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LGA floats council voting reform

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Voters would no longer have to give any part of their vote to local candidates they don’t necessarily support – or know much about – under a proposal to be presented to councils across the state.

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Currently, people who choose to vote in local government elections in SA must choose a minimum number of candidates (in the order of their preference) equal to the number of councillors to be elected in a particular ward or area.

But InDaily can reveal councils will soon consider giving voters the option to put a single number “1” next to their preferred candidate, giving no part of their vote to anyone else.

The Local Government Association (LGA) board last week resolved to present the concept – originally proposed by the Adelaide Hills Council – to all councils for consultation.

LGA president Lorraine Rosenberg said that under the current system, a relatively high proportion of voters’ ballots are ruled invalid because too few candidates had been selected.

“It also presents an issue where some voters may be discouraged from voting as they only wish to support the one candidate,” Rosenberg told InDaily.

“We want to minimise any roadblocks that might stand in the way of our communities selecting their representatives on councils.

“Simplifying the voting process is one way we can potentially do this.”

Rosenberg said the LGA wanted to hear feedback on the proposal from councils and from the State Government. Any change to voting arrangements would require an amendment to the Local Government (Elections) Act.

But Flinders University political scientist Dr Haydon Manning told InDaily that the benefits of the reform would be outweighed by negative consequences.

He said, in principle, it was a good idea to let voters decide how many candidates to preference.

However, in practice, the change would give “the lion’s share” of votes to the top one or two candidates in a particular ward, leaving very few votes for lesser-known candidates, where there are remaining positions to be filled.

“It’s not good practice when you are electing multiple members for any electorate (or ward),” Manning said.

“It’s the norm in electoral systems when that’s the case … that voters [must vote for] as many [candidates] as are to be elected.”

He acknowledged that many candidates for local government are not well known.

However he said it was reasonable to expect voters who are interested enough to turn up to do their research into more than one candidate.

Manning added it was also reasonable to expect people to read information about all candidates on the pamphlets they receive as part of their voting packs.

The results of the LGA’s consultation will be presented to a future meeting of the LGA board.

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