Following the sacking of Shellharbour (and Wollongong) council and the appointment of an administrator to fulfil the role of a council the recently elected State Government has fulfilled its promise to return democracy to our city as soon as possible. The upshot of this is that we go to the polls on that date to elect a new council who will hold office for the next five years to bring us back into line with the rest of the state.
So how does this voting thing work?
The method of election in all local government elections is known as proportional representation. Proportional representation has been chosen because it give greater opportunity for minority parties to gain a proportion of the seats in local government.
The way it works is this: the total number of formal votes is divided by the number of seats that need to be filled. A fairly rough estimate for Shellharbour is something like this: there are approximately 43,000 eligible voters in Shellharbour. This number is drawn from the 2006 census count and the real number is probably a couple of thousand more. There are seven seats contested in this election. Taking the number of votes and dividing by the number of seats gives us the quota by which a candidate can gain election. That quota is around 6,150.
Now here’s the tricky bit. With political parties and other independent groups seeking a seat on council, like minded groups are arranged by ‘ticket’. Those of us who have voted before will be familiar with above the line and below the line voting papers. Groups of four or more will be grouped together and will have a box ‘above the line’. This makes voting simple in that a voter can simply place a ‘1’ in the box above the line for the candidate or the party of their choice. The alternative is to vote below the line which means numbering each candidate in your order of preference. The vast majority of voters cast their vote above the line.
Independent candidates who can not form a group of four as a ‘ticket’ are grouped together and have no box above the line. It is very difficult for independents below the line to get elected.
But wait, there’s more! When votes are counted those who make the quota (in our case somewhere around 6,150 votes) have won a seat. Any votes they have received over the quote then become surplus and go to the next candidate to whom the now elected candidate gives them. Each candidate or party needs to say up front who they want their preferences to go to.
Here’s a bit of a rough example:
Bruce gets 7,500 votes. He reaches the quota and has 1350 surplus votes.
Alice, his running mate, gets 6,000 votes and also gets Bob’s surplus of 1350, giving her a total of 7,350. She also wins a seat and has 1,200 surplus votes.
Ted has third place on the ticket. He gets 980 votes as well as Alice’ surplus of 1,200. With a total of 2,180 votes he has not reached the quota and does not win a seat.
Nigel, the fourth candidate on the ticket, gets 18 votes, he thanks his mum and dad and the neighbours and goes off to buy the pizzas for the after-election party.
Preferences run down the ticket. They can also be distributed across the columns. A ticket of four Labor Party candidates may distribute any surplus votes from their ticket to an independent candidate rather than a Liberal candidate. Independents may give their preferences to each other or a minor party so as not to pass them on to a major party. In a tight election the distribution of preferences can make a big difference.
That’s the mechanics of it. You, as a voter, now have your job to do. Prior to the election you need to get some idea of what each party or candidate stands for. No doubt you will get flyers in your letter box. There will also be election adds in the newspapers. I encourage you to read them. Be informed. Make an intelligent and informed choice. I does make difference who you vote for.