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A vote against...
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gemsling
This was going to be a comment in response to The right to vote... or Democracy R Us by kits_the_dm, but I thought I'd make a post of it.

Dom argues that the ballot needs some sort of "none of the above" option for voters who do not wish to vote for any of the candidates. Also pushing people's civic duty to vote, he writes: It is ridiculous that the only thing compulsory is getting your name marked off a roll.

No it's not. It's not practical to insist that every voter consider the available parties and policies and make an informed choice. By marking off names, Australia reduces the possible error rate of one party's supporters being more apathetic about voting than another party's; but wanting to force more than attendence is just being idealistic rather than realistic.

What, practically, would a none/abstain box achieve? Let's see:
  • Stats for the next day's newspaper headlines.
  • An extremely low possibility that a majority rejects all candidates, resulting in a repeat election for much the same parties and policies.
  • Confusion or lack of representation for voters who are against all candidates, but want to express their least preferred options.
    • Confusion: "I don't like any of them, but I particularly hate Party X - do I tick 'none' or do I number the boxes to put Party X last?"
    • Lack of representation: people ticking 'none' because it's an option, when they otherwise would have voted against particular candidates.
Perhaps an alternative is for the existing ballot papers to be modified such that voters can specify whether they are voting for or against a candidate. However, this adds complexity, which in turn increases election costs whilst decreasing accuracy of the vote. All for a small benefit: parties knowing how many people like them and how many dislike them the least.

One more comment on elections: be grateful we still have paper ballots. Not a week goes by without more damning evidence about the problems with electronic voting machines in other countries. I'm happy to both turn up and vote, but that may change if we get EVMs (unless they are ballot machines with voter-verifiable paper trails, independently scruitinised code and very rigid election procedures). I wonder how much trouble you get in if you don't pay the $50 fine for not turning up to vote.
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Electronic voting has already been used successfully used in Australia, specifically in the ACT using the eVACS system. The code is open source and available from the ACT's Electoral Commission.

There are other voting methods that allow weighting of votes in such a way to be able to vote for some candidates without allowing preferences to flow towards completely undesired candidates. The Condorcet Method is supposed to achieve this, but I've never really tested this. Were the Condorcet Method used to replace the preferential voting used in the lower House the result would be a very different focus on preference deals by the candidates and parties. I'm also not sure whether it could be properly applied for proportional representation; it probably would because it should provide a clear order of preferred candidates across the board.

Yes, I've heard about eVACS and I'm pleased that they're open to independent auditing and review, unlike the "secrecy is the best security" ostriches at companies like Diebold. But it's a pity they couldn't fork out more money for a voter verifiable paper trail. Fortunately, election procedures seem to be strong enough here to prevent someone with malicious intent getting physical access to a machine, but is something does go wrong, how do we do a recount?

Thanks for the info on other voting methods, although there's too much reading and theory to take in right now. But I'm not sure that voting "for some candidates without allowing preferences to flow towards completely undesired candidates" would satisfy someone like Dom, who doesn't want to vote -for- anyone, even though he may want to vote against someone.

I remember a few elections back being able to put multiple candidates equal last (eg. 1, 2, 3, 3, 3), but I believe that was scrapped. And it was never mentioned to voters by the AEC. In fact, action was taken against someone who was trying to promote this method of voting. (Admittedly, I'm unclear on details.) Very handy for someone wanting to support a minor party without their vote just becoming an indirect vote for a major party.

I believe there was another court case in which it was successfully argued that zero is a valid number to put on a form, so you could rank your preferred candidates and label the remainder with a zero. Not sure what happened with that either.

I think the one version or some versions of the Condorcet Method allow for a ranking of zero to signify "not preferred at all" (as distinct from "least preferred"). I'm not a hundred percent sure of that, though.

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