At its second attempt, the Victorian Electoral Commission has got a Legislative Council that’s a bit more in tune with voters’ wishes.

Yesterday’s recounts kept the headline result unchanged, giving Labor 19 of the 40 seats, but they gained one and lost one to get to there.

The Northern Metropolitan result seems to have been just an embarrassing mistake: VEC boss Steve Tully virtually admitted as much yesterday.

A large batch of Liberal votes (which eventually flowed as preferences to the DLP) had been double counted. Once that error was reversed, the ALP’s Nazih El Asmar comfortably beat the DLP’s John Mulholland for the final spot.

Western Metro, on the other hand, was a classically close election: the first time it was counted, Labor’s Henry Barlow was ahead of the Greens by just 76 votes at the critical stage (out of some 375,000).

Below-the-line votes were running strongly in the Greens’ favour; without them, Barlow was almost 3,000 votes ahead. Yesterday Greens’ scrutineers managed to find a few more, and their Colleen Hartland was declared the winner.

So the combined opposition forces will have the narrowest of majorities
– an unwieldy combination of 15 Liberals, three Greens, two Nationals and one DLP. The major aggrieved party is Family First, who failed to win a seat despite almost twice as many votes as the DLP.

Perhaps the best thing about the contested result is the way it has focused attention on the system of group ticket voting, where preference deals can result in seats being decided in surprising ways.

That’s how the DLP’s Peter Kavanagh got up in Western Victoria, despite having only 2.6% of the primary vote (about half of what Mulholland had in Northern Metro).

Tim Colebatch in yesterday’s Age went through the details, and it’s worth going over for anyone who’s interested.

Without the parties’ ability to move large blocks of votes around at will, this sort of thing couldn’t happen. There’s no reason not to trust voters to make the allocation themselves, except that it would take power away from party apparatchiks.

At the very least, voters need to be better informed about how the tickets work: section 73A of the Electoral Act requires them to be “prominently displayed” at polling booths, but the VEC seems to have given that a very low priority.

Peter Fray

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