Group voting ticket

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Group voting tickets (also known as "above the line" voting) are a way to simplify preferential voting, usually in an election held under the single transferable vote or the alternative vote system. Ranking each candidate individually is called "below the line" voting.

Voters can choose to vote for a ticket by placing the number '1' in one of the ticket boxes or can vote for individual candidates by numbering all the boxes in that section. Ticket votes are distributed according to the party or group voting ticket registered before the election with the election management body. In some elections, voters can express an order of preferences among different tickets by voting '1', '2' and so on in different ticket boxes.

Group voting tickets are used in many of the upper houses of Australian parliaments, most notably the Australian Senate. They are also used for some elections in Fiji. They were originally introduced to reduce the growing proportion of voters who cast invalid votes, as a single mark is all that is needed to cast a valid vote. In Australia, this reduced the rate of informal voting in the Senate from around nine percent previous to 1984, to around three percent during the time of group voting tickets.

In Australian elections for the upper houses which use proportional representation as well as preferential voting, it may be daunting to have to fill in 70 boxes—preferences are compulsory in Commonwealth, Victorian and South Australian elections. Some voters would choose their early preferences and then vote for other candidates in the order they appeared on the ballot paper—known as a donkey vote; or fill in the form incorrectly, leading to an informal vote.

To ease this task, above the line voting allows the voter to choose one party or group, and all the remaining squares are deemed to be filled in according to a registered party ticket. About 95% of voters choose to use this method.[1] This leads to pre-election trading between parties on how each party will allocate later preferences to other parties and candidates.

"Above the line" voting has been criticised as electors not knowing, and having no practical way of finding out, where their preferences are being directed. All details are published in advance, both electronically and in a free booklet published by the Australian Electoral Commission. The booklets may be viewed at polling booths on request to the poll officials. However, such is the complexity of the information that it is unlikely that the average voter could easily determine the fate of his or her vote's preferences particularly, as some parties submit multiple allocations (e.g., 33% to one party, 66% to another, and so on), and the effects are integrally wound up in preference deals between other parties.

Tactical voting[edit]

Using GVTs, the potential for tactical voting by parties is greatly increased. Because voters are not usually aware of how a party's preferences are directed, GVTs have allowed minor parties with low support in the community to be elected almost exclusively on the preferences of other parties, for example, where small parties with very different views have agreed to exchange preferences, or where larger parties have sought to minimise votes for opponents with similar views.

A notable case came in the New South Wales Legislative Council election of 1999, when the Outdoor Recreation Party's Malcolm Jones was elected with a primary vote of 0.19%,[2] or 0.042 of a quota.

GVTs came under scrutiny at the 2013 Australian election for multiple candidates getting provisionally elected with the vast majority of the 14.3 percent quota being filled from preferences, with "preference whisperer" Glenn Druery's Minor Party Alliance organising tight cross-preferencing between minor parties.[3][4][5] Motoring's Ricky Muir won a senate seat on a record-low primary vote of 0.5 percent in Victoria[6][7] (previous record held by Family First's Steve Fielding in 2004 on 1.9 percent in Victoria).[8] The Sports Party's Wayne Dropulich was on track for a period of time to win a Senate seat from 0.2 percent in Western Australia, coming 21st out of 28 groups.[9][10][11] Family First's Bob Day won a seat on a primary vote of 3.8 percent in South Australia,[7][12] and the DLP's John Madigan won his seat in 2010 on a primary vote of 2.3 percent in Victoria.[13] Xenophon and larger parties including the incoming government are looking at changes to the GVT system.[14][15][16]

2003 changes in NSW[edit]

Following the use of tactical preference tickets and the record number of minor parties contesting the 1999 Council election, a modified form of group ticket voting was introduced in the 2003 election. A candidate group for NSW Legislative Council elections now requires 15 candidates to be eligible for an "above the line" box. Parties do not lodge preference tickets and a single 1 in that box only preferences the candidates in the group. Voters wishing to preference multiple parties with an "above the line" vote can use lower preferences ("2", "3", and so on) in those parties' "above the line" boxes. Other changes to party registration processes have also resulted in many fewer parties contesting NSW Legislative Council elections.

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