Electoral systems in Australia and Germany - a comparative study

Essay 2003 11 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Australia, New Zealand



1. Introduction

2. Preferential voting

3. Proportional representation

4. Impacts of the electoral systems in Australia

5. Impacts of the electoral systems in Germany

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

This essay aims to explain the differences between preferential and proportional systems of voting and the consequences of these systems in Australia. The electoral system of Germany is examined in comparison.

Why are electoral systems so important? Through elections, citizens of a county can express their views and choose the government they wish to see in power. Therefore, the electoral system is one of the significant features of a democracy and a representative government. The political outcome of an election can vary greatly depending on which of the different types (and/or variations of each type) of systems is in effect. Hence, the organisation of the political system strongly depends on the electoral system.[1]

The impacts of electoral systems on the political and party system will be examined after looking at the two systems of voting used in Australia at the Commonwealth/ Federal level: the preferential voting system and the system of proportional representation.

Preferential voting in single-member seats is used for elections for the House of Representatives and is also often referred to as Alternative Vote.[2] A distinctive feature of this voting system is that the winning candidate needs to receive an absolute majority of the primary vote, in other words 50% plus one. Alternatively, the candidate can win the election by securing an absolute majority after the distribution of preferences.[3]

Under a system of full preferential voting, electors must indicate a preference for all candidates listed on the ballot paper. Voters show their first preference by giving the number “1” to their preferred candidate. They then rank all other candidates by distributing the remaining numbers in descending order from 2 to X (X = the number of candidates taking part in the election).

In the first round of counting votes, the numbers of primary votes are registered. If no candidate has reