A former official of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), Michael Maley, has attacked the government’s planned reform of Senate voting as internally inconsistent. Maley says the scheme proposed will create an anomaly never previously seen at Senate elections – identical preferences for candidates may produce a formal vote if the elector expresses them “above the line”, but an informal one if they are expressed “below the line” because the ballot paper would be insufficiently completed. Maley had a 30-year career at the AEC and was deeply involved in the 1983 drafting of the current provisions governing Senate elections. He was the recognised in-house expert on the Senate electoral system. He has lodged a submission for the brief inquiry into the government’s legislation, which is being done by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
The changes in the legislation provide that a voter should number their preferences for six sets of candidates above the line, although their vote will still be counted if they mark fewer than the full six – called a “savings” provision. Below the line, voters will still have to fill out the whole ballot paper, with the one change being that the number of errors allowed has been increased from three to five.
The changes are designed to reflect the voters’ wishes better than the present system, and stop the preference “gaming” that has resulted in candidates being elected with tiny votes. Their effect will be to make it difficult if not impossible for micro players to win seats.