Under the proportional representation system, candidates are elected in proportion to the number of votes they receive, which increases the chance of representation for small minority parties.
The proportion of seats won by each group or party should equal the proportion of votes cast for those groups or parties. For example, if a party wins 40% of the votes, it should win about 40% of the seats and if a party gets 10% of the votes it should gain 10% of the seats.
At State and Local Government elections in NSW, group voting squares are used, which means electors can vote above the line on the ballot paper for a group of candidates. A number '1' for a group records a first preference vote for the first candidate in the group with preferences going to the other candidates in the group in the order in which they are listed. Preferences then go to the next group, if indicated. The alternative is marking squares 'below the line' in order of preference for individual candidates.
This method of voting, known as optional preferential proportional representation, is used to elect members of the Legislative Council. The name of each candidate and their political party affiliation is shown on the ballot paper and the voter has the choice of group voting (i.e. usually for a particular party) or individual voting (for individual candidates). In a group vote, only one group need be selected. In individual voting, at least 15 candidates must be voted for in the order of preference of each voter.
In order to be elected, candidates generally need to obtain a quota of the total formal votes cast in an election. Achieving a final result is complex as surplus votes (i.e. those a candidate receives above the quota) are redistributed to other candidates using a formula and process set out in the 6th Schedule to the Constitution Act 1902, which continues until all 21 Members of the Legislative Council have been elected.
There are no by-elections for the Legislative Council. Casual vacancies (where a Member resigns or dies mid-term) are elected by the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council Members at a joint meeting of both Houses of Parliament.
The proportional representation system is also used in local government elections where there are 2 or more vacancies in a council area or ward.
To be elected a candidate generally must gain a quota of the formal votes. The quota cannot be worked out until the total number of formal first preference votes is known. Once the first preference count has taken place and informal ballot papers are removed the quota is calculated:
Quota = (total number of formal votes ÷ one more than the number of vacancies) + 1
For example, if there are 12,000 formal votes and 5 vacancies to be filled, the quota is:
12,000 formal votes ÷ 6 = 2,000 + 1 = 2001.
Therefore, in this example, a candidate needs at least 2001 votes to get elected.
The count is conducted by distributing votes according to the choices shown on the ballot paper. When candidates reach a quota and are elected, their surplus or extra votes above the quota are distributed to the remaining candidates.
Candidates with the lowest number of votes are then excluded and their ballot papers are redistributed according to the next choice shown. This process continues until all the vacancies are filled.
Candidates can also be elected if the remaining number of candidates in the count equals the number of vacant positions still to be filled.
PRCC Data Entry System
The Proportional Representation Computer Count (PRCC) system is the software program in which Councillor ballot papers are data entered. This includes:
- allocating ballot papers (in batches) to Data Entry Operators for round 1 and round 2 data entry;
- Data Entry Operators undertaking round 1 and round 2 data entry;
- undertaking reconciliation on those batches where round 1 and round 2 data entry do not match; and
- distribution of preferences in the count to determine the elected Councillors
Test Data, Certificates and Specifications
The NSWEC has provided the full set of preference data used in the 2011 Legislative Council State General Elections count at our FTP site. This site also contains the specification for the count module, the verification certificates from independent experts certifying that the NSWEC specification matches the legislation and that the system matches the specification. Please note that the data is stored in a very large zip file which should be downloaded before opening.