Surge in pre-poll numbers at 2019 federal election changes the relationship between voters and parties



Another issue is that pre-polling gives an advantage to the major parties over the smaller ones, due to the latter having fewer resources.
AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Stephen Mills, University of Sydney and Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

On the morning of the last Monday in April, 2019, federal election officials opened the doors of more than 500 pre-poll voting centres around Australia, and waited for the voters to turn up. It was the first day of the three-week early voting period leading up to the May 18 election day.

They didn’t have to wait long. By the end of the day, 123,793 voters had walked through the doors and cast their votes – more than the enrolment of an average House of Representatives electorate, and a record number for the first day of pre-polling.




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Three weeks of early voting has a significant effect on democracy. Here’s why


That evening, the rush to the polls attracted comment at the first leaders’ debate. Opposition leader Bill Shorten claimed people were voting early because they wanted “change”; Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted it showed people “deserve” to know the cost of opposition policies.

In turn, pre-polling attracted more media attention than in previous campaigns.

Pre-polling increased steadily through the campaign, culminating on the last Friday with 710,000 pre-poll voters. The total for the full three weeks was 4.7 million, or 31.6% of total turnout.

Picture.
Author supplied

Another 1.6 million voted early by post. In short, nearly four in ten voters decided, before the campaign had finished, that they had heard enough and were ready to cast their votes.

Pre-polling has come of age. While it has been on the rise in recent electoral cycles, it reached record levels federally in 2019. Casting a vote before election day has been transformed, over a very few electoral cycles, from the occasional practice of a limited number of eligible voters to the habitual form of electoral participation of a large minority of the electorate.

Who votes early?

Despite the popularity of pre-polling, there is a puzzling unevenness about it. Some voters love it more than others. Australian Electoral Commission data show the Northern Territory, with its own particular geography and demography, had the highest form of pre-poll voting at 42.9% of turnout. Victoria (37.2%), ACT (36.5%) and Queensland (35.6%) were well above average, while Tasmania (19%), SA (21.7%) and WA (22.9%) lagged. NSW sat just below the national average at 30.1%.

While the rates of all states and territories were lower in 2016, their relative percentages were very similar.

Pre-polling is particularly strong in rural electorates. Ten of the 15 electorates in the country with the highest pre-poll percentage were rural electorates, despite the fact that the AEC has less than one third of seats classed in this category. All 15 of these seats are in Victoria, NSW or Queensland.

By contrast, 13 of the 15 electorates with the lowest percentage of pre-poll voters came from WA, Tasmania and South Australia, and just three of these were from outside the main metropolitan areas.

In terms of political allegiance, the inclination of early voters is well known: those voting early have tended to lean towards the Coalition. As psephologist Peter Brent has shown, this gap has only widened in recent electoral cycles, despite the growing number of early voters.

In 2004, the Coalition did 4% better in early voting than voting on election day; by 2019 this gap rose to just over 5%. There is strong evidence for Coalition mobilisation of postal voters, with 312,391 postal vote applications received from Coalition parties in 2019, and just 149,582 from the Labor party.

The reasons why people vote early are still widely debated, but the key reasons are convenience and access.

There is also evidence that indicates older people like voting earlier. Such arguments are borne out in those figures, given the older demographics of rural areas, and the greater distances that voters may need to travel to access voting booths.

Has deregulating early voting made a difference?

One factor cited as an explanation for the increase in early voting is the easing of restrictions on the practice. A number of jurisdictions including Victoria (2010), Queensland (2015), and Western Australia (2016) have made it easier to vote early at pre-poll booths for state elections by removing the need for voters to provide justifications for doing so. The rationale when doing so has been that this would make such voting forms more accessible.

While we would expect to see these jurisdictions record higher levels of pre-poll voting, the outcomes of these changes in legislation have been mixed (see chart two).


Author supplied, Author provided

Victoria’s 2018 state election recorded the highest levels of pre-poll voting of any state, at 37.29%, and this may be linked to their decision to deregulate the practice earlier than elsewhere. But at their last state elections, WA, while recording a boost in postal voting (which remains regulated) had a pre-poll rate of 15.47%, and Queensland of 19.64% – both still well short of Victoria.

While pre-poll voting in Queensland and WA increased after deregulation, it did not increase any more markedly than other jurisdictions that retained regulation.

Moreover, each of these jurisdictions recorded a prepoll rate for the 2019 Federal election equal to, or higher than, the previous state election, despite the Commonwealth retaining the need for voters to justify their decision to do so.

While in Victoria the rate was almost identical, in WA and Queensland the Federal rate of pre-poll was much higher.

Conclusions: unexpected implications

An examination of early voting data, particularly around the practice of pre-polling, demonstrates clear but unexplained trends. Tasmania, WA and South Australia lag well behind the other states and territories in pre-polling. There is even clearer unevenness within states, where rural and regional voters are voting early in significantly higher numbers than their metropolitan counterparts.

The data also indicate that making forms of early voting more accessible (such as by deregulating pre-polling) has in itself not led to marked increases in the practice.




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What we also know is that the large rates of early voting have changed the relationship between voters and the people or parties they are choosing to vote for, in that many voters cast their ballots before the parties have released all their policies.

Other unanticipated effects have emerged. In 2019, we saw many early voters casting votes for candidates who were later disendorsed by their own parties.

This arises because the early voting period occupies the maximum available time on the campaign calendar, beginning as soon as possible after close of nominations. This may create a dysfunction between voters and the parties candidates claim to represent on the ballot.

Pre-polling also leads to uneven playing fields between major parties as opposed to minor parties and independents, due to the latter having fewer resources.

