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Ranked Choice Voting Ensures Fair Representation in Tasmania

by Kevin Werner // Published March 20, 2014

tasmanian ballot box

On March 15th, the Australian state of Tasmania held elections for its House of Assembly using  ranked choice voting in multi-seat districts. This system of proportional representation, known as the Hare-Clark system in Australia, has been in use in all Tasmanian House of Assembly elections since 1909, longer than anywhere else in the world.

Last week’s election was a decisive victory for the Liberal Party, which ousted the Labor Party from power for the first time in 16 years. Liberals won at least 14 of the 25 seats in the Assembly, giving them enough for a majority. Labor won six seats, and the Green Party won three. Two seats are still undecided, but the most important result – a Liberal majority under Will Hodgman – is not in question. Compared to 2010, the Greens received 8% fewer votes and the Labor Party received 9% fewer. The Liberal Party improved its vote share by 12%.

The table below shows the election results by district. In each of the five districts, voters are represented by members of more than one party, and in three districts, voters are represented by members of each of the three largest parties. Note that in Bass and Denison only four of the five seats have been decided, so the percentage of seats won by each party is calculated out of a possible four.

tasmania table

After the 2010 election, Labor had been in a coalition with the Greens, but this alliance became a liability for Labor and was one of the targets for the Liberals during the campaign. Labor leader Lara Giddings said she would not let the Greens into a majority again, and Hodgman said that the Liberals would cut the “green tape.” Liberals blamed the Labor/Green government for the high unemployment rate in Tasmania.

Tasmania is divided into five districts for the House of Assembly, and each district elects five candidates. Voters are required to rank their candidate preferences from one to at least five. If a candidate receives a total number of votes greater than the quota of 16.7%, he or she is elected.

The proportionality of the system ensured a smooth transition of power when Tasmanian voters decided that they wanted to change the party in control of the House. While Liberal Party candidates received the most votes in each district, the use of ranked choice voting guaranteed that they would not receive outsized majority that would likely have resulted from an election using winner-take-all rules.  Liberal candidates received 51.3% of the first choice rankings and won a majority of seats, while the Labor Party received 27.4% of first choices and maintained representation in six seats. With 13.7% of first choices and no more than 21% in any district, the Tasmanian Greens would have been unlikely to win a seat in a winner-take-all election, but will retain at least 3 seats as the Assembly begins its next session.

After becoming one of the system’s first adopters, Tasmanians have enjoyed the benefits of ranked choice voting for over 100 years. The system has guaranteed that Tasmania’s House of Assembly accurately reflects the will of voters. Its effectiveness was demonstrated again this month, when a shift of opinion in the electorate allowed the Liberal Party to retake control of the assembly, but fair representation for supporters of the Labor and Green parties was preserved.