Publisher’s Note: We’ve covered the issue of election integrity in depth over the years. Here’s some new insights from one of our 2VR co-founders currently living overseas.
I recently had the privilege to work at a regular election for members of the state parliament in Queensland, Australia. Since Australia still has a semblance of representative democracy, it is instructive to explain it and compare it to American fake democracy. I’ll briefly mention the limitations on financial contributions to candidates in Australia compared to the unlimited bribery of campaign finance in the US – that is another story.
First of all, voting is mandatory in Australia. People still make up excuses not to vote or spoil their ballots, but most people comply. Ballots that are spoiled are called “informal” ballots. I saw several. Some were left blank, some were marked incorrectly or defaced, but my favorite said “none qualified” of the four candidates for the seat in the district. Voter turnout is in the 80-90% range. Compare to typical US voter turnout of 40%. Not that I blame people in the US. They realize that elections are a farce. But first an explanation of the procedure is required.
To begin, with the whole affair is conducted by a neutral “electoral commission” that has no affiliation with any political party. Poll workers are well paid. In the US they are volunteers. Voting districts are also determined by the neutral electoral commission using the census. Compare this to how districts are formed and elections run in the US: Electoral districts are drawn by the party in power in the state legislature, and always manipulated to ensure safe seats and to maximize seats of the majority party at the time, called “gerrymandering.” That is why Republicans can have large majorities in US Congress while receiving a lower percentage of votes. This is the first thing that is completely fucked about US
elections. (“Gerrymander” is a tribute to early Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who created an electoral district in the center of the state resembling a salamander, thus the moniker “Gerrymander.”)
Secondly, in the US, elections are conducted by the Secretary of State who is always a prominent member of either the Democratic or Republican Party with candidates in the race (no conflict of interest there). In two infamous cases, the Secretary of State was actually the campaign manager of one of the candidates running in the race, while at the same time overseeing the election in their role as secretary of state. The two cases were Kathryn Harris in Florida in 2000 and Ken Blackwell in Ohio in 2004, when George W. Bush was “elected” both times. We know there was massive disenfranchisement of minority voters, inadequate provision of voting booths in Democratic districts, and other fraud to pervert the election outcomes. Proprietary electronic voting machines are used in the US where the votes are counted by private companies software in secret. Was it Stalin who said it doesn’t matter who votes, but who counts the votes? Harvey Wasserman calls it “strip and flip”. First strip unwanted voters from the voter rolls, then if that doesn’t work, flip the results of the voting machines to get the results you want. This has been proven by the investigative team called “Black Box voting”. Exit polls are no longer reliable in the US, because they often don’t reflect the voting outcome. This isn’t true nearly anywhere else in the world, where exit polls are considered extremely reliable. What does that tell you about US elections?
During the hand vote count in Queensland, there are observers from each party with a candidate in the race called “scrutineers”. They observe the counting process to make sure votes are counted correctly. At the end of the count of about 1904 ballots, the total was off by one vote. It made no difference in the outcome of the election, unless the difference was one vote. In that case the votes would be recounted until
the one vote was accounted for. In this election the winning margin was about 300 votes so one missing vote made no difference.
Ok, lets look at the voting process itself. Most states in Australia have
a bi-cameral parliament including a lower and upper house or assembly and
council. At the federal level they are called the House of
Representatives and the Senate, same as the US. That’s where the
difference ends. The Australian federal House is elected by single member
districts and the Senate by proportional representation by party, but I
At the state level, Queensland is unique in having a unicameral parliament
meaning only one house. Elections are by single member geographic
districts, same as state legislatures in the US. The similarity ends
there. In Australia, no member of any parliamentary body in the country
can be elected with less than 50% of the vote, guaranteeing majority
support. In the US “first past the post” system a simple plurality gets a
person elected. This is completely fucked. That means if there are three
candidates, a person with 33% +1 vote can be elected. In this case nearly
67% of the people voted against the winning candidate, but they win. Or
with four candidates it would be 25% +1 vote or nearly 75% of the people
voted against this candidate yet they win. This is not theoretical as it
happens all the time.
Australian single member district elections, including the one I worked at
in Queensland, use a “ranked choice” voting system, also called “single
transferable vote”, or “instant runoff voting” (IRV in US parlance).
There were four candidates for the district seat representing three
parties and an independent; NLP (National Liberal Party), ALP (Australia
Labor Party), Green Party (GP), plus an independent candidate. NLP is a
union of the National Party, formerly a rural conservative party, and the
Liberal Party, which is the more urban conservative (free market) party.
Labor and Greens are self-explanatory. Ballots are marked 1,2,3,4 in
order of your choices, and are counted by placing them in different
stacks. If no one gets 50% in the first round, the losing candidates’
second choices are counted starting with the last place candidate until
someone gets 50%.
In the first round the NLP candidate had the most votes, but less than
50%, with Labor second, Greens third, and Independent last. This being a
wealthy suburban district, the Labor Scrutineer told me that the Labor
candidate had only won this district once before, and he was very
interested in the 2nd choice of the Greens. In the US this election would
have been over, and the NLP or conservative candidate would have won, with
about 40% of the vote. But this was not a moronic US election. Since the
NLP candidate did not receive 50% of the vote, the losing candidates’
votes had to be reallocated to their next choices, in an instant runoff.
It is called an instant runoff, because rather than the expense and delay
of running another election between the top two vote getters, everyone is
allowed to rank their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choices, which provides the same
After reallocating the next choice of the last place candidate, the result
was still less than 50% for any candidate. This is because the
independent candidate received only 50 votes out of 1904. Finally the
2nd, 3rd, and 4th choices of the Green voters were counted. To explain a
fine point, it did not have to be the #2 and #3 choice of the Green
voters. The Independent candidate could have been the #2 choice. It only
mattered which candidate in the running (NLP or ALP) was ranked better
(lower) that the other. A Green could have ranked Independent #2, Labor
#3, and NLP #4. Labor was ranked better than NLP in this case, so Labor
got the vote.
Since most of the Greens preferred Labor over NLP, and there was a
substantial number of Green voters, the Labor candidate received over 50%
and won the election. This margin was around 300 votes which was
substantial. So the election was determined by the 2nd choices of the
Green voters. Greens have been gaining ground in recent years, so the
sheer volume of Green voters was able to swing the outcome of the
election. A plurality of voters in this district were conservative (NLP),
but a majority were Green or Labor, so the non-conservative candidate with
the greatest total (Labor) won. The preference of the majority of voters
was respected. In an equivalent US election, the conservative candidate
would have won, and the will of the voters would have been thwarted. No
wonder no one votes.
Gary Flomenhoft is an independently-minded economist, writer, sailor, and decentralist living in Australia. He is a co-founder of the 2nd Vermont Republic and Vermont Commons news journal.