The 1983 change in surplus vote transfer procedures for the Australian senate and its consequences for the single transferable vote. Australian Journal of Political Science, 38, 3, 479-491.

Ghazarian, Z., & Monash University. (2010). Australian minor parties in transition in the Senate, 1949-2007.

http://www.dpmc.gov.au/consultation/elect_reform/strengthening_democracy, accessed

Kelly, N. (2008). Evaluating Australian electoral reforms: 1983-2007.Kelly, N. (2012). Directions in Australian electoral reform: Professionalism and partisanship in electoral management. Canberra: ANU E Press.

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StudyScroll. (2015). Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s Democracy [Online]. Available at: https://studyscroll.com/electoral-reform-green-paper-strengthening-australias-democracy-essay [Accessed: 5 December, 2023]

"Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s Democracy" StudyScroll, Dec 22, 2015. Accessed Dec 5, 2023. https://studyscroll.com/electoral-reform-green-paper-strengthening-australias-democracy-essay

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StudyScroll. (2015). Electoral Reform Green Paper: Strengthening Australia’s Democracy. [Online]. Available at: https://studyscroll.com/electoral-reform-green-paper-strengthening-australias-democracy-essay [Accessed: 5-Dec-2023]

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