Robson Rotation

Robson Rotation is the method of printing multiple versions of a ballot paper, with the candidates names rotated in different orders, so that the outcome of the election is not a function of how the ballot paper was printed.

Robson Rotation is used to avoid some candidates gaining an advantage owing to luck, or their location on the ballot paper, at the expense of other candidates. Such relative advantage always occurs when all ballot-papers are printed in an identical manner. For further detail see Neil Robson’s booklet, ‘Everybody Counts’.

Effect

Robson Rotation has completely overcome two difficulties with preferential voting:

  • the small but significant (in close contests) percentage of “donkey voters” – persons that simply vote down a ballot-paper column in numerical order, and
  • the use of “how-to-vote” cards by parties. If numerous voters follow such cards, the decision as to which of a party’s candidates is elected is effectively transferred from the voters to the party organisations.

Robson Rotation has put an end to those problems in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Robson Rotation can also remove a handicap that major parties heedlessly inflict on themselves by their practice of urging voters to concentrate their vote on a single preferred candidate. That concentration keeps progress totals of their lower-ranked candidates during the count much lower than they would be if the party’s first preference vote was much more evenly spread. The outcome is candidates from major parties fall behind candidates from minor parties, thus losing the final seat.

Origin

Robson Rotation requires that ballot-papers for elections for both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament are printed in batches of equal numbers with each batch having the name of a candidate or candidates in different positions in the party column. Robson Rotation was the subject of a private member’s bill introduced in 1979 by Neil Robson, a Liberal MHA for Bass (1976-89), supported by the Lowe ALP Government, and passed by the Legislative Council.

Anthony Green explained that “Robson Rotation is named after Neil Robson, a Tasmanian Liberal MP whose private members’ bill introducing the new ballot paper was voted into law with the support of MPs from the then governing Labor Party. At the time the bill was introduced to Parliament in 1979, the Tasmanian Labor Party was riven by factional disputes, with the dominant faction attempting to introduce a formal party ticket for the first time. Sitting Labor MPs undermined the plan by voting for rotation, making it almost impossible to produce a workable how-to-vote card.”

Laws

The legislative provisions for Robson Rotation for both houses of the Parliament of Tasmania appeared in Tasmania’s Electoral Act 1985. The relevant Sections are 106 and 107, and Schedule 2. The current, consolidated Principal Act is the Electoral Act 2004, whose Sections 97 (House of Assembly polls) and 98 (Legislative Council polls), and Schedule 3 deal with Robson Rotation. Robson Rotation applies in the Electoral Act 1992 of the Australian Capital Territory, and its existence there was entrenched by the Proportional Representation (Hare-Clark) Entrenchment Act 1994.  Tasmania’s municipal use of Robson Rotation is prescribed by a Regulation made under the Local Government Act.

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