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Gordon Brown vows Australian vote reforms

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Postby rath » Mon May 10, 2010 6:46 am

April 09, 2010

BRITAIN is almost certain to adopt Australian-style voting reforms following promises of major change by Gordon Brown and private plans by Conservative rivals to copy some aspects of our electoral system.
The British Prime Minister said yesterday that the May 6 general election should be the last held under the traditional voting system, vowing to adopt Australia's "alternative vote" or preferential ballot system for the House of Commons and to replace the unelected House of Lords with a fully elected upper house that is expected to be called a senate.

Mr Brown unveiled his proposal on the second day of the four-week election campaign in a bid to woo supporters of the third party, the Liberal Democrats, which has long advocated more radical electoral reform such as proportional representation to boost the number of MPs from minor parties.

Mr Brown also backed four-year fixed-term parliaments and lowering the voting age to 16 in the hope of building common ground with the Lib Dems and positioning himself for power-sharing negotiations with them if the election results in a hung parliament.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg denounced Mr Brown's promise of electoral reform as a "deathbed conversion" by a leader clinging to power. "Don't believe it; they are trying to treat you like fools," Mr Clegg told voters.

The Conservative Party opposes such reforms and wants to stick with Britain's simpler "first past the post" voting system, which ignores voters' second and third preferences and makes it hard for minor-party candidates to win seats in parliament. But The Australian has learned that the Conservatives plan to modernise aspects of that system with ideas from recent discussions with the Australian Electoral Commission.

David Cameron's Conservatives, or Tories, will use elements of the Australian system to draw up legislation aimed at removing some of the more archaic aspects of the centuries-old system of running Westminster's "mother of all parliaments", such as its outdated rules for trying to maintain fair constituency boundaries.

The Tories hope that by using Australian methods for designing more evenly sized constituencies and reviewing them more often they would be able to reduce bias in the electoral system, which now gives the Labour Party a "head start" over the Tories that is estimated to be worth at least 5 per cent of the total vote.

The latest YouGov poll, published in The Sun yesterday, gave the Tories a 37-32 percentage point lead over Labour, with the Lib Dems on 19 points.

That five-point lead was three points smaller than the previous day and, if it was repeated at the election, Labour would probably emerge as the largest party in a hung parliament.

Britain's system now allows only slow and unwieldy boundary reviews, leading to discrepancies such as one seat in Scotland's Western Isles having only 21,908 registered voters while another on the Isle of Wight in southern England has 110,228 voters.

Seats on the mainland range from 40,889 voters in Arfon, Wales, to 87,809 in London's East Ham, and British mechanisms for redressing such imbalances are nowhere near as modern or efficient as Australia's.

Rob Hayward, a former Tory MP who advises Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles on electoral reform, said he had received detailed advice from officials at the Australian high commission in London and the AEC in Canberra, including electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn.

"We have been looking very closely at the Australian experience to help draft the legislation that the Conservatives would introduce after the election," Mr Hayward said. "What is going to come from a Conservative government will be highly recognisable to anybody familiar with the Australian system."

A Tory government would legislate to move towards Australia's system of setting a 3.5 per cent maximum divergence from the average number of voters in electorates in each state, with new boundaries drawn every seven years instead of the current UK average of only once a decade.

The Conservatives have presented the cut from 650 to 585 house seats as mainly being aimed at reducing the cost of politics but it would also allow them to get rid of many small non-Tory seats in Wales and other areas, reducing the anti-Tory bias in the design of the electoral system and increasing the Tories' chances.

In the current system, the average seat in England, where the Tories are the strongest party, has 73,212 voters while the average seat in Labour-dominated Wales has just 56,531 voters, making it easier for Labour to win more seats.
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Postby rath » Mon May 10, 2010 6:51 am

Lib Dem reform proposals will remodel Britain

April 29, 2010

By Peter Wilson, Europe correspondent

FOR a political junkie, this British election is about as good as it gets.

I have covered election campaigns in the US, Australia and a dozen other countries but I have never seen one with the fascinating and unpredictable machinations of what is now a tight three-way race.

It has already been more turbulent than any modern British campaign. The polls rarely change during British campaigns but the rise of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has raised his party's support from 20 per cent to 31 per cent, one point behind the once-cruising Conservatives and four points ahead of the ruling Labour Party.

For once it is no exaggeration to use that dusty cliche about this being "the most important election for a generation".

When voters make their decisions a week from today, they could be shaping not just the next government but the next ten governments, because a strong showing by the Liberal Democrats could change the nation's voting system.

If the result reflects current polls, the Lib Dems will hold the balance of power in the House of Commons and their main demand before allowing another party to govern will be electoral reform.

That reform would make single-party rule much less likely in the future. No more unfettered rule by a Margaret Thatcher or a Tony Blair.

The belated realisation that such drastic change is on the way has sent the Conservative Party and its newspaper supporters into a near-panic, warning voters that an electoral system in which votes are more accurately reflected in the number of MPs elected from each party will lead to a near-permanent centre-left coalition. And they are right.

A voting system that actually reflects the public's support for Britain's three major parties and its smattering of minor parties would be disastrous for the Conservatives because the simple arithmetic is that most Britons are somewhere on the centre-left.

The Lib Dems is a centre-left party and most of its MPs, activists and voters would be much happier supporting Labour than the Tories. The other right-wing parties - the racist British National Party and the xenophobic UK Independence Party - are at least matched by left-leaning Greens and Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties.

It may be 20 years since Thatcher's colleagues shoved her from office but the Conservative brand is still so poisoned by her legacy that David Cameron has failed to cleanse it, despite spending much of his four years as the party's leader talking about the environment, fairness, civil rights, gay rights and protecting the health service from Thatcher-style cuts.

Having watched three previous Tory leaders get nowhere with hard-right policies, Cameron declares every day that his party has finally got the message and, in his words, has become "progressive and liberal".

The voters have not bought it.

Even up against a dispirited 13-year-old government, led by an unpopular Prime Minister scarred by a series of partyroom revolts and the worst recession in 70 years, the best Cameron can manage in the polls is 32 per cent, 0.3 per cent less than the result his lacklustre predecessor, Michael Howard, achieved when losing to Blair in 2005.

That pathetic level of support makes it even harder to defend the "winner takes all" nature of Britain's "first past the post" voting system, in which single-member constituencies are won by the candidates with the most votes, no matter how small the winner's share of the vote may be.

The only country in the world where that system functions at all effectively is the US, where congress is still a two-horse race.

The other country where it is used is Canada, and the rise of multi-party politics there means it should have been scrapped long ago. In 1993, it produced the farcical result, in the 295-seat lower house, of the Conservatives falling from a ruling majority of 169 seats to just two seats.

Sixty years ago, Britain was such a narrow two-party system that Labour's Clement Attlee lost in 1951 with 48.8 per cent of the vote. By 2005, Blair was able to win a comfortable majority with just 35.3 per cent, a record low that could be broken next week.

Labour's bid to woo the Lib Dems has already seen Gordon Brown offer a referendum on introducing an Australian-style system, in which each voter's second preference and lower preferences would be taken into account until a candidate has more than 50 per cent support.

That is not the proportional representation system the Lib Dems would like but it would still double their numbers in parliament because as a centrist party they are the classic "second choice" for many voters.

John Curtice, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde, has calculated that because of a pro-Labour bias in Britain's current system, the latest polls (Conservatives 32 per cent, Lib Dems 31 per cent, Labour 28 per cent) would give Labour 268 seats, the Conservatives 238 and the Lib Dems 112.

Under the Australian system, the numbers would be 238 Labour MPs, 217 Lib Dems and 163 Conservatives. Labour and the Lib Dems might find that acceptable but the Conservatives and smaller parties would again be dudded.

By opposing such reform the, Conservatives are defending a system that not only gives almost total power to a party with just one-third of the votes, but also sees Labour rise from third to first when votes are translated into seats in parliament.
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Postby rath » Mon May 10, 2010 7:02 am

The Australian Ballot System

the system of voting in which voters mark their choices in privacy on uniform ballots printed and distributed by the government or designate their choices by some other secret means.

Victoria and South Australia were the first states to introduce secrecy of the ballot and for that reason the secret ballot is referred to as the Australian ballot.

The system spread to Europe and the United States to meet the growing public and parliamentary demand for protection of voters. The means for securing secrecy vary considerably.

In the New England colonies the practice of secret voting was in vogue from the very first, and it has now been adopted throughout the United States. It is prevalent also in the self-governing English colonies in Canada and Australia, and in most, if not all, the countries of Europe which have adopted parliamentary institutions - in France, Germany, Italy, etc. While it may with substantial justice be maintained that open voting is theoretically the best at elections of every kind, on the ground that the suffrage being a public trust, it should be openly and manfully exercised with the full sense of responsibility, secret voting is now generally regarded as practically the most satisfactory method. Though it is not a perfect safeguard against bribery and intimidation, it has proved to be very effective. Since its adoption elections have proceeded with greater quietness, order and with comparatively little corruption.

The peculiar system of the secret ballot known as the Australian system took its name from its being practiced first in New South Wales, a prominent Australian colony. Its distinguishing feature is that the names of all candidates are printed on one ticket, and that the voter must cross out the names of all those he does not wish to vote for.

Many of our States have adopted this system of voting, with slight modifications, varying with the different States. Most of them, however, have adopted what is styled the single or "blanket" ballot. All the names in nomination are printed on one sheet, the voter's choice to be indicated by marking. There are two methods used of grouping the names of the candidates. The Australian plan arranges the titles of the offices alphabetically, the names of the candidates and usually their party connection being attached. ... ian-ballot
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Postby rath » Mon May 10, 2010 7:19 am

The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are confidential. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery.

The system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy. Secret ballots are suitable for many different voting systems.

The most basic form may be blank pieces of paper, upon which each voter writes only their choice. Without revealing their vote to anyone, the voters place the ballots into a sealed box, which is emptied later for counting.

One of the most common forms in the modern world provides for pre-printed ballot papers with the name of the candidates or questions and respective checkboxes. Provisions are made at the polling place for the voter to record their preferences in secret. The ballots are specifically designed to eliminate bias and to prevent anyone from linking voter to ballot. This system is also known as the Australian ballot, because it originated in Australia during the 1850s. In the United States, it is also known as the Massachusetts ballot since Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to use the secret ballot.

A History of the Australian Ballot System in the United States

The purpose of this dissertation is to trace the introduction and development of the Australian ballot system in the United States of America.

The first portion of the thesis discusses the demand for reform which grew out of the evils of the unofficial ballot. The unofficial ballot developed from the use of voting papers by certain American colonies, in particular New England; and it gradually superseded the viva voce method. This plan proved very defective, and in the period of corruption following the Civil War it was made the instrument of great abuse.

This led to the introduction of the Australian system, which provided a secret ballot, furnished by the state and supplied to the electors on the day of election within the polling-place, and marked in secret by the electors. The second portion of the thesis treats in detail the development and present status of the Australian ballot in the United States. The third portion of the thesis discusses the attitude which the courts have taken toward the secret ballot. In Appendix A is printed the text of the original South Australian Ballot Act, the text of which is not in print in any of the large libraries of the United States.

This dissertation takes up a study of the ballots used in the election of public officers only. Primary ballots are not included.

The material used has been primarily the session laws, digests, and codes of the states, and the decisions of the courts, although newspapers and periodicals and the debates of constitutional conventions were also employed. A bibliography covering the field is given in Appendix B.

The writer wishes to acknowledge the assistance given by Professor Charles E. Merriam and Professor Ernst Freund of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and by Dean John H. Wigmore of Northwestern University Law School.

Chapter II: The Origin of the Australian Ballot System and its Introduction into the United States

1. The Origin of the Australian Ballot
2. Its Introduction into the United States
3. The Arguments For and Against the Australian Ballot
Chapter III: The Development of the Australian Ballot in the United States

1. The Printing and Distribution of the Ballots
2. The Procedure for Placing the Names of Candidates on the Ballot
3. Provisions for Publicity and Instruction of Voters
4. The Arrangement of the Polling-Place
Chapter IV: The Form of the Ballot

1. The Different Types of Ballots in the United States
2. The Office-Group versus the Party-Column Ballot
3. Present Status of the Form of the Ballot
Chapter V: The Manner of Voting; Penal Sanctions

1. Obtaining the Ballot
2. Marking the Ballots
3. Assisting the Voters
4. Penal Sanctions
Chapter VI: The Attitude of the Courts toward the Australian Ballot

1. The Constitutionality of the Australian Ballot
2. The Policy of the Courts in Interpreting the Ballot Laws
Cha VII: Summary and Conclusion

Appendix A

The Text of the Original Australian Ballot Act
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