Elections for the
Legislative Council take place every 4 years, at which time half (21)
of the 42 Members retire or stand for re-election. The whole of NSW
acts as a single electorate electing 21 Members on a proportional basis.
To be elected a party or candidate must get a certain proportion of
the total NSW vote - the formula is 100% divided by 21 +1, or around
4.55% of the total vote - this is called a "quota'. The effect
is that parties or candidates that get at least a quota of votes, should
get about the same proportion of seats as they do votes - i.e. 10% of
the total vote should gain about 10% of the seats. The general effect
of this can be seen in the 1999 elections when the three major political
parties between them gained about 67% of the primary vote and won 14
out of the 21 seats. Minor parties, with 1/3 of the votes also won 7
(or 1/3) of the seats. Thus the membership of the Legislative Council
is able to accurately reflect minority political opinion in NSW as well
as majority opinion.
However, the voting
system is also preferential - i.e. voters vote for a number of candidates
or parties in order of choice, and this makes it quite complex. Usually
in an election, the first 16-18 Legislative Council seats are decided
easily because parties or candidates obviously have gained sufficient
quotas. The last few seats, though, have to be decided by preferences.
mysterious and complex formulas and processes are used in the distribution
or transfer of preferences. These are all designed to represent what
the people said in the election as fairly and accurately as possible.
If you want to know more about this, read on.
There are about
4 million voters in NSW. Divide that by 22 and you get around 182,000
votes needed to elect one Member. Typically in an election, a major
political party might get enough primary (first preference) votes for
several quotas - i.e., if they get 25% of the vote (or around 1 million
votes) they will have at least 5 quotas = 5 Members elected. However,
they will also have a surplus of votes - in this case about 90,000 votes
more than they need for five but 92,000 short of getting a sixth seat.
On the other hand
a minor candidate or party might only get a few hundred or a few thousand
first preference votes, clearly no-where near enough for a quota. As
in any preferential system, the candidates with the least votes get
eliminated first and their preference votes are transferred to the second
or subsequent choices indicated by each voter on each ballot paper.
In the 1999 Legislative Council election there were 264 candidates.
Most candidates get relatively few votes and were quickly eliminated.
Their votes were added to the totals of others and thus some more quotas
But remember, each
party or candidate that gets a quota usually has more votes than they
need (in the case of our big party above, it was about 90,000 votes).
At a certain point in the counting, if the big party has not picked
up enough transferred votes to gain another quota, their surplus votes
are transferred. The actual votes that are transferred are chosen at
random from the party's total votes and distributed according to the
However, there is
one more thing. A transferred surplus vote is not regarded as having
the same value as a first preference vote. They are given a "transfer
value" which has been worked out by a formula and is usually less
than 1. Thus, if each of the big party's 90,000 extra votes were transferred
and added to candidates, their value to those candidates would probably
not be one full vote.
Through this process
a candidate with insufficient primary votes for a quota may still get
one after the distribution of preferences. In 1999, six parties which
originally got less than a full quota, gained seats after distribution
of preferences and one candidate with only 7,264 first preference votes
(or 0.2% of the total vote), was able to reach a quota because of the
large numbers of later preferences he received.