This is part of a Victorian Senate ballot at last week’s election:
You’ll notice that the party called “Labor” on that first page is not the ALP. If I’d included the second part of the paper you’d see there were several parties called “Liberal”. And a whole heap of other smaller parties with similar names to each other and the bigger parties. Parties with names that may well be descriptive but are also clearly confusing and misleading to certain voters.
Many voters understand enough about the election to perceive which of the big parties they prefer, whilst – for whatever reason – not really understanding that there are multiple “Labor” parties, multiple “Liberal” parties, and – probably, now that the Greens are the third biggest party – potentially multiple “Green” parties.
For example, I strongly suspect that the DLP’s good showing in Victoria this election owed a fair amount to it being the only “Labor” party on the front page of the Senate ballot. With the potential result that this far-right effectively anti-Labor party will get a seat in parliament (for the next six years!) on votes that were never really intended for them at all.
It seems to me that the confusion this generates is not a particularly democratic thing. So I have a suggestion for reform on this point: order the ballot with the party that received the largest first preference vote last time first, then the party that received the second, then the third, and so on. Parties on equal prior vote (eg those standing for the first time) to have order between them decided randomly, as at present.
The fact of the matter is that the present situation:
- Encourages big parties to set up minor parties with deliberately misleading names to funnel preferences (because it’s random, your best chance of getting up the front of the ballot paper is to put up more “parties”), and therefore increases the size of the paper and the likelihood of voters being duped;
- Confuses voters
- Makes it less likely that voters will actually issue preferences, instead being so overwhelmed by the whole process that they just vote for a ticket despite having no idea where those votes are going.
Obviously I also think we should have above the line preferencing, as a compromise between almost control (group tickets) and the ridiculous requirement to number some eighty boxes below the line. (Better not make a mistake or your vote’s invalid!)
But I think this would really help those voters not as engaged as you or I in having their choice accurately represented. I also think it would ultimately reduce the size of the ballot paper, as feeder parties became less relevant.
And although technically this sounds like it’d give an advantage to bigger parties, realistically the main difference it would make would be helping those who intend to vote for one party but get tricked by similar naming into voting for someone completely different. I think it’d be a positive step forward.
PS: We can talk about my third proposal, which is actually my main one – multi-member electorates in the lower house, a compromise between proportional representation and local representation – another day. CAN YOU NOT WAIT FOR THAT.
UPDATE: Keri and @kyna62 on twitter suggested the ballots including party logos. I suspect black and white would not be enough to remove confusion, and colour would be very expensive, and I’m not convinced it would be enough to override the benefit of running feeder parties with misleading names in the hope they’ll get up first on the ballot and trick opposing parties’ voters.