There are also additional challenges faced by electoral commissions in the provision of pre-poll centres and staff to manage this surge. This research has been published in The Conversation and in a previous report on voting flexibility late last year.

The increased uptake of early voting in 2019 only exacerbates these implications, many of which may not have been anticipated until recently.

While early voting is important in providing greater accessibility to voters and encouraging turnout, thought should be given to reviewing the full implications through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).

One possibility is to retain the current forms of early voting but limit the pre-poll period to two weeks rather than three. This would retain flexibility for voters, but make the process more manageable for all the stakeholders concerned.The Conversation

Stephen Mills, Hon Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney and Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the Senate?


File 20190501 142962 1uylkic.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Shutterstock

Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

Editor’s note: This is an updated version on an article that was published in 2016 when the new Senate voting rules were first introduced.


The voting system for the Australian Senate combines both preferential voting and proportional representation counting.

This system produces an upper house comprised of eight electorates (six states and two territories), each represented by multiple senators. As a group, these senators much more fairly represent the diversity of opinions in their electorates than the system in the lower house, where each of 151 electorates is represented by only a single member.

The election for the Senate on May 18 will be the world’s largest-ever election using this system, known technically as “proportional representation using the single transferable vote”. We will elect six senators in each of the states, and two senators in each territory.




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The key features of Senate voting

  • you have one vote

  • you can express preferences for candidates in the order you prefer them, writing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on

  • if the candidate for whom you vote “1” is elected with more first preference votes than the quota needed for election, the surplus votes received are transferred to the next chosen candidate at a value that ensures as much as possible of your voting power of one vote counts towards electing a senator

  • a quota is the number of votes a candidate requires to be elected. In each of the states, in this half Senate election, the quota is 1/7 of all the formal votes plus 1

  • if the candidate for whom you vote “1” fails to be elected, the full value of your vote passes to the candidate to whom you gave your “2”. And if that candidate fails to be elected, to your “3” and so on

  • the number of candidates elected for each party is, as closely as possible, directly proportional to the support that party’s candidates receive after preferences

  • a big majority of voters will be represented by either a senator they voted “1” for, or a senator they gave an early preference to.




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So, what do Australians need to know when they go to vote to choose their senators in this year’s federal election?

The ballot paper requires you to choose from one of two ways of marking it. Voting above-the-line means that you let your vote support parties’ candidates in the order on the ballot paper, whereas voting below-the-line means that you decide the order in which you support candidates.

The order is important because the chance of a candidate being elected decreases the later his or her name appears in that order of priority.

Voting above-the-line

The instructions on the ballot papers will tell you that a valid above-the-line ballot will show at least six party boxes, numbered 1 to 6, for at least six party groupings. However, your vote will have potentially more effect if you number more boxes.

In the example below, if you put a “1” in the Liberal box, the first Liberal to gain from your vote will be Malcolm Turnbull, then secondly Alexander Downer, then Tony Abbott, and so on. If you are a Liberal voter that wants to put Tony Abbott first, you can do this, but you have to vote below-the-line (read on for how to do that).

The example we show here is a formal (valid) vote that places the major parties last. This voter supported first the “Climate Sceptics”, but then ranked other minor parties and then the larger parties in the order: Liberal, Labor, Green.

Click to zoom.
CC BY-ND

It could happen that when this voter’s preferences are finally transferred, all the candidates for the first six parties chosen had been elected or excluded. Their vote is then used to help decide the final contest, between Labor and the Greens – in this case favouring Labor. But if the voter had not numbered all the boxes, their vote would have become exhausted: in other words, not further counted towards the election of a candidate.

An above-the-line “vote savings provision” means that even if you mark only one box, your ballot will still be counted. But (for example) if you had marked “1” in the square for Climate Sceptics – and only that square – and the Climate Sceptics candidates had failed to get enough votes to remain in the count, your ballot would have become exhausted, meaning your vote did not count towards electing a senator.

That is why it is best to number as many squares as possible.

Voting below-the-line

Below-the-line voters rank individual candidates in the order such voters prefer. You will be instructed to number at least 12 boxes below-the-line.

Suppose you are a Liberal voter, but you don’t like the order of the Liberal candidates on the ballot paper. You may number the boxes of the six Liberal candidates in any order – provided the numbers are sequential and each numeral is different.

If you then want to preference the Shooters and Fishers candidates (numbering 7 to 12), then Palmer United candidates (numbering 13 to 18), but dislike the remaining parties, you may leave their candidates’ squares blank. Your ballot is still formal and will be counted – as in the mock voting paper below.

Click to zoom.
CC BY-ND

Suppose you want to support particular candidates from different parties – and want to rank Penny Wong, Sarah Hanson-Young and Jacqui Lambie ahead of all the other candidates. You may certainly do that – again provided your ballot includes 1 to 12 and those preferences are sequential.

Click to zoom.
CC BY-ND

You might want to rank everyone except the main parties first. Let’s say that you also prefer the Hemp Party and Socialist Alternative first, but then want to vote for the Shooters and Fishers. If you then think Labor is the least bad of the main parties, the best way to use your ballot is to preference all of the small parties’ candidates and then Labor’s. That way, even if all the smaller parties’ candidates are excluded from the count, your next choice gains the value of your vote.

Note that you can rank the candidates of a particular party in any order. In the example below, the voter prefers Donald Trump to the other Shooters and Fishers candidates.

The more genuine preferences you express, the more likely a candidate you favour will be elected rather than one you disfavour.

Click to zoom.
CC BY-ND

The rules allow a vote to be counted provided that the first six consecutive numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If you omit or repeat a number, the ballot will still be counted. So a ballot that has the preferences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 would be formal – but only preferences one to nine would count.

Your vote is most effective when you express as many preferences as you can or want to – either below or above the line.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the House of Representatives?


Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

At the May 18 federal election, voters in every electorate of Australia’s House of Representatives will have a choice of multiple candidates. Preferential voting means that we rank candidates in the order that we prefer them.

So, how does preferential voting work?

Voters must number every box on the ballot paper. You can number them in any order, but you must number each of them. So if there are eight candidates, you must number one to eight inclusive.




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You don’t have to follow how-to-vote cards

Supporters of political parties hand out “how-to-vote” cards that advise voters how to fill out their preferences, but you certainly don’t have to follow them. You can still vote “1” for that party’s candidate, but change the order of your later preferences.

For example, suppose you want to vote for the candidate of the Liberal Party, and it recommends that you vote “1” Liberal and “2” for the candidate of the United Australia Party (UAP), led by Clive Palmer. If you don’t like the UAP, you can still vote Liberal “1”, and mark your other preferences in any order you choose.

As long as each candidate receives a different preference, your vote is formal (valid). And as long as you vote “1” for the Liberal party candidate, your vote is still a full vote for the Liberals.

What a valid vote looks like

Let’s take an imaginary electorate that has the following candidates.

Below are a number of possible ballots:

  • in column A we show a ballot for the Liberal Party candidate that next preferences the National Party, then the United Australia (Clive Palmer’s party), and then the Christian Democrats. Note that all eight boxes must be marked

  • in Column B we show a ballot for the ALP candidate

  • in Column C a ballot for the Greens candidate that next preferences the Animal Justice candidate, and then the Liberal candidate.

All those ballots are formal, because they mark all the numbers on the ballot paper in sequence.

If a ballot paper repeats a number or does not number each of the boxes, then it is informal and cannot be counted. So all voters are advised to be careful, and number each of the boxes on the ballot.




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Key mistakes to avoid

Here are some examples of informal ballot papers that cannot be counted.

  • in Column D, the numeral “5” is repeated, so the ballot is informal

  • in Column E, two boxes are unmarked, so that ballot is also informal

  • in Column F, there is gap in what should be a sequence of consecutive numerals, so that ballot is also informal.

Why do we have preferential voting?

The basis for preferential voting is that the winning candidate must receive at least 50%, plus one vote, to be elected. In other words, the winning candidate is supported by at least half the voters.

The candidate who has the highest number of votes at the first stage of the count (first preferences) does not necessarily win. It can happen that a candidate with fewer first preferences, nevertheless goes on to win. The most notable case was at the 1972 election in the federal division of McMillan, in rural Victoria:

Although the Labor candidate had received the highest number of first preference votes, he did not reach 50% and was not elected.

Because of that, the candidate with the smallest number of votes, Buchanan, was excluded from the count, and the second preference of each of his ballot papers was transferred, with the same effect as first preferences, to the candidate marked “2”.

This left four candidates in the count. If, at this point in the count, the cumulative total of one of the candidates continuing in the count had exceeded 50% of all ballots, that candidate would be declared elected.

That did not happen, so the continuing candidate with the fewest votes, Houlihan, was excluded. That led to the transfer of Houlihan’s ballots to the candidates marked as the next available preference.




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When both Buchanan and Houlihan had been excluded and their ballots transferred, the third count was as follows:

Because Barrie Armitage was now the lowest-polling candidate, he was excluded from the count, and his ballots were transferred to the two continuing candidates, according to the next available preference on each ballot. The final result was:

Note that the winning candidate is not necessarily the same as the candidate that received the most first preference votes. The preferential system ensures that the candidate elected is the one preferred by the majority in each electorate.

In the case of McMillan in 1972, Henry Hewson was the candidate preferred by the majority. The full details of this count can be found on the excellent Psephos website

In Australia, thanks to preferential voting, our House of Representatives members are each elected by an absolute majority of the voters in the electorate they represent.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We asked five experts: should Australia lower the voting age to 16?


Sasha Petrova, The Conversation

Voting is a key part of the democratic process. It allows all citizens of a certain age to have a say on matters important to them. Voting in federal elections and referendums is compulsory for every Australian aged 18 and over.

But decisions made by elected governments – especially in areas such as education, health and energy – impact young people too. Legal and political voices have long called for Australia to lower the voting age to 16. After all, people under 18 can leave school, get a job, drive a car and pay taxes. So why not vote?

A parliamentary inquiry is currently looking into the issue. In the meantime, we asked five experts their views. Here’s what they said.

Five out of five experts said yes

Here are their detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” education question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: sasha.petrova@theconversation.edu.au


Disclosures: Louise Phillips has received competitively awarded funding from The Spencer Foundation, and the Queensland Department of Education, and is a current member of the Early Childhood Australia and the Australian Association for Research in Education.

