October 7, 2004


In Australia, Ranking Process Is Key in a Tight Race: Voters list candidates by order of preference in a system that's open to minority parties. (Richard C. Paddock, October 7, 2004, LA Times)

When Australians vote Saturday to select members of Parliament and a prime minister, they will be participating in a process that election experts say is one of the most democratic in the world.

With Prime Minister John Howard and Labor Party challenger Mark Latham locked in a tight race for the top job, victory could well hinge on an unusual, long-standing feature of Australia's electoral system: the preferential ballot.

Rather than voting for individual candidates for Parliament, voters rank those running in their district in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, the outcome is determined by the preferential rankings. Members of the Parliament then elect the prime minister. [...]

"Preferences are more democratic," said Rod Tiffen, a political science professor at the University of Sydney. "You could vote for Ralph Nader and have it not be a wasted vote."

Australia has long been a leader in election innovations. It began using the secret ballot well before other countries; when it was adopted in the United States it was known as the "Australian ballot."

Another feature of the electoral system is compulsory voting. By law, all citizens are required to report to their polling stations on election day and receive a ballot. How — or whether — they mark the ballot is up to them.

The Founders were wisely leary of democracy and each of these reforms is a terrible idea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 7, 2004 9:44 AM

The very idea of compulsory voting repulses me.

Posted by: Governor Breck at October 7, 2004 10:27 AM

I agree OJ. Secret ballots allows little weasels amongst us to say one thing and do another. Instead the full force of the machine..ah community should be brought down on the these traitors.

I must say that there is one benefit to preference voting, which is that it confuses the h*ll out of the riff raff (like those in Palm Beach Florida, for instance )and thereby cut down on participation.

Posted by: h-man at October 7, 2004 10:49 AM


If your vote embarrasses you it likely shouldn't be cast.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2004 10:57 AM

Is that leary as in Timothy?

To the left, our electoral process seems archaic, rickety, and elitist. But it works better than anything else.

The inherent checks/balances make the election like a steeplechase or a cross-country race, rather than just a sprint. And they prevent a stampede of the majority, especially an elitist, condescending majority (i.e., the Hive).

Where else would there have been a transfer of power like in the US after the 2000 election? Most countries would have experienced riots, strikes, economic disruption, and the potential of hidden action by the military.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 7, 2004 11:49 AM


The secret ballot is essential to democracy. Otherwise you get indimidation. No one in the AFL-CIO would vote Rep. -- ever.

Posted by: rds at October 7, 2004 11:58 AM

OJ writes:

"The Founders were wisely leary of democracy and each of these reforms is a terrible idea."

On the other hand, the founders had no idea that extremely powerful lobby groups would develop that are easy to market to the elite in congress but difficult to market to the populace (trial lawyers, for example). More democracy might not be as bad an idea as you think.

Posted by: Bret at October 7, 2004 12:06 PM

Bret: I don't think there is much in our political practice that would surprise James Madison or Alexander Hamilton or Gouvernor Morris -- they were well-versed in the workings of faction, and indeed tried to encourage and exploit it (that's why our government is designed to have so many competing centers of power.) I am willing to bet they'd be shocked at, and scornful of, the state of our political philosophy, if you want to call our simple and whole-hearted worship of government a philosophy.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 7, 2004 12:36 PM

On the contrary, a preferential ballot would invigorate American voting.
Many more people would participate, if they felt that they could cast a meaningful vote for a lesser-party candidate, and it would serve as the most honest and intense focus group polling that the two main parties could wish for.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 7, 2004 1:01 PM


The problem is too much participation, not too little.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2004 2:37 PM


What would be your ideal participation level for a democracy? A monarch or dictatorship would be less participation, but I assume that's not what you have in mind. Or is it?

Posted by: Bret at October 7, 2004 2:48 PM


A monarchical constitutional republic would be ideal. Any mature adult, married, owning property and paying taxes who has no criminal record should be allowed to vote for representation in a lower house of the legislature and for the electors who choose a chief executive.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2004 3:00 PM


So, you want what the Founders wanted? In other words, the original 1789 theory. Good. But what about women?

Posted by: Bob at October 7, 2004 3:09 PM


So long as they're married and own property.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2004 3:27 PM


Rather, the problem is that you don't like the characteristics of most of the people who participate.
For all I know, you might not like most of the people who participate, period.

Owning property is too low a bar to eliminate most people, unless you're going to set value or size requirements, which, believe me, would open up a gigantic can o' worms.

Those with a criminal record should be allowed to vote after a certain number of years out of prison, to symbolize their acceptance back into the community after rehabilitation.

A standard of being 25 years of age or married would be acceptable to me.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 7, 2004 5:00 PM


I don't care who they are, so long as they're likely to vote to preserve the society they inherit.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2004 6:35 PM

I think we need to go back to handing out booze on election day.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 8, 2004 12:36 AM

I'd vote for Howard tomorrow, but I haven't paid taxes in 4 years and don't want the government to find out where I live. I'm a living example of no representation without taxation.

Posted by: Amos at October 8, 2004 10:10 AM