Here is the ABC’s clever election analyst Antony Green complaining about the number and kind of minor parties on the Senate ballot this election:
Much as we all love Antony, I find what he has to say here troublingly anti-democratic.
For a start, he doesn’t seem to have much regard for voters’ intelligence, as he says Pauline Hanson being all the way off to the right of the ballot will cost her votes from people who want to vote for her but can’t find her name. I’m not saying this isn’t true, but it does say something about a certain attitude towards politics.
Many in the political class think politics is a professional game and it’s much neater and tidier when it’s played Seriously. What that looks like is two parties who take turns pulling the levers of government every now and then depending on how successful they are in selling a ‘message’ to the public. ‘Ordinary’ people (the kind I understood democracies are supposed to empower) can’t be trusted to make proper decisions about these things because they don’t know anything, so it has to be put in a language they can understand. When minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs get on the ballot, it makes the whole process unpredictable and untidy and threatens to derail the proper way of things. (The proper way of things being the one everyone is so fed up with and which might have something to do with the amount of minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs who are running this time. Just a thought.)
How dare all those other people stand and direct their preferences in a way that Antony has decided is inconsistent with their real views! He’s always been similarly outspoken when the ALP and the Libs do preference deals that aren’t aligned with their ideologies! Oh? He hasn’t? Well fancy.
Let’s not forget that voters can actually vote below the line on the Senate ballot and allocate their preferences (gasp!) as they see fit. If you want to entrust your preferences to the party, you can save yourself some time and vote above the line. Maybe if you’ve decided to vote for a minor party, you might be more inclined to pay more attention to these things anyway. But it means having those silly big bits of paper and all that extra work for everyone. It must be that internationally embarrassing electoral system that lets people vote further down the ballot than just 1.
Maybe we should just do elections by sampling representative bits of the population (Western Sydney?) and allocating seats by extrapolating the totals. Elections are expensive after all and we pretty much know the kinds of things people think anyway. It would be a loss less work and much easier for the party people, the media and the analysts to deal with. Because that’s what counts, right?
Or more seriously, we could change the system to allow optional preferential voting, or preferences that can exhaust when you say so. That would mean we could vote for minor parties, weirdos and whackjobs without having to have our vote end up with a major party at all! Watch this space, I’m sure that change is coming real soon now.