Doyle had almost twice as many votes as his nearest opponent but any one of five of the 11 candidates who stood for lord mayor could still win. Such a system raises the question of who really decides the outcome: the voters or the back-room dealers who decide preference deals? The best policies — not the best preference deal — should count.
But this isn’t the problem. What the result shows is that brand counts in politics like it does in any other situation where we must make choices based on minimal information. I doubt most voters wanted to read the 23-page booklet they were all sent on the Lord Mayor race, or the large amount of campaign material distributed by the candidates.
So they went first for a name they knew – Doyle – and second for a party they had heard of, the Greens. No other party formally endorsed a candidate.
The only way Dowling’s suggestion to lock out the backroom dealers could be be taken up would be to prohibit candidates for announcing their preferred preference flows. But this would just exacerbate the information problem. If voters have decided that they support the Greens, I expect many of them would rather the Greens do the work in assessing which candidates are closest to the Greens than have to research it themselves. And if they don’t like the Green choices, there is no obligation to follow their how-to-vote card.
Particularly now that voting is compulsory for council elections, what this vote suggests to me is that the major parties need to formally endorse their members who run so that the choices for voters are simplified. In the days when we used to have to go to the booths (postal ballot now) I just used to look for the code blue how-to-vote card – the one printed in Liberal blue signalling this ‘independent’ candidate’s allegiances. It was a much more efficient way of voting in a trivial election than actually reading about the candidates’ policies.
Lydia Bevege, the only other council election candidate I knew personally, had an even more frustrating result than Tim. She lost her Boroondara contest by a tiny 86 votes out of 8904 cast.