Monday, August 23, 2010

Complex count for sixth senator

IT HAPPENED in 2004 when Victorians elected Steve Fielding to the Senate with just 1.9 per cent of the vote. It happened again in 2006, when the DLP's Peter Kavanagh won a seat in Victoria's upper house with 2.6 per cent of the vote. Could it happen a third time in 2010?

It's clear who has won five of Victoria's six Senate seats: Labor two, the Coalition two and the Greens one.

But the sixth seat will come down to a three-way battle between Senator Julian McGauran of the Liberals, Senator Fielding from Family First, and the DLP candidate, Ballarat blacksmith John Madigan.

How come? Senator Fielding won just 2.7 per cent of the vote, and this time he has no Labor or Democrat preferences. The DLP got an even smaller vote: 2.2 per cent.

Labor's third candidate, former union leader Antony Thow, has .71 of a quota. (A quota gets you elected). Senator McGauran has .40 of a quota. But Family First has just .19 and the DLP .16 per cent. Surely the battle is between the Liberals and Labor?

No. Let's see how it works, courtesy of ABC commentator Antony Green's excellent Senate calculator (which you too can play with on his ABC blogsite).

The first five senators are elected, each using up a quota (14.3 per cent of the vote). Their surplus votes are then distributed in line with their preferences. Then, when no candidate is left with a quota, we start from the other end, eliminating the candidates with the lowest votes.

On current figures, the votes would be roughly:

Labor 323,868

Liberal 181,099

Family First 85,916

DLP 71,544

Sex Party 71,244

Lib Dems 52,700

Shooters 42,160

Others 83,673

The votes transferred are small at first, but then they build. One Nation and the Christian Democrats go out and their votes go to the DLP. The Democrats votes go to the Sex Party. The Shooters give their votes to the Liberals, while the Liberal Democrats also go to the Sex Party.

With five candidates left, the votes are:

Labor 329,084

Liberal 228,475

Sex Party 152,028

DLP 102,630

Family First 99,967

On this breakdown, Senator Fielding misses out but only narrowly and the bulk of his votes go to the DLP. That makes the score:

Labor 329,084

Liberal 228,475

DLP 197,807

Sex Party 156,818

The Sex Party goes out, and its preferences go to Labor. But those of the Liberal Democrats now go to the DLP, making the score:

Labor 428,412

DLP 253,062

Liberal 230,710

Senator McGauran then goes out, and his preferences too go the DLP, making the final outcome:

DLP 478,556

Labor 433,628

So, on figures at the close of counting on Saturday night, the DLP would win the final seat. But in the real world, that's far from certain.

First, there are maybe half a million more votes still to be counted, mostly from postal and absentee voters. Second, the numbers shown here assume everyone voted above the line, so their preferences follow the party ticket. But there are still many hardy souls who vote below the line, filling out the entire ballot paper, and their preferences are less predictable.

If Senator Fielding lifts his share of the vote just slightly, he could finish ahead of the DLP, and then its preferences would allow him to leapfrog his way up and claim the seat.

But history shows the postal votes will strongly favour the Liberals, and that could see them close the gap, giving Senator McGauran the final seat on DLP and Family First preferences, rather than the other way around.

We won't know for some weeks, until all votes are in, and the House results are completed. Then, finally, electoral officials will turn their attention to the Senate.