Group voting ticket
A group voting ticket (GVT) is a simplified preferential voting system currently in use for elections to the Victorian Legislative Council and Western Australian Legislative Council, the upper houses of two Australian state legislatures. It was also previously used in federal and several Australian state elections that used the single transferable vote system. Under the system, for multi-member electoral divisions, a group or party registers a GVT before an election with the electoral commission. When a voter selects a group or party “above the line” on a ballot paper, their vote is distributed according to the registered GVT for that group. It has been abolished by New South Wales and South Australia. It was used in the Australian Senate from the 1984 federal election until the 2013 federal election. A form of GVT is used for some elections in Fiji.
Every Australian jurisdiction that has introduced GVTs has ballot papers with two sections separated by a line. Voters may choose to vote either “above the line” or "below the line". By voting “below the line” voters can rank each candidate individually by numbering all boxes. Voters can choose to vote for a group ticket by placing the number '1' in one of the ticket boxes above 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 group will allocate later preferences to other groups and candidates.
About 95% of voters vote above the line.
The introduction of GVTs led to the establishment of a multitude of minor parties and the creation of preference deals between them, enabling one or more candidates within the group to receive sufficient preferences to achieve the requisite quota for election, especially in multi-member electoral divisions. Such preference deals were first arranged for the 1999 NSW election, which saw the Minor Party Alliance succeed in having three of its members elected.
"Above the line" voting
In elections for the Australian Senate, the New South Wales Legislative Council and the South Australian Legislative Council, voters can express an order of preferences for parties 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 each party. The party supplies a list of its candidates to the Australian Electoral Commission, New South Wales Electoral Commission or Electoral Commission of South Australia before the election. All three jurisdictions have limited optional preferential voting, which enables voters to number as many boxes as they choose, but those only apply to the registered party list.
New South Wales changed "above the line" voting for Legislative Council before the 2003 NSW election to optional preferential voting. Parties are now required to submit a higher minimum number of qualified members. A candidate group for Legislative Council elections now requires at least 15 candidates to be eligible for an "above the line" box. Parties do not register group preference tickets and a single 1 in a group’s 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. The changes reduced the number of parties contesting elections and increased the difficulty for new small parties to be elected.
Voting is compulsory in all Australian jurisdictions for all houses of Parliament, state and federal. Complete preferences voting was the only option available for the Australian Senate and the upper houses of other jurisdictions, and still is in Western Australian elections. With the use proportional representation and preferential voting, it was daunting for many voters to have to fill in scores of boxes on the ballot paper. 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, the GVT option was introduced to permit voters to choose one party or group, and all the remaining squares were 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 for the Senate. 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 “above the line” GVT system.
Following the use of tactical preference tickets and the record number of minor parties contesting the 1999 NSW election for the New South Wales Legislative Council, a modified form of "above the line" voting was introduced for the 2003 NSW election, effectively abolishing the GVTs. Other changes to party registration processes also resulted in many fewer parties contesting NSW Legislative Council elections.
South Australia changed from group voting tickets to optional preferential voting before the 2018 South Australian election. Instructions for above the line votes are to mark '1' and then further preferences are optional. The effect of an above the line vote is now to vote for all candidates in a single group in order, and not to follow a GVT. Voters who vote below the line are instructed 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 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. Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party 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.
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