Philippa Collin has received funding from a range of government and quasi-government agencies (NHMRC, Australian Research Council, Department for Industry and Innovation, Western Australian Children’s Commissioner, UNICEF) as well as industry (Google, Navitas English) and non-profits (Multicultural Youth Affairs Network NSW and the Foundation for Young Australians). She is a member of the Technology and Well-being Roundtable and the Australian NGO Child Rights Task Force and an expert advisor to the Raising Children Network.The Conversation

Sasha Petrova, Section Editor: Education, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a candidate’s looks may be swinging your vote (without you even realising it)



File 20181129 170232 1aogmk1.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Compiling images from real American politicians with the help of the Victoria Police Criminal Identification Unit, the authors built six “ideal” candidates to test how attractiveness shifts votes.
Rodrigo Praino, Daniel Stockemer/Social Science Quarterly, Author provided

Rodrigo Praino, Flinders University

If someone asks you why you chose the election candidate you voted for, you will likely have a good answer. Maybe you agree with the candidate’s policy stances. Maybe you support his/her party. Maybe you are tired of the corruption, bad policies, or inaction of the people in power. These are all perfectly acceptable answers. One reason you probably will not mention is that you voted for this person because he or she is good-looking. Certainly not. This is not an acceptable answer.

Yet you probably did.

In a study just published by myself and Daniel Stockemer with the help of Victoria Police in Melbourne, we used data on elections to the US Congress to create the faces of six fictional candidates who were “ideal-looking” in terms of physical appearance. We then used statistical modelling and real election results to simulate what would have happened if the loser of some key races looked like one of our “ideal candidates”, but was otherwise identical to the real losing candidate.

In two-thirds of cases, the loser becomes a winner if he/she simply becomes better-looking. To put it simply, we find that if an election is competitive, candidate attractiveness can actually determine the result.

Research shows that candidate appearance travels across cultures, ignoring even racial and ethnic differences. It appears that there is a fairly standard idea around the world of what is an attractive candidate, and voters everywhere prefer good-looking politicians. Research has shown that beautiful politicians are advantaged in Australia, Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

But the story doesn’t end there. Scholars are still trying to understand all possible ramifications of the relationship between physical attractiveness and electoral success. But we know that ideology, institutions and voter behaviour all play a role in this fascinating relationship.

When it comes to ideology, recent research shows that conservative politicians benefit more from physical attractiveness. In other words, right-wing politicians are better-looking than left-wing politicians and, therefore, benefit more from the “beauty premium” at the ballot box.

In terms of institutions, a study published by Daniel Stockemer and myself last year shows that the electoral system plays a role in whether or not candidate attractiveness matters in elections.

In brief, candidate attractiveness matters in majoritarian electoral systems – that is, systems where voters cast their vote for a specific candidate. The impact of candidate attractiveness fades in list-based proportional systems, where voters are asked to cast a ballot for a political party.

We find no evidence that attractive candidates are placed higher in party lists, which means that political parties and their structures appear to be immune to the appeal of candidate attractiveness. The conclusion is that institutions play an important role in determining whether or not candidate attractiveness affects voters’ decision-making.

Finally, when it comes to voter behaviour, the “beauty premium” doesn’t manifest itself only as extra votes gained at the ballot box. In a study published last May, we found that attractive politicians get a “break” when they are involved in scandals. In particular, voters forgive attractive politicians involved in sex scandals, while politicians involved in financial scandals such as bribery or misappropriation of funds have a harder time at the ballot box after the scandal becomes public. Either way, this shows that voters not only generally vote for the most attractive candidate, but also are more willing to forgive those who look better.

So how about Donald Trump? This question pops up a lot, especially from people arguing that Trump is not the most physically attractive candidate to run for office. If we think hard enough, we can all think of numerous unattractive politicians who have been very successful at the ballot box all over the world. The key to understanding how this works is to focus on information.




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A few years ago, we ran an experiment using thousands of Canadian students at the University of Ottawa as research subjects. We found that if voters have adequate information about the candidates running for office, they tend to cast their ballot based on this information.

If, on the other hand, voters possess little or no information, then the better-looking candidate wins the election. We concluded that, in high-information elections, candidate attractiveness plays a smaller role than in low-information elections. This answers the Donald Trump question, in the sense that American presidential elections are high-information contests and, therefore, voters know more things about the candidates than their physical appearance, and thus vote accordingly.

The problem is that research also shows that voters all over the world have become less and less informed about politics. For instance, Australians seem to be incapable of answering basic questions about Australian politics; American university graduates in the 2000s knew less about politics than high school graduates in the 1950s; and European citizens do worse than chance in answering true-or-false questions about the European Union.




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In other words, we should expect that candidate attractiveness will determine more and more electoral outcomes in the near future. Of course, the major issue with people voting for good-looking candidates is that physical appearance is completely devoid of any policy content. Voters have no guarantee whatsoever that they will end up with policies that they agree with and support if they vote for someone just because that person is attractive.

After years engaged in this line of research, I have never met someone who confessed to having voted for someone else because he/she was good-looking. At the same time, I am also convinced that people do exactly that, even if unconsciously.

The only solution to this problem is to educate voters about politics, institutions and current issues.The Conversation

Rodrigo Praino, Senior Lecturer, College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Caledonia votes to stay with France this time, but independence supporters take heart



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Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, but nonetheless 80.63% turned out to vote in the independence referendum.
Shutterstock

Denise Fisher, Australian National University

The November 4 referendum in New Caledonia was a breathtaking example of democracy in action, with new consequences for the French territory, France and our region.

The vote had been long-deferred, long-awaited and for some, long-feared. It took place peacefully, a major and poignant achievement that was unimaginable 30 years ago, before the Matignon/Noumea Accords were signed. They were designed to end civil war, promising the hand-over of a number of autonomies, to be followed by this referendum.

The result favoured staying with France by 56.4% to 43.6%. Key characteristics were the strong turnout, especially by young Kanaks, the relatively strong vote for independence, and bitter division between the two sides.




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Voting queues were long, with many waiting two hours to vote. Voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia, and the turnout was an extraordinary 80.63% of those eligible to vote (all Indigenous Kanaks, and a large proportion of those from other communities with longstanding residence in New Caledonia). This is the highest in recent history, with levels at the last French national elections 37% (2017) and provincial elections 67% (2014).

As French President Emmanuel Macron noted hours after the polls closed, France has fulfilled its promise and delivered a transparent process, legitimised by the unprecedented high turnout, the attendance of 13 UN observers and a Pacific Islands Forum observer team.

What does it mean for New Caledonia?

This relatively close result is probably the best all round for stability. The campaign has been bitter, and even commentary between leaders in television coverage of the results saw strong denunciation, particularly by loyalists.

While potentially stoking fear among loyalists for the future, the sizeable independence vote nonetheless may give pause to their tendency to triumphalism, challenging opinion polls and their own belief that they would win at least 60% and possibly 70% of the vote.

In their confidence, just days before the vote, the loyalists declared that with a massive win, they would seek to reverse the Noumea Accord guarantee of a second and potentially third referendum, an inflammatory step for independence supporters.

For independence leaders, the result vindicates their careful strategy of negotiating under the Noumea Accord for potentially two more votes in 2020 and 2022 in the event of a “no” vote, automatic participation for all Indigenous Kanaks, and mobilising the young.

Young Kanaks voted in large numbers, peacefully, and apparently for independence. This was so even in mainly European Noumea, which returned a surprising 26.29% “yes” vote.

With natural population growth, their numbers will increase as 18-year-olds become eligible to vote in 2020 and 2022. In contrast, the number of voters from other long-standing communities will vary little during this time-frame.

Independence leaders can also work to improve the vote from Kanak island communities, whose turnout remained at traditional lower levels, and those who may have responded this time to one independence party’s call for a boycott.

What does it mean for France?

The relatively close result means both sides may be more likely to participate constructively in the ongoing dialogue process set up by France.

Macron has urged New Caledonians to overcome division and continue the 30-year process “in favour of peace”, emphasising dialogue. He referred to a future within France and the Indo-Pacific. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the territory on November 5 to continue dialogue and urge calm.

The task of France remains delicate: to manage, impartially, a process respecting the positions of both sides. It’s complicated by the fact the 43.6% favouring independence are largely Indigenous Kanaks. They are not leaving, they have regional support, and their interests must be considered in any long-term future.




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On the positive side, positions canvassed by independence and loyalist parties alike threw up areas of shared interest that can form the basis of future cooperation. Provincial elections in May 2019 will clarify their support, but risk being undermined by extremist parties on both sides.

What are the implications for the region?

The result guarantees continued regional and international interest in the next steps. Reports of the Pacific Islands Forum and UN observer teams will be considered by their organisations. New Caledonia continues to be represented by the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

Separatists in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), set for their own independence referendum next year, and West Papua, both the subject of MSG attention, will take heart.

Macron’s invocation of his Indo-Pacific vision engaging New Caledonia specifically to counter China gives a new edge to the interest in the referendum process by regional countries and partners.

Australia, meanwhile, will continue to retain a close interest in stability in our near neighbour, respecting the process while continuing cooperation with France.The Conversation

Denise Fisher, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Australia should stay away from electronic voting


Tom Sear, UNSW

Russia was behind an enormous effort to influence politics in the US and the UK, but was Australia targeted too? In this series, Hacking #auspol, we explore how covert foreign influence operates in Australia, and what we can do about it.


The civic experience of interacting with analogue voting interfaces is as Australian as the democracy sausage. Voters are confronted with tiny pencils, plus physical security measures that involve huddling in a cardboard booth and origami-scale folding.

The use of paper ballots – and human counting of those ballots – creates one of the most secure electoral systems imaginable.

And the Australian tradition provides another sometimes under-recognised component of electoral security: compulsory voting. This practice secures against the voter suppression tactics used to undermine elections in the United States.

In the digital era, smartphones are so prevalent that it might seem tempting to move to voting online. In 2013 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explored internet voting. But cyber security experts say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.




Read more:
Election explainer: why can’t Australians vote online?


US system an example of what not to do

The problems the US has had with electronic voting provide a perfect illustration of what can go wrong.

Every year hackers and cyber security experts from across the globe converge “In Real Life” (IRL) on Las Vegas to attend one of the world’s largest and longest-running annual hacker conventions: DefCon.

Election hacking has recently gained prominence at DefCon. In 2017 the “Voting Machine Hacking Village” area revealed the cyber vulnerabilities of US election equipment, databases and infrastructure. One participant even “RickRolled” a machine by replacing the voter profile with Rick Astley playing his song “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

The DefCon Voting Village showcased electoral system vulnerabilities again this year, as Young DefCon attendees aged 8-16 competed for prize money to hack into replicas of election results websites to manipulate vote tallies. It took an 11-year-old just 10 minutes to hack into one of the systems.




Read more:
Lessons in trust from America’s experience with electronic voting


Recent announcements from the White House indicate that cyber-vulnerable elections are more than child’s play. Earlier this month the Trump administration outlined approaches to bolster defence against cyber operations targeting elections.

Where Australia stands on e-voting

After the 2016 federal election, the leaders of both major parties raised the possibility of introducing electronic voting at future Australian elections.

Electronic voting is a broad church. Since 2001, the ACT has operated locally networked computers in some locations, and 283,669 voters have used the iVote system in NSW elections.

As early as 2007, the AEC piloted electronically assisted voting to enable access for visually impaired voters. It also trialled voting across a secure network for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas.

At the 2013 federal election, the AEC piloted the use of electronically certified lists (ECLs). This technology enables voters to be marked more quickly off voting rolls, thus avoiding the queues caused by that nice person with a pencil and ruler who looks quizzically at your driving licence.

