Wamboin Community Association

You and Your Vote

An Analysis of the 2012 Election Results

The September 2012 Council election was the third for Palerang Council, the fifth if we include the two by-elections, and it’s probably no surprise that things are becoming a little more predictable.

There are probably two primary contributing factors at play here.

First of all, our shire is maturing, after its uneasy birth eight years ago. In that first election, in 2004, many candidates were completely unknown to a large portion of the new shire, and attitudes within the shire were also probably similarly unknown to a large number of the candidates. In the second election, in 2008, there was clearly a desire for change, and most of the candidates were better known. Although certain idiosyncrasies of our voting system masked an accurate picture of community attitudes on that occasion, the makeup of the Council was more or less representative. Subsequent by-elections, however, confused the situation, so that once again we approached the 2012 elections with a level of discontent evident within the community.

Given the stability of the result throughout the count in 2012 (i.e. how small a role preferences played in the final result), it is probably reasonable to suggest that the makeup of the present Council more closely represents the balance of opinion throughout the shire than on previous occasions.

Based on the results of elections to date, it emerges that the shire is divided roughly 70/30, between those wanting more consultative and controlled development planning, and those wanting more planning freedom. With nine councillors, this represents somewhere between a 6/3 and 7/2 makeup and based on commitments made by candidates during the election campaign, this is precisely what we now have in our new Council.

It’s worth noting, of course, that while Council deals with a raft of issues, and in many cases councillors are in accord with one another, planning issues historically tend to polarise views and expose councillors’ fundamental philosophical differences.

The second factor at play is the voting system itself, specifically the option for above-the-line voting. Above-the-line voting allows residents to vote for a group of candidates, generally with a common social or political ideology, rather than requiring residents to vote (below-the-line) for a number of individual candidates. This produces a much more consistent, and hence predictable, distribution of preferences, since each above-the-line vote for a particular group yields the same sequence of preferences for the individual group members.

The results of the 2012 Palerang Council election are summarised, from the count sheets provided on the NSW Local Government Election website, in the accompanying spreadsheet.

Refer to the analysis of the 2008 Local Government Election for more details about the Proportional Representation voting system use in NSW Local Government elections.

In the 2012 election, 63% of the vote was cast above-the-line, up from 40% at the 2008 election, with the result that it was relatively easy to predict the result based solely on first preference votes. In fact, with a quota of 769 votes required for automatic election, the ninth candidate was more than 150 votes ahead of tenth after distributing first preference votes, and that gap essentially remained constant throughout the count.

Moving on to the numbers themselves, for the 2012 Palerang Council election 8,469 of the 10,282 registered voters cast a vote, a slightly higher than usual turnout of 82.4%. Of these, 7,688 were formal votes. The informal vote rate, 9.2% (781), was relatively high for Palerang (usually about 6%), although some LGAs recorded rates as high as 16%. Reports from scrutineers indicate that this was largely due to confusion over how to vote, many people creating an informal vote by placing numbers both above AND below the line, and many others voting only for three or four of the ungrouped candidates, and thus not offering the five preferences required for a formal vote.

As it turned out, the allocation of first preference votes was a good forecast of the ultimate result. Listed below are the Groups and candidates that figured in the final analysis (the other 13 candidates have been omitted, not through any lack of respect but for brevity). Within the individual groups, the number of candidates with a chance of being elected could be determined by considering the Group quotas. For example, Group A, with 1.57 quotas, could possibly have had two candidates elected, Group B, with 2.16 quotas, two and possibly three, and so on. Of the ungrouped candidates, the Ians, Marjason and Peters, with less than half a quota each faced an uphill battle, while Paul Cockram and Richard Graham, with more than half a quota each, looked a little more likely to make it across the line.

Group/Candidate Votes % Quotas
Group A (Country Labor)120915.73%1.57
Garth Morrison
Mike McColl
Group B (Palerang’s Future)166421.64%2.16
Mark Schweikert
Trevor Hicks
David Holthouse
Group C (Community First)142818.57%1.86
Belinda Hogarth-Boyd
Peter Marshall
Group D (Community Voice)178023.15%2.31
Pete Harrison
Keith France
Greg George
Ungrouped Candidates
Ian Marjason3524.58%0.46
Paul Cockram5026.53%0.65
Ian Peters2423.15%0.31
Richard Graham5116.65%0.66

These were indeed the final 14 candidates in the count, and the last five were eliminated in exactly the order one would expect from inspection of the above table. David Holthouse was excluded on the 20th count, Greg George on the 21st, Ian Peters on the 22nd, Mike McColl on the 23rd and Ian Marjason was then excluded as the lowest polling remaining candidate to complete the count. The only significant change in the order of election came with Ian Peters’ exclusion, as most of his preferences went to Paul Cockram (see spreadsheet) who then achieved quota ahead of Peter Marshall, even though he’d been trailing in most of the count to this point.

Of the other candidates, referring again to the spreadsheet, it can be seen that most of David Holthouse’s preferences went to Trevor Hicks, staying within the Group as expected, and Greg George’s were largely split between Peter Marshall and Paul Cockram, in line with the preferencing recommended by Group D for above-the-line and below-the-line voters respectively. Although most of Mike McColl’s preferences exhausted (only 30% of the Group A votes included a second preference), those that remained went mostly to Peter Marshall, again in line with the Group A recommendation.

In the end, Pete Harrison, Mark Schweikert, Belinda Hogarth-Boyd, Garth Morrison and Keith France were all elected on first preference votes, Trevor Hicks and Paul Cockram achieved quota during the preference count, and Peter Marshall and Richard Graham, while not achieving quota, were elected as the remaining candidates with the highest number of votes.