NSW Lower House Electoral System

The NSW Lower House is comprised of 93 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and operates under an optional preferential system similar to that introduced in the Federal Senate in 2016. 

Voters can number as many or as little candidates as they would like. Simply voting for 1 party and potentially allowing your vote to exhaust is perfectly acceptable or you may choose to fill out the entire ballot. Simple enough, yet there are lesser known structures within this system that can lead to unintended consequences when replicated on a mass scale.

Informal and Exhausted Votes

The clearest example of this is the effect of informal (improperly filled) and exhausted votes. When this occurs a vote is actually removed from the pool of votes from which the number of votes required to make up a majority and determine the seat is calculated.

To demonstrate, if 100 votes in total are cast, when counting begins the number to reach a majority (51%) is 51 votes. If after the first count nobody has a majority the party with the least number of votes is eliminated - a rare commonality between electoral systems - and their preferences distributed, assuming they exist. When an individual gives no preference and their party is eliminated, exhausting their vote, it is actually removed from the pool of votes from which the 51% majority is determined. The threshold number of votes required for election is therefore reduced.

For instance, if 20 out of 100 total votes exhaust or are informal there are now only 80 in the pool of votes being used to determine a majority. This majority has also now slipped from 51 votes to 41. This provides the greatest benefit to parties who score high on the initial - the primary - count, such as the LNP who are in coalition and do not have a split vote like Labor and the Greens. Taking this view, an informal or exhausted vote is a de facto vote for the LNP. Whether you like it or not, in a democracy premised on compulsory voting even your decision not to vote has a political impact.

Who Benefits?

Informal, unregistered and exhausted votes don't count for simply nothing and can have sweeping impacts if perpetrated at large scales. Whether you view this as a problem, however, is entirely dependent on your personal values and biases. With this in mind, I would argue that it is a genuine problem if people are simply unaware of what they are doing at the polling booth and their ballots are not at all, not even the slightest bit, a calculated political gesture. This demonstrates ignorance and can lead to unwanted outcomes for those who had no intention of supporting them.

Statistics from the last State Election in the Ballina Electorate and surrounds also show the magnitude of this issue with exhaust rates of up to 50%*. A similar occurrence happened in the 2016 Local Government elections where scrutineers I spoke with, and the booth I worked on, had similar figures. For the Left Movement to have a chance they must get over this petty
in-fighting and start to use their How-To-Vote cards properly. For the Coalition and the Right-wing Movement, the system is likely working just fine so just keep voting 1.