Electronic scanning and counting of ballot papers was introduced in the 2016 federal election, but subsequently became subject to an inquiry.

In cybersecurity, we are fond of pointing out that no digital system is ever truly secure. Moving to comprehensive, end-to-end, online voting should never take place. The risks of disruption to online voting are, and will remain, simply too high.

Vulnerabilities beyond e-voting

Of course there are other vulnerabilities in the Australian electoral system – dependencies in any system lead to vulnerabilities. External dependencies management is essential for security in elections. For governments, such dependencies include the use of private contractors.

In January, the Australian National Audit Office found that transport suppliers and contractors delivering a new Senate ballot scanning system could not meet security requirements. The Australian Signals Directorate warned the AEC that IT security problems could not be resolved in time for election day. Shortly thereafter, the Council of Australian Governments ordered “health checks” of electoral systems.

In June, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters found that the AEC needed to update its IT infrastructure to support its core election and voter roll management systems.

Foreign adversaries have been accused of attempting to compromise electoral roll systems in the 2016 US election. In response to this threat the Australian government has provided grants to political parties to seek compliance against the top four basic cyber security measures.

Disinformation is a bigger threat

Such initiatives are welcome. But it is unlikely that large parties would be the target of a genuinely subversive measure designed to create disruption.

There are a few options for an adversary seeking to “hack” an election. The first is to “go loud” and undermine the public’s belief in the players, the process, or the outcome itself. This might involve stealing information from a major party, for example, and then anonymously leaking it. Or it might mean, rather than attacking voting machines themselves, attacking and changing the data held by the AEC. This would force the agency to publicly admit a concern, which in turn would undermine confidence in the system.




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Russian trolls targeted Australian voters on Twitter via #auspol and #MH17


In Australia, this approach would not ultimately affect the actual result due to the security of our physical system. Such an obvious breach might be a prize for an adversary, but its actual effect on a nation with compulsory voting would be short-lived.

The real risk to any election is the manipulation of social media, and a more successful and secretive campaign to alter the outcome of the Australian election might focus on a minor party.

An adversary could steal the membership database and electoral roll of a party with poor security, locate the social media accounts of those people, and then slowly use social media manipulations to influence an active, vocal group of voters.

Securing the elections of the future

In June, ahead of the July 28 by-elections, the government set up an Electoral Task Force composed of Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Australian Cyber Security Centre, to guard against foreign interference in future elections.

In an era when foreign influence via social media is likely, this task force should be invested with sufficient powers to analyse social media and compel social media companies to take down foreign adversarial accounts in real time.

Such an approach might feasibly be taken through existing frameworks – too much coordination between the government and social networks could be incompatible with a free and open public sphere. But faced by a challenge with few clear solutions, every available option should be considered.

Meanwhile, calls for, and the development of, digital voting solutions are not going away.

Australian start-up Horizon State has used blockchain technology to create verified, secure voting systems. Horizon State will deploy the system in Sumatra, hoping scale up for future Indonesian elections.




Read more:
Africa leads the way in election technology, but there’s a long way to go


Not everyone is certain that blockchain will provide an ideal solution. Such approaches are good for developing democracies, where human corruption in officialdom is the major security risk to elections. But in a mature democracy like Australia, sometimes the tried and true traditions are the best defence.

During the Australian 2016 federal election, Twitter added a sausage on bread emoji to the hashtag #ausvotes. This is one election “hack” we can be happy to celebrate. But hey, just don’t use a knife and fork, alright?The Conversation

Tom Sear, PhD Candidate, UNSW Canberra Cyber, Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How lowering the voting age to 16 could save democracy



File 20180320 80649 dyezoe.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Thousands of high school students across the US walked out of their schools to protest gun violence and to call for changes to gun laws.
EPA/Tannen Maury, CC BY-ND

Bronwyn E Wood, Victoria University of Wellington and Nick Munn, University of Waikato

Former US president Barack Obama visited New Zealand this week and met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Both leaders share an interest in youth development and their discussions focused on how to keep younger generations engaged and involved.

In the wake of the school shooting in Florida last month, there have been calls in the US to lower the voting age to 16 to give high school students power to challenge gun laws. In New Zealand, too, the idea of allowing 16-year-olds to vote has again been mooted by the children’s commissioner, Andrew Becroft.

So, what are the arguments against and for a lower voting age?




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Ongoing opposition to lower voting age

Becroft argues that a lower voting age could enhance turnout, ingrain the habit of voting, and give young people more rights.

However, his comments have been met by similar responses to those former New Zealand Green MP Sue Bradford received when she initially proposed lowering the voting age back in 2007.

Opponents argue that young people lack maturity, life experience and civic knowledge. At 16 and 17, critics say, young people are heavily influenced by adults such as teachers and parents (and therefore subject to coercion), and their ability to vote doesn’t match other responsibilities young people hold as they are still largely dependent economically on adults.

This time, however, New Zealand would not be alone in giving younger people the vote. Sixteen-year-olds in Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Austria, Nicaragua and Brazil now have voting rights.

In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 16- and 17-year-olds seized the opportunity to vote; 75% of their cohort turned out to vote. In the US, high school students are showing their considerable political strength in protesting against gun violence in their schools.

Inconsistent arguments

New Zealand has a very inclusive electoral system. It allows people on benefits to vote, despite their lack of economic independence. It also allows those with cognitive disabilities to vote, regardless of the severity of their disability and the degree to which they are influenced by their parents or caregivers. And it allows that members of religious groups are given guidance on how to vote by their religious leaders.

The system ought to be more consistent in applying its reasons for preventing people from voting. If lack of maturity is a reason to stop someone voting, it applies to all who lack maturity. If being heavily influenced by others is a reason to prevent someone from voting, it applies to all who are subject to this sort of influence.

There is an even deeper problem with the objections against a lower voting age. Consider how we treat those aged above 18 and those below 18 when it comes to proving their capacity to vote.

Those over 18 are accepted as voters, and remain so regardless of their actions (short of criminal offences that see them imprisoned and their voting rights removed). Those under 18 are presumed not to have the capacity to vote, and are denied any opportunity to show otherwise. But in neither case are we actually examining whether the individual concerned has the qualities we want in a voter.




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Giving voice to the young: survey shows people want under-18s involved in politics


Young people have perhaps more opportunity than older people to develop these qualities. The younger a person the more time they have to spend in formal education, where they can develop their civic knowledge and recognise the importance of political participation – including voting.

Lowering the voting age to 16 would bring the age of political responsibility more in line with the age of criminal responsibility and the age of informed consent for medical procedures.

New Zealand’s current system is willing to hold a 16-year-old responsible for murder, but deny that same 16-year-old the responsibility to cast a vote. This isn’t right. They are either capable of acting both well and badly, or of doing neither.

Civic education

In New Zealand, discussions on lower voting ages take place alongside conversations about civic education in schools. Becroft and others recognise that both should go hand in hand. However, this is not a simple premise.

Merely learning more about civics and political processes has not been shown to lead to greater citizenship participation. The type of civic learning matters.

A large-scale longitudinal study of more than 4,000 students in the US found that civic learning in which students actually experienced involvement in civic and political issues — and particularly on issues that matter to them – had the greatest long-term impact on future political participation.

This bodes well for New Zealand, as research published last year following a two-year study on social studies students taking social action for their internal assessment credits showed the curriculum is well set up for young people to experience civic engagement.

The ConversationEncouraging younger voter participation is complex but essential if we want to maintain the health of our democracy.

Bronwyn E Wood, Senior Lecturer in Education, Victoria University of Wellington and Nick Munn, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Waikato

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


Doug Hunt, James Cook University

The Queensland Labor government’s change back to compulsory preferential voting could increase informal voting and actually backfire, with a strong flow of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation preferences to the Liberal National Party.

What appeared to be a masterly, if cynical, move from Labor now looks far from smart. This is especially so as opinion polling shows a strong flow of One Nation preferences to the LNP, making it the beneficiary of full preferential voting.

Paradoxically, Labor preferences may assist the LNP in some rural seats where One Nation comes second to the LNP. One Nation, which looks set to win a few seats, will itself be helped by preferences from Katter’s Australian Party and also from the LNP.

The difference between optional and compulsory preferential voting

In April last year, Queensland parliament increased the number of electoral districts from 89 to 93. This move, initiated by the LNP with the support of crossbench members, was trumped by Labor, also with crossbench support. Labor amended the Bill to additionally re-introduce compulsory preferential voting.

The introduction by Labor of compulsory full preferential voting owed nothing to democratic electoral theory. Like all previous voting system changes, Labor expected to get some advantage.

Labor proposed two related reasons for the change: to reduce informal votes and achieve consistency between state and federal elections. However, optional preferential voting has meant that Queensland elections have the lowest rate of informality across all Australian parliaments. This is despite Queensland being having a high informal vote in federal elections.

The return to full preferential voting will actually increase the number of informal votes. An informal vote is a ballot paper where the voter has failed to put a number every box, or otherwise not complete it properly.

Compulsory, or full preferential, voting requires an elector to number every box beside each candidate on the ballot paper sequentially in order of the voter’s preference. If no candidate achieves a majority of “1” votes on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the ballot, and their votes allocated to the remaining candidates according to the eliminated candidate’s second preference.

This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority (50% plus one) of votes. The aim is to elect the most preferred candidate, rather than the simple plurality required under first-past-the-post voting.

FPV Formal Ballot Paper Example.
Electoral Commission of Queensland

This is the system used in federal elections and in all other states except New South Wales, which uses optional preferential voting. Queensland elections were conducted via full preferential voting from 1962 until 1992. Optional preferential voting was then introduced following a recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission.

Under optional preferential voting, voters can choose how many, if any preferences they allocate to candidates. They can simply vote 1, or they can vote for some or all candidates in order of their preference. Counting proceeds as with full preferential voting.

This system maximises choice for voters, ensuring that they don’t have to indicate any preference for someone they don’t wish to elect. Optional preferential voting therefore seems like the most democratic form of voting.

On the other hand, full preferential voting arguably maximises the democratic principle of public participation, by ensuring that voters’ second (and so on) preferences pass on to other candidates. Their votes are therefore not wasted. So, elections more accurately reflect the will of the people, as the winner can claim the support of most voters.

Under optional preferential voting, if large numbers of electors limit their preferences to one candidate, someone without majority support may be elected.

What history tells us

The real reason for a return to full preferential voting was to assist Labor in garnering preferences from the Greens. These preferences typically flow heavily to Labor – as high as 80% in many cases.

However, optional preferential voting meant that Greens voters increasingly just voted 1 for their own candidate, robbing Labor of votes. ABC election analyst Antony Green calculated that had full preferential voting been in place in 2015, Labor would have won an additional eight seats and an absolute parliamentary majority.

Labor also hoped to pick up preferences from other candidates in order to stave off Greens challenges in inner-city districts.

The optional preferential voting experience in Queensland shows that over time, the proportion of the electorate not stating full preferences generally increases. Academic John Wanna warned of a defacto first-past-the post system, calling it a “denial of a true democratic outcome”.

In 2012, 70% of electors voted 1 only. This proportion fell to 55% in the 2015 election, apparently due to disaffection with the Newman LNP government, when many voters deliberately put the LNP last on the ballot paper.

In 2016, Labor appeared in a winning position with the change to compulsory preferential voting. 2017 is different.

The difficulty in predicting the outcome of Queensland’s state election is compounded not just by changes to the electoral system, but by volatile political factors.

Chief among these is the resurgence of support for One Nation. In the 2015 election, standing in only 11 electorates, the party garnered a statewide vote of less than 1% – though Hanson herself lost narrowly to the LNP in the seat of Lockyer.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for One Nation at around 18%, prompting commentators to assign it a “kingmaker” role in a likely hung parliament.

So it’s impossible to gauge the impact of a return to compulsory compared with optional preferential voting with certainty. In most seats, it won’t change the outcome.

However, some seats will likely be decided differently under full preferential voting. In a close election, that can determine which party wins on 25 November.

The ConversationIronically, given the LNP’s vehement criticism of the change to full preferential voting last year – it was the ‘death of democracy’, according to one parliamentarian – they are likely to be the main beneficiary of the changed system.

Doug Hunt, Adjunct Associate Professor, College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Making voting both simple and secure is a challenge for democracies



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The US compares relatively poorly with equivalent countries when it comes to voter registration.
Reuters/Bria Hall

Pippa Norris, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, University of Sydney

Recent elections around the world have raised concerns about the procedures used for voter registration and their potential consequences. The effects include disenfranchisement (voters being prevented from casting a ballot) and voter rights, fraud and security, and mismanagement and accuracy.

It’s critical to strike the right trade-off between making registration accessible and making it secure. But how many countries are affected by these sorts of issues? And which is more problematic – lack of security or lack of inclusion?

Our study

Our Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked experts for their assessments of electoral integrity in 161 countries that held 260 national elections from January 1 to June 30, 2017.

The study used three criteria to monitor the quality of the voter registration process: inclusion, accuracy, and security.

These aspects can be considered equally important to ensure all and only eligible citizens are able to vote. The items can be analysed separately and also combined into an index.

As illustrated below, the results show the quality of the voter registration process in Northern Europe and Scandinavia performed well, as did several Latin American countries like Brazil.

At the same time, voter registration proved problematic in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in India and parts of Asia.

The US compared relatively poorly with equivalent liberal democracies on voter registration. This is in no small measure due to the partisan polarisation over the issue, and past reliance on self-registration. By contrast, governments in many other countries register voters on their behalf.

The quality of voter registration worldwide.
Authors

Inclusiveness versus security

The global comparison below shows mean ratings on the measure of inclusion on the vertical axis. The measure of security is shown on the horizontal.

Some countries performed well on both indicators – notably Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Slovakia, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

By contrast, many other places (located in the bottom left quadrant) performed poorly on both measures, such as Syria (which failed to allow citizens to vote if they had fled to neighbouring states as refugees), Haiti (which lacked the capacity to administer elections), Bahrain (with internal conflict), and Afghanistan (with high levels of electoral corruption).

Finally, several countries scored worse on inclusiveness than on security. In these elections, experts thought the more serious problem was the exclusion of eligible citizens.

These problems can arise for many reasons – such as disputed citizenship rights, attempts at voter suppression, lack of capacity to include young people, women, linguistic or ethnic minorities and hard-to-reach rural populations, or failing to maintain up-to-date electoral rolls.

Monitoring inclusion and security worldwide. Scale ranges from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). Regimes classified according to Freedom House.
Authors

Responding to the challenges

So, the challenge is to strike the optimal balance between security and accessibility, to make ensure eligible citizens – and only eligible citizens – cast a ballot. Doing so strengthens public confidence in the electoral process and democracy.

Easier registration processes, such as the availability of online applications and same-day registration, usually strengthens voter turnout. But the introduction of more accessible registration without sufficient verification raises security risks of abuse and fraud.

In the US, parties are deeply polarised over whether the use of strict photo ID at polling places helps maintain accurate and reliable lists, or whether this suppresses voting rights for eligible citizens who lack such ID.

A 2012 report found many American states faced major challenges of accuracy, cost, and efficiency in their voter registration systems. Since then, they have made many efforts to upgrade electronic procedures by allowing citizens to register and check their records online.

An initiative sweeping the US – led by Oregon in 2015 – is states requiring citizens to opt-out rather than opt-in to being registered to vote.

But new risks have also became evident, not least Russian meddling and cyber-security threats to official voting records. To tackle this, the US Electoral Assistance Commission has recently issued new guidelines, working with the states and the Department of Homeland Security to implement them. Yet the overhaul of America’s ageing voting equipment will carry a hefty price tag.

Foreign attempts at interference in voting have been reported in other countries, including Germany and France.

Following the 2017 UK general election, the Electoral Commission expressed concern about the risks of double voting and duplicate registration applications.

In populous developing countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, without reliable census information or identification documents, the challenges are even greater. Poor quality records can create opportunities for vote manipulation.

The ConversationStrict registration processes, such as those relying on biometric technologies for ID, may remove ineligible applicants but simultaneously throw out legitimate voters and make the list less accurate, not more. And biometric voter registration, which many African countries have adopted, presents challenges for the protection of personal information.

Pippa Norris, ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, Electoral Integrity Project Manager and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.