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09 March 2016
By Matt Hrkac

Claims that Senate voting changes will cause vote splitting

I've been getting a few people saying that the Senate voting changes will cause 'vote splitting'. I think this is better addressed as a separate post rather than in the post about the Senate voting reform.

First of all, for those who don't know - vote splitting occurs whereby there are two or more ideologically aligned candidates in an election, causing the vote to be split between them. This ultimately results in the candidate of the opposing ideology being successful. It is often talked about that the Labor and the Greens vote splits between each other in House of Representative seats, resulting in lower primary votes for the Labor Party when compared to the Liberal Party/National Party. However, because of full-preferential voting (and even in states that use optional preferential voting), this doesn't result in the final outcome favouring the Coalition, as it would in a first-past-the-post system.

Because of the potential for vote splitting in a first-past-the-post system; this has people ultimately gravitating towards two major parties (one on the Left, the other on the Right) and see's those who would normally vote for minor parties, vote for the corresponding major party in the form of tactical voting, generally out of fear that the candidate they oppose the most will otherwise win the seat. This ultimately sees two major parties dominate, and smaller parties fall. Look at the United States as an example, in particular.

Now, with that out of the way: claims that Senate voting changes to abolish group voting tickets and moving to part-preferential voting above and below the line would result in the progressive vote being split is absolute hog-wash.

  1. Vote splitting, as mentioned above, can only really occur in a first-past-the-post system, and can only really occur where people are elected into single-member constituencies. The only situation where vote splitting can occur in a multi-member constituency is if the winner takes all system is used.
     
  2. Senators are elected proportionately, into multi-member constituencies (being, the states), not into single member constituencies, and this isn't changing.
     
  3. Because voters will still have to direct preferences regardless of whether they vote above the line or below the line; the vote won't be split between progressive parties because votes to unsuccessful progressive parties and candidates will still flow according to voters choice.
     
  4. The savings provision for above the line voting very likely won't factor in because, believe it or not, a vast majority of voters actually read the instructions on the ballot paper (which will instruct them to number at least six boxes above the line) when they vote. If they didn't, there would be an alarmingly high rate of informal voting in the House of Representatives.

In fact, a vast majority of proportional systems around the developed world don't use preferential voting at all, and these systems still see considerable political diversity. Claims that vote splitting will occur as a result of giving individual voters more power simply doesn't stack up to fact.

About the author:

Matt Hrkac is a writer and photographer based in Geelong. He has particular interests in politics, elections, social movements and the trade union movement.

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