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Category: Electoral Systems
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House of Reps: Voting Made Easy

 
The House of Representatives (HoR), or the Lower House as it is  commonly known, holds elections every 3 years using a system known more commonly as full preferential voting. As the name implies, for a vote to be considered formal (accepted) preferences must be given to every candidate listed; an easy task given the relatively small size of the ballot papers, unlike the "unelected swill", as Paul Keating once referred to, the Senate.

See here for the Senate voting system, its contrast and intentions in more detail.

Electoral System: Structure, Preferences and Background

This system breaks the nation into a mass of electorates with approximately the same number of voters, in line with the fundamental democratic rule of one person one vote.  To win the seat of an electorate a candidate must reach 51% - a majority - of the vote. Rarely, if ever, does a party reach 51% on the first count.
 
This is where preferences kick in. The candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and their preferences distributed according to the intention of their voters. Importantly, and more on this when we reach the Senate, each preference is distributed at its full value and carries the same weight as the original vote. With 151 seats on offer, and one of those reserved for the Speaker of the House, a Party must win 76 seats to form a majority government. Hung parliament occurs when a party fails to secure this number of seats and are required to obtain the support of minor parties in order to govern.

When it comes to polling day, voters are required (all voting in Australia is compulsory regardless of state/federal divides) to complete the entire ballot paper with preferences from first to last. These ballot papers are typically small with only a handful of choices, making this a logistically simple task for the voter.

Once the votes have been cast and the polls close, counting begins. Following the first round of counting - the primary vote - the party with the least amount of votes is eliminated and the preferences of the voters who listed them first are redistributed. This process continues until a candidate reaches 51%.


Institutional Role & Political Philosophy of the HoR

The House of Reps, as an institution, is often described as being comprised of elements from both the United Kingdom (Westminster) and the United States of America (Washington) political systems, acquiring the name "Washminster" frequently in academic literature. This is due to Australia taking institutional features from both, such as allowing the existence of semi-autonomous states with a similar check on executive power found in the Senate, similar to the USA, while also maintaining a Prime Minister as the Head of Government and Governor General - the symbolic representative of the Queen of England - as Head of State and formally endorsing British ideals of responsible government to supposedly entrench ministerial accountability. The Governor General's role is typically symbolic and their actions ceremonial in nature, yet the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1973 is an example of the potential perils or positive aspects, depending on your viewpoint, this design contains.

Greater differences exist, but an exhaustive list is unnecessary. The result for the House of Representatives is an emphasis on democracy and producing clear, unambiguous outcomes with regard to who governs, who is responsible and who to hold accountable. The counter-weight occurs in the Senate where a different system, used to produce different results for precisely this reason, is in play. 

Federal Lower House: Pros and Cons


The benefit and drawbacks of such any electoral system are multifaceted and, as always with politics, debatable depending on your values. Below we by no means purport to note every benefit and hindrance of such a system, just those touted commonly by advocates and opponents: