Optional Preferential Voting Won Willoughby for the Liberals
4 March 2022
In the recent by-election in Willoughby one aspect that has escaped notice is that the optional preferential voting system delivered the seat to the Liberals because of the number of people who just voted 1, then exhausted their votes.
Liberal Tim James won the two-party preferred against the Independent Larissa Penn by 2,465 votes. But apart from the LDP (2.5%), the preferences of the other candidates strongly favoured the Independent. If there had been compulsory preferential and the exhausted preferences of each group were the same as those who gave preferences, the Independent would have won by 342 votes. This has huge implications for NSW as the Parliament is delicately balanced.
Optional preferential favours those with high primary votes and adds to the duopoly power of the major parties.
I have included the working of the preferences to justify this conclusion and make it easy for fact-checkers. Skip this part if you are not interested.
Here are the candidates in ascending order of their primary vote:
Gunning LDP 2.5% (44% gave preferences),
Bourke Sustainable Australia 5.1% (50% preferenced);
Hackett, Reason Party (Formerly Voluntary Euthanasia) 5.9% (68% preferenced because she numbered her first two squares),
Saville Greens 13.5% (52% preferenced- though she asked them to choose their own and did not number the squares),
Penn Independent 29.7%;
James Liberal 43.5%
.Looking at where the preferences of each candidate went:
Gunning’s Liberal Democrat voters gave 52% to the Libs, 24% to Penn.
Bourke’s Sustainable Australia gave 13% to the Libs, and 29% to Penn.
Hackett’s Reason Party voters gave 10% to the Libs and 69% to Penn.
Saville’s Green voters gave 12% to the Libs and 88% to Penn.
If there had been compulsory preferential voting and those who did not give preferences followed the people who did in their party there would have been an extra 890 votes for the Liberal (317+151+80+342 from the 4 candidates respectively), but an extra 3517 for Penn (146+331+562+2478). So Penn would have won by 162 votes, 20,938 (17,421 + 3517) to the Libs 20,776 (19,886 +890).
Note that given these assumptions about voting, the Greens would have contributed 2,478 of the extra preferences. This would not have been enough to give victory to the Libs, because the Greens had 12% or 347 votes preferencing the Liberal, so my accusation that the Greens gave the seat to the Libs was not quite correct; another 334 preferences were needed from the other candidates, but the significance was that they were 2478 of the 2812 (88%) that Penn needed to win.
The Greens by deciding not to number all squares made it very unlikely that the Independent could win. If they are concerned about who is in Parliament, and not merely their position vis a vis the major parties this is a major strategic mistake, and it is not the first time that they have done this- it is common in their HTVs. They should be a major voice for compulsory preferential voting in all Australian elections; they are anything but.All the figures I have given are from or can be derived from the State Electoral office results: