Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts Honours
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
Harry C J Phillips
The idea of choosing political representatives through elections has its origins in ancient times. More recently, democratic values have been united with the concept of elected representative government. This then places a great deal of importance on the system used to elect these representatives, since this system must satisfy an impressive range of democratic values, as well as being effective and simple enough for the voter to understand. The electoral system chosen will reflect those values and outcomes which those who introduce the system wish to bring about. Sometimes this may be proportional representation, which means seats allocated in direct proportion to votes obtained, which often comes at the risk of unstable coalition governments but that represents minority groups quite adequately. On the other hand, majority rule by one major party (or coalition) may be sought through a plurality voting system (or first-past-the-post). The alternative vote (AV), often called preferential voting, is an electoral system which combines considerations of stable majority rule as well as the preferences of those who support minority party views in society. This is done through the listing of preferences on the ballot paper, which enables those whose first preferences arc eliminated from the count to still affect the final result. The AV has been refined and implemented largely in Australia, both at a federal level to elect members to the House of Representatives, and in most state lower houses. Outside of Australia the AV has been used very little. This study looks at the AV in Australia, both in theory and in practice. The origins of election and representative government are traced to provide a conceptual background to the study. Both the history and outcomes of the AV are covered at a federal level, as well as considering Western Australia as an example of its use at a state level. Also considered is the optional variant of the AV, as is used in the state lower houses of New South Wales and Queensland. This study uses focus groups as the methodological tool with which to determine: firstly, how well the AV is understood by West Australian voters; and secondly, what these voters think of this system as a method of electing their representatives to the Legislative Assembly in Western Australia. The outcomes of the AV, in both Western Australia and the Commonwealth, have sometimes been different than those who introduced the system anticipated. Most predictable, and indeed one of the main reasons behind it's introduction, has the been the prevention of vote-splitting between non-Labor groupings. This, however, has proved more effective on a federal level than in Western Australia. Other outcomes include the formation of a stable two-party system of politics, and the election of candidates and governments which have the support of an absolute majority of voters. The AV has also sustained the presence of some minor parties, particularly the National (formerly Country) Party. Interesting, and less predictable in earlier years, is the way in which the A V has facilitated a 'politics of the centre' in the Australian context. In recent times, preferences have become more important in determining election outcomes, as the number of minor panics and independents contesting lower house seats in Australia increases, and also as the number of votes for major parties decreases. Finally, the focus group research uncovered a marked lack of understanding of the AV amongst voters in Western Australia. 1hus a primary recommendation arising from this study is that better civic education, is required to ensure that the AV is used to its full potential by voters, which will then achieve fully one of the original intentions behind it's introduction to negate the effect of the 'wasted vote'.
Beckingham, V. (2004). The Alternative Vote : In Theory and Practice. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/952