Why do we want representation?
Most people prefer to delegate decisions about running the country to a small group of representatives. This is called representative democracy. The basis of representative democracy is that the views of the elected representatives reflect the views of the people who elect them.
Why do we want multi-member electoral districts?
Representatives can be returned from either 1-member electoral districts or from multi-member districts. Multi-member districts offer several benefits compared with 1-member districts, such as:
- delivering a group of representatives (the parliament) that better reflects the views of voters;
- ensuring that many more voters have a representative in their district that they actually voted for; and
- enabling voters to choose between candidates from the same party, e.g. between male or female candidates, or between a sitting member and a renewal candidate.
Why do we want preferential voting?
Preferential voting enables voters to directly elect candidates (instead of just voting for a party) and allows their vote to transfer to another candidate if their preferred candidate is not elected. This system is called the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method. The single transferable vote (STV) form of proportional representation (PR) is called PR-STV.
PR-STV can be further improved to form a gold standard electoral system:
- Direct election of all representatives: casual vacancies (e.g. filling a seat because a member resigned) are filled by re-examining the quota of votes that elected the vacating candidate. That preserves the wishes of the electors, avoids the cost of by-elections, and ensures that all representatives are directly elected (as opposed to undemocratic party appointments).
- Neutral ballot paper formats: instead of all ballot papers being exactly the same, different ballot papers have candidate’s names listed in different orders. Each name will appear at the top on some ballot papers and at the middle or bottom on others. That method of printing ballot papers almost eliminates the effect of the “donkey vote”, thus giving all candidates an equal starting point.
- Entrenchment: the major electoral provisions of the Australian Capital Territory have been entrenched by requiring a referendum or a 2/3 majority in its Legislative Assembly before they can be altered. A government can no longer tinker with the electoral system for electoral advantage.
The Australian Capital Territory has adopted the above three improvements; and Tasmania uses the first two, where the system is known as Hare-Clark.
The single transferable vote (STV) form of proportional representation (PR) with multi-member electorates is a core element of the world’s gold standard electoral system. It delivers representative democracy, where the varied views of the elected representatives reflect the varied views of the people that elect them.
PR-STV is used by:
- Houses of government: TAS House of Assembly and ACT Legislative Assembly
- Houses of review: Australia’s Senate; NSW, VIC, WA, and SA Legislative Councils
- Local government: All councils in NSW and TAS, and most councils in VIC and SA
Not all of the above implementations comply with all aspects of the gold standard, which is what the PRSA advocates for.