SRC voting: The explainer

Welcome to day one of psephology school.

Everyone's favourite electoral analyst, Antony Green of the ABC. Everyone's favourite electoral analyst, Antony Green of the ABC.

Psephology is the technical term for someone who studies elections and voting. It comes from Ancient Greek psephos, meaning pebble. That’s because in Athenian democracy, citizens voted in certain ballots by placing a coloured pebble in an urn: white pebble for yes, black pebble for no.

Antony Green, the ABC’s electoral analyst, is a psephologist. We are not psephologists because thank God the SRC vote doesn’t use multicoloured pebbles.

Instead, it relies on two complicated systems of voting. One of those systems applies to the president and Honi Soit elections. It’s called:

Instant runoff preferential voting

This method of voting is handy when multiple candidates are vying for only one position. Voters mark their ballots with a 1 for their favourite candidate. They can stop there, or they can number their second favourite candidate with a 2. They can continue numbering in descending order, stopping whenever they like or once all candidates are numbered.

Counting the vote is where things get complicated. The winning candidate must have over 50 per cent of the vote—a majority. So if one candidate has over 50 per cent of 1s, that candidate wins and the count is over. If there’s no majority on first preferences, the count moves to round two: the candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated. Then their votes are redistributed, going to the candidate numbered 2 on each of the eliminated candidate’s ballots. Or, if no 2 is marked, the vote ‘exhausts’, meaning it will not count. The remaining candidates’ first and second preferences are totalled; if someone has a majority, they win.

If no majority emerges, the count moves to round three: the candidate who is now coming last is eliminated and their votes are reallocated. If the newly-eliminated candidate relied on any second preferences in round two, their third preferences are counted instead. This process continues until one candidate has a majority.

Preference deals

As in most years’ presidential elections, this crop of candidates have negotiated preference deals. Those deals look a bit like this:

Candidate A promises candidate B to instruct their voters to give their second preference to candidate B. In return, candidate B usually does the same, instructing their voters to mark candidate A with a 2

Candidates’ how-to-vote cards present voters with a suggested voting order, which reflect the preference deal. Campaigners distribute these brightly coloured pieces of paper to their walk-and-talk victims. Voter’s don’t have to follow this order: even if they preference candidate A first, they’re not compelled to preference candidate B second—they can choose whoever they like. That said, voters tend to be compliant, maybe because they want the whole agonising walk through a sea of hacks to end (oh god, please let it end). Some voter bases tend to be more disciplined when it comes to the suggested order: the average follow-through is around 60 per cent, but Panda voters have consistently proved to be more compliant.

This year, there are two mutual preference deals: Jacky He (Panda) has shacked up with Adriana Malavisi (Reboot/Labor Unity), and  Lara Sonnenschein (Grassroots) has negotiated with Alex Yang (Advance).