Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Confused about how voting works?

Can you explain preferences? Do you know the difference between voting above and below the line for the Senate? Can you explain the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate? What role do minor parties play in Australian politics? Does it matter if I don't number all the boxes? Why are there so many more candidates on the Senate ballot paper? What does a 'balance of power' mean? What if I'm away on Saturday, do I still have to vote?

If you'd like a short introduction to these and many other FAQ, check out this helpful post.


Martin Kemp said...

Elections remind us to celebrate democracy, where we, the people, are in charge.

Sounds like they need to read O'Donovan, or at least your blog ;)

Seriously, the inclusion of that second last question and answer blows their independent status out of the water, even with the disclaimer. "We're not going to tell you how to vote a certain way, but we sure are going to give you a reason to". And including the capping of green house emissions as the example...don't tell me that was a random selection.

byron smith said...

Marty - Let's look at that disclaimer:
How does this threaten their independence? It seems to me they have clearly distinguished the difference between advice on how the electoral system works and this one answer giving an opinion on the performance of the Coalition in the Senate. Even so, they don't advocate a particular party, even if they do raise the issue of climate change. If anything, they merely disadvocate the Coalition.

But yes, they do need to read some O'Donovan, or at least Andrew Errington's article in the latest CASE magazine on political representation. The people are not in charge in a democracy. We may have a hand in selecting our leaders, but (pace Lincoln) it is not a government by the people.

Martin Kemp said...

How does this threaten their independence?

They have shown that as an organisation they have an agenda which is not simply about giving information, but about leading the electorate towards a particular result. Having looked further at the site it is clear that they are up front about this. Yes they are independent in the sense that they don't back one party, but they do have a political agenda: To keep the government accountable on 'progressive issues', which arguably is a term used for left wing ideals. I guess the word 'independent' needs to be qualified. I also think this cannot but undermine confidence in other aspects of the site, like the "How should I vote" mechanism. Independent 'information' from a site obviously not 'independent'? I think we can expect people to be suspicious.

If anything, they merely disadvocate the Coalition.
'Merely disadvocating' is still advocating a position and a certain election result, is it not?

Furthermore, I am surprised that you would link to the "How to vote section", given that the premeise there is that people vote for the candidates who represent their own views on certain things. ie "I end up voting for the one who will make the decision which lines up with my own views about the environment" etc. Acording to your blog, and O'Donovan and Erro (like those last two would disagree, Ha Ha!), that is not what democratic representation is about. Isn't it about about entrusting policy and decision making to someone else, and not voting for the one who matches best with the decisions I would make?

Matthew Moffitt said...

IS there a new issue of CASE out? And is erro in it?

Martin Kemp said...

I should clarify that the "How should I vote" part of the site does seem to be fair in the way it is constructed, my point is simply that people will be suspicious given the bias evident in the other parts of the site. This suspicion, rightly or wrongly, will come given GetUp's agenda.

byron smith said...

Moffitt - yes and yes.

Marty - thanks for clarifying. As I understand it, the label 'independent', when used in politics, rarely means the absence of any political agenda, simply the lack of affiliation with a party. Think of independent candidates. They do not claim to be without agenda or bias, simply to not belong to a party.

Furthermore, it's worth noting the seriousness of giving misleading information during an election (what a shame there are not similar prohibitions against misleading the public at other times!), a federal crime that the AEC helps to carefully monitor. I'm no expert on the legal details, but today's media circus about the fake pamphlets highlights the stakes involved. GetUp take their legal responsibilities very seriously.

As for voting for candidates whose opinions match your own - you're right, of course. I think I ought to vote for someone whose judgements I trust, rather than simply one who agrees with the same policies as I do. However, in practice, the two are related, since I am more likely to trust the thought processes of someone whose policies I agree with. This is not, certainly, a perfect match, but a rough rule of thumb.

I assume your recent string of comments is entirely unrelated to having an exam today? Hope it went well. Or did you finish earlier in the week?

Jonathan said...

I agree that being indepedent has nothing to do with not having an agenda, especially in the context of that question. I myself have at times cared more about a balanced/varied Senate than which party forms government, even before I even imagined that the Coalition would end up controlling the Senate. That may mean I have misguided priorities, but it doesn't mean I am no independent. Thinking like that, it would make sense to oppose the Coalition in particular, based on their recent record, (even if supporting them in general!) There may be reason to suspect that GetUp! haven't come to this conclusion as indepently as this, but their answer to this question doesn't demonstrate this.

Apart from that, we unfortunately do have many good reasons to be suspicious of "impartial, independent" advice from sources which have an agenda in their other activities. It would be better in my opinion if we had a culture where people could be trusted when they say they are stepping back from their point of view, and so any endeavour which succeeds in giving independent advice and clearly distinguishes the comments which do not fit in this category should be encouraged, whatever we have to say about the other activities of the same people.