Preferences in the 2017 Queensland Election

This post consists of two parts, the first is general advice for anyone regardless of who they want to vote for, and the second part is aimed particularly at people who want to vote Green but have been told that they shouldn’t.

Advice For All Voters

The Basic Advice For Any Preferential System

This is the same advice I give every time there is an election and I write a blog post about voting systems. Decide on a preference order for all of the candidates and vote for them in that order. Don’t worry about who is likely to win. Just preference the candidates in the order in which you like them. This doesn’t mean you have to like all of them, it just means number them such that given a choice you would prefer a particular candidate if they were up against any of the others you give a lower preference to. Note that under the electoral laws you must number all candidates for your vote to count.

The Change To The Voting System

Since the last election the voting system was changed to require voters to give a full set of preferences. Personally I think this is a better system and is a good change. There is a common misconception that full preferencing benefits the major parties, but this is just wrong. I have explained this in detail in another post.  Of course Labor made the change because they thought at the time that it would help them, that’s because from time to time full preferences can favour one major party over the other depending on whether they are losing votes to a smaller party, but overall there is no benefit collectively to the major parties, and in fact it is almost always preferences which allow small parties or independents to beat them. Without preferences small parties would be weakened and you would have less choice in voting, and optional preferencing over time tends to move towards first past the post. The problem is that parties often advocate a vote for only 1 with no preferences. If everyone does this you have first past the post voting, a terribly flawed system. The reasons they do this are varied, but often when they push a strong message of “vote just 1” they are typically not really aiming it at their own voters – it makes no difference to a party what someone does with their preferences if they already gave that party a first preference – instead they are aiming it at voters who might give a higher preference to their main opponent. Also some do it just because it is a simpler message when handing out how to votes and trying to get people to vote for you – and also allows you to pick up voters who might not like those you would preference highly.
For the individual voter you are always better off giving as many preferences as possible in a preferential system – if you have a genuine preference but do not write it on a ballot then you can only ever get a worse result by withholding lower preferences, I have also written about this in much more detail.

The best argument against full preferencing is that voters might not know all of the candidates, and this is certainly a good argument in the federal Senate where there is a very large number of candidates and the fact that it is a multimember election greatly reduces the flaws in optional preferencing, but most lower house votes (which is all there is in Queensland) do not have a large number of candidates and it should not be difficult for voters to find out about them – in fact if people are encouraged to find out about all of the candidates then this is a good feature of the system.

Advice For Green Voters

The purpose of this section is that I have seem some comments on facebook posts and media articles by people trying convince people to either not to vote Green or to vote informally for bogus reasons. So this section is aimed at those who think the Greens are the best choice to vote for but feel that maybe they shouldn’t vote  formally for them for some other reason. If you think another party is the best to vote for then you can go ahead and vote for them and the arguments in this section are not aimed at you.

A Vote For The Greens Does Not Help The LNP

This happens pretty much every election. There are Labor supporters saying that if you vote Green then you risk letting the LNP (Liberal National Party) or even a LNP/ONP (One Nation Party) coalition win. This is false, but it can be superficially appealing because it seems like something that could cause Labor to win less seats must help the LNP, but actually it is not true at all as I’ll explain below.

Scenario 1 – Your vote elects a Green member

While it is long shot for the Greens to win seats it is not impossible. The seats which do seem possible would otherwise be very likely to be won by Labor, so chances are that if the Greens do win seats it will be at the expense of Labor. This does not in any way help the LNP form Government though. The reason is that for them to form Government they need a majority in their own right, or together with others such as One Nation or Katter. Whether they have a majority or not is independent of the split of the other seats between Labor and the Greens. If the Greens win a seat from Labor, and the Liberals have a majority, then they still would have had that majority if you change that seat back from Greens to Labor because it isn’t changing any Liberal seat. On the other hand if Labor have a majority without losing a seat to the Greens, then changing one or more seats to the Greens either leaves Labor with a majority, or forces them to form Government with the Greens – it cannot give the LNP a majority. It is mathematically impossible. If you have decided that the Greens are the party you like the most then the only difference your vote can make is to change a majority Labor government to one which relies on the Greens to form Government which is surely a better outcome for you as a Greens voter.

Scenario 2 – your vote does not elect a Greens member

The other warning is that by giving a first preference to the Greens you may let the LNP win a seat. This also is not true. If you give a first preference to the Greens, and preference Labor above the LNP, then if the Greens candidate is knocked out of the race, your vote will count for the ALP against the LNP.  For the LNP to win the seat against Labor then at some point in the count they must have over 50% of the vote – consisting of all the people who preferenced them above Labor. If they reach that point, then it makes no difference whether you put the Greens or Labor first, your vote is in the losing minority, changing your vote would do nothing about the majority that the LNP have – it is because of how all of those other people voted. You can move every Green vote who put Labor ahead of the LNP back to a 1 vote for Labor and it will still add up to less than 50%. I wrote about this in more detail here.

An Informal Protest Vote Does Not Help

I’ve also seen people suggest that in protest against the changing of the electoral system, or the support of Adani by both major parties, or both – that voting 1 Green and leaving the rest blank, or writing some sort of message, is a good idea. It most certainly is not.

If you do this your vote does not count. First consider the fact that the Greens actually have a serious chance at winning seats, if you cast an informal vote your 1 for the Greens is completely ineffectual and may cost them a chance at a seat. Meanwhile your written message, perhaps criticising Labor for supporting Adani, will most likely be seen by nobody who cares. Possibly a electoral official will notice it while putting your ballot in the informal pile. Perhaps a scrutineer may see it, this won’t accomplish anything (though if from the Liberals they may have a good laugh about their opponents throwing away their votes). On the other hand the Greens winning a seat, or even coming close sends the strongest message there is. Even if it turns out to be an LNP parliament, having even one Green member in the house will help them to keep on top of and campaign on important issues like Adani, land clearing and so on. The lack of parliamentary representation for the Greens in QLD (largely due to the lack of a proportional upper house) has made it difficult for the Queensland Greens, it would make a big difference being in parliament and having staff, and they would be able to do much more on issues that you, as a Greens voter, care about.

Now maybe you are in a seat where the Greens are in no way likely to get near winning. It still sends more of a message to register a formal 1 vote for the Greens than by having another vote on the informal pile. It is also important what else happens after the Greens are eliminated. Yes, the other parties are all to some extent pro-Adani, but there are differences. Clearly some in Labor are against it and we have already seen the effect of a credible threat from the Greens on their policy. On the other hand, the LNP are absolutely for it. By voting informally you could let the LNP, who will definitely support it as much as possible, win, rather than Labor who may be divided – or who may even require Greens support to govern – imagine that your lack of a vote allows the LNP to get a majority whereas otherwise Labor would win that seat, and have a combined majority with the Greens due to winning a different one – the best possible scenario for stopping Adani.

It can be even worse than that though.

Voting informally could help One Nation

One Nation are rated as a serious chance to win a number of seats. If you are a Greens voter then most likely if you were to lodge a full set of preferences then you would put them last. This means that if instead you choose to vote informally, and the last stage of the count comes down to One Nation vs someone else, then you have removed your vote from stopping One Nation from winning the seat. You are helping One Nation.