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Changing voting patterns slow down declaration of seats

June 7, 2022 - 15:37 -- Admin

Most people who read this website would have a reasonably good sense of the formal process of counting ballots: the counting of a primary vote, a two-candidate-preferred count, and the full distribution of preferences, where each candidate is excluded one-at-a-time until there are only two left. The AEC eventually will publish all of this data for every seat, even where a candidate has won the seat on primary votes, making preference flows redundant.

But all of this data remains a work in progress for now, and will be for some time to come. Yet the Electoral Commission has another job: to declare the winners for each electorate, so that MPs can take their seats in parliament.

The AEC announced today that the declaration process will take longer because increased votes for candidates outside of the top two. In this post I will map out how the declaration process has been radically changed by the increasing minor party and independent vote.

The declaration process doesn’t need to wait for all of the data to be finalised. Rather the AEC is free to declare a seat once it is mathematically impossible for the result to change.

If a candidate has a majority of the primary vote, and there isn’t enough votes left over for that outcome to change, you can declare.

Likewise, if the winner on the two-candidate-preferred count is clear, and it’s not mathematically possible for another candidate to make the top two in the formal distribution of preferences, it’s possible to declare the result prior to the formal distribution.

But if it is possible for another candidate (say, the third-placed candidate) to gain enough votes to overtake the second-placed candidate, that could mean that the two-candidate-preferred count is irrelevant, and the outcome could be different. In those cases, a formal distribution must be conducted prior to declaration.

Using an example from @caracal_freedom on Twitter, if the primary votes are:

  • LIB – 49
  • ALP – 23
  • GRN – 13
  • ON – 8
  • UAP – 7

It is theoretically possible that ON and UAP preferences could push the Greens into second place, and then elect the Greens on Labor preferences. For us analysts, we know that won’t happen, but the standard for declaring the result is higher. They need to actually conduct the full distribution and find out for sure.

Which brings me to today’s press release from the AEC:

The AEC stated that up to 75 seats may require a full distribution to declare the winner, more than double last time.

I looked at primary vote figures from the last seven elections and confirmed this figure. On current figures, almost half of all seats require a full distribution. On the latest figures, there are just 15 seats where the leading candidate has a majority of all formal votes (which is down from 18 seats earlier in the count, and around 50 seats at the last three elections).

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This is a radical change from elections in the 2000s. In 2004, 89 out of 150 seats were decided on primary votes, and the top two was clear in another 57. Only in four seats was there any mathematical uncertainty about the winner at the end of the primary vote and two-candidate-preferred count. This shift has taken place gradually, but the change massively accelerated in 2022.

To compare 2022 to 2019, just 33 seats required a full distribution in 2019, which was more than double the 16 seats in 2013, but is very little compared to the ~75 we expect to require a full distribution in 2022.

I have been looking forward to getting two-party-preferred data for the 25 or so seats where the two-candidate-preferred count is not between Labor and Coalition, but I can see that this will take longer, since the AEC has a lot of work to do to make sure every seat is declared by the deadline on June 28. I'm sure they'll do their best in more challenging circumstances.