An election that usually gets only a glance from the outside world turned into a political focal point in the state of South Australia. On Saturday, March 17, the Australian state held its quadrennial state elections. The center-left Labor Party that had controlled the coalition government since 2002, saw competition from its opposition, the center-right Liberal Party. This year, however, a new faction jumped into the mix to challenge both the Labor and Liberal Parties.
Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party emerged as a legitimate contender in its first parliamentary election. In the at-large election for the Legislative Council, SA Best was a strong third place finisher with just under 20 percent of first-round votes. This will be good enough to ensure that SA Best receive at least two of the eleven seats up for grabs.
This challenge by SA Best in the South Australian Legislative Council was made possible by the state’s proportional multi-winner ranked choice voting system (often referred to as single transferable vote or STV). With support from roughly one-fifth of South Australian voters, SA best was ensured proportional representation in the upper chamber. While the lower chamber, the South Australian House of Assembly, elects members from 47 single-winner districts without proportional representation, the use of ranked choice voting for these races still allowed voters to cast an honest ballot and help elect a candidate of choice, likely boosting the Liberal party to victory in many races in the process.
Ranked choice voting allowed SA Best, and other third parties, to fairly challenge the established parties for seats on the South Australia Legislative Council. Even though they did not win a majority of seats on Saturday, they will be able to realize fair and proportional representation in the Legislative Council, and know that they were a critical voting block in the House of Assembly Elections.