Group voting ticket
Group voting tickets (GVTs) simplify preferential voting in elections using the single transferable vote or the alternative vote system. When an elector selects a group or party on a ballot paper, the votes are then distributed according to a ticket registered before the election with the electoral commission. The system is used for the upper houses of the Australian state parliaments of Victoria and Western Australia, and for some elections in Fiji. It was used in the Australian Senate from the 1984 election until the 2013 federal election.
Every Australian jurisdiction that has introduced GVTs retained the option for a voter to rank each candidate individually. So ballot papers have two sections separated by a line, and an elector may choose to vote either above the line or "below the line". Voters can choose to vote for a group ticket by placing the number '1' in one of the ticket boxes above the line or can vote for individual candidates by numbering boxes below the line. The single number '1' selects a GVT from one group or party, and all preferences are then distributed according to the GVT. This leads to pre-election trading between parties on how each party will allocate later preferences to other parties and candidates.
When GVTs are available, about 95% of voters choose to use this method.
"Above the line" voting
In the Australian Senate, New South Wales and South Australia, voters can express an order of preferences for different groups by voting '1', '2' and so on in different boxes above the line. The scope of a number above the line is merely the list of candidates for one group. The group simply supplies a list of candidates to the electoral commission, and there is no need for a GVT in addition to the list. In all three jurisdictions, optional preferential voting is possible, so a voter is not required to number all boxes for all groups.
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 scores of boxes—preferences are compulsory in Western 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, GVTs allow 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.
Group voting tickets were introduced for elections for the Australian Senate by the Hawke Labor Government to reduce the number of invalid votes by simplifying the voting system. Under the new system a voter cast a valid vote if they placed a single mark above the line instead of the scores on a typical Senate ballot paper. It was first used at the 1984 federal election. For the Australian Senate, the rate of informal voting was reduced from around 9% before 1984, to around 3% under group voting tickets.
Following the use of tactical preference tickets and the record number of minor parties contesting the 1999 election for the New South Wales Legislative Council, a modified form of above-the-line 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.
Group voting tickets for the Senate were abolished as part of the voting reforms prior to the 2016 election in favour of optional preferential voting. The government proposed reform of the Senate voting system in February 2016. The Senate reform legislation passed both houses of the Parliament of Australia in March 2016.
Following the similar Australian Senate changes which took effect from the 2016 federal election, as of the 2018 state election, South Australia's single transferable vote in the proportionally represented upper house changed from group voting tickets to optional preferential voting. Instructions for above the line votes will be to mark '1' and then further preferences optional as opposed to preference flows from simply '1' above the line being determined by group voting tickets. Voters who vote below the line will be advised to provide at least 12 preferences as opposed to having to number all candidates, and with a savings provision to admit ballot papers which indicate at least 6 below the line preferences.
Group voting tickets voting has been criticised because electors do not not know, and have 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 or the appropriate State 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 their 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.
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 was the 1999 New South Wales state election when the Outdoor Recreation Party's Malcolm Jones was elected to the Legislative Council with a primary vote of 0.19%, 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% quota being filled from preferences, with "preference whisperer" Glenn Druery's Minor Party Alliance organising tight cross-preferencing between minor parties. Motoring's Ricky Muir won a senate seat on a record-low primary vote of 0.5% in Victoria (previous record held by Family First's Steve Fielding in 2004 on 1.9% in Victoria). The Sports Party's Wayne Dropulich was on track for a period of time to win a Senate seat from 0.2% in Western Australia, coming 21st out of 28 groups. Family First's Bob Day won a seat on a primary vote of 3.8% in South Australia, and the DLP's John Madigan won his seat in 2010 on a primary vote of 2.3% in Victoria. Xenophon and larger parties including the government proposed changes to the GVT system.
- Antony Green (23 September 2015). "The Origin of Senate Group Ticket Voting, and it didn't come from the Major Parties". ABC. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
- "Glossary of Election Terms - Federal Election 2007". ABC. Retrieved 2010-12-29.
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- Electoral laws passed after marathon Parliament sitting: ABC 18 March 2016
- New Electoral System Adopted for the South Australian Legislative Council: Antony Green ABC 9 August 2017
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- Bitter dispute erupts over Senate preferences in Queensland: ABC 5 September 2013
- Glen Druery - the 'preference whisperer': ABC 21 August 2013 Archived 2 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
- 'Preference whisperer' defends role in minor parties’ Senate success: The Guardian 13 September 2013
- Victorian 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
- Motoring Enthusiasts Party member Ricky Muir wins Senate seat: ABC 1 October 2013
- A ballot crammed with choice: SMH Tim Colebatch 5 August 2013
- Western Australia 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
- The Preference Deals behind the Strange Election of Ricky Muir and Wayne Dropulich: Antony Green ABC 13 September 2013
- Australian Sports Party 'pleasantly surprised' by potential Senate seat: ABC 9 September 2013
- South Australia 2013 Senate results and preference flows: ABC
- Single-issue groups set to take balance of power: Canberra Times 9 September 2013
- Coalition shy of Senate majority: Business Spectator 9 September 2013
- Tony Abbott fires a warning shot at micro parties in the Senate: WA Today 9 September 2013
- Xenophon wants voting reform: NineMSN 9 September 2013
- Green, Antony (23 September 2015). "The Origin of Senate Group Ticket Voting, and it didn't come from the Major Parties". ABC News. Australia.