There's been a number of comments circulating online that a vote for the Greens in the upcoming election is a vote for Conroy, due to the recently announced preferences deal between the Greens and Labor. Unfortunately there seems to be some misunderstanding how the electoral system for the Senate works, because nothing could be further from the truth. Here's why.
If you vote for the Greens above the line your preferences will NEVER flow to Conroy. There is a simple reason for this - they don't need to. By the time preferences flow from the Greens, Conroy will already have been declared elected. Preferences only flow to candidates who have not yet been declared.
There are six seats for the Senate up for election in each state. The way the system works (simply put) is that you need to gain a portion of the vote (called a quota) in order to win a seat. This quota is equal to the total number of votes divided by number of seats to be elected plus one. So basically one seventh of the vote, or 14.3% of the total votes.
Knowing this, what happens to your vote if you vote in the Victorian Senate election above the line for the Greens?
If we use the current Victorian poll figures we get the following result. With a primary vote of 42% Labor is just shy of having 3 full quotas in their own right. Greens have 12% or a bit less that a quota. The Coalition will have more than 2 full quotas with their 38%. Assuming this holds on election day the first thing the returning officer will do is declare the first 2 Labor candidates and the first 2 Coalition candidates elected. This means Conroy has been elected already. Your vote is sitting in the pile of the Greens votes waiting to get enough extra votes from preferences to get my candidate elected. Thus your vote has not, and cannot go to Conroy. If you were otherwise going to put your preferences to Labor by voting for all their candidates without Conroy there will be no difference whether you voted above or below the line.
If the Greens vote had gained a quota in its own right then the situation doesn't really change. The Greens candidate is declared elected and the overflow of above the line vote then will flow to the next unelected Labor candidate, which will be their third candidate again meaning that your vote never goes to Conroy.
Whether we like it or not Conroy is going to get elected as long as the Labor party polls better than 14% in the state of Victoria. The Greens preference deal with Labor will have absolutely zero impact on that fact. This might be different if Conroy was the third candidate on the ticket, but he isn't.
So if you were preparing to vote below the line for the Senate in Victoria because you wanted to vote Green to stop the filter, but wanted to make sure that your vote did not go anywhere near Senator Conroy you can rest assured that putting a single "1" above the line will have the same result and avoid having to fill in all the numbers on the tablecloth. Of course, you can still vote below the line to make your choices more emphatic, but the choice is yours.
But unlike Labor and the Liberals, the Greens have a clear policy opposing the filter. It is entirely disingenuous for anyone to suggest that voting to give the Greens the balance of power in the Senate will mean support for the filter. The Labor party's position on the filter is clear, and the Coalition simply dodges all attempts to get clarity on their position. Even though the National party conference decided to oppose the filter, this has not translated into Coalition going on the record as saying "We will not introduce or support legislation that creates a mandatory filtering program for the internet". If the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate then this legislation would not be able to pass without the support of the Coalition.
Right now a few minor parties oppose the filter, but only one of these has the potential to take control of the upper house and change this filter policy for good. If this issue is going to decide your vote then it should be simple to decide where your '1' vote should go.
Gregory Moore is a true renaissance man and self-confessed 'total geek' who has worked in a wide variety of industries including law, old and new media, and the live entertainment industry. Recently he was able to marry much of this experience as the technical brains behind the live technology show 'Byteside'. He has a particular interest in electoral theory having been an elected student politician himself and also returning officer for a number of elections with systems far more byzantine than that used for the Australian Senate. You can follow him on twitter @reselsnark.