Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Preference Deals Don’t Always Call the Shots in Elections

Data released by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) on the results of the recent election of Geelong’s first popularly elected mayor show that voters don’t always follow the “how to vote” advice given by candidates. The VEC have released a spreadsheet showing how preferences were distributed in the counting of votes (they also provide an explanation of how preferential voting works). Frank Rozpara received the lowest number of first preferences, so his ballot papers were distributed to the other candidates, but not in the way he would have liked. In his candidate statement, Rozpara listed his preferences as follows:

1. Rozpara
2. Mitchell
3. Robin
4. Uzelac
5. Smith
6. Bull
7. Asher
8. Watt
9. Fagg

But the spreadsheet reveals that, on average, Rozpara’s supporters actually voted like this:

1. Rozpara
2. Mitchell
3. Watt
4. Bull
5. Asher
6. Smith
7. Fagg
8. Uzelac
9. Robin

Instead of preferencing Robin and Uzelac third and fourth, Rozpara’s voters put them last on the ballot paper. They also put Rozpara’s second last choice, Watt, in the third top spot.

We are only talking about 1540 voters, which amounts to 1.22% of the total vote. It isn’t possible to work out how the supporters of a more popular candidate like John Mitchell voted, because by the time Mitchell’s ballot papers were distributed, the two candidates he recommended for second and third place in his candidate statement had already been eliminated. So we can’t know whether Mitchell’s voters followed his advice or not. But the example of Rozpara’s supporters shows that voters are willing to take decisions about preferences into their own hands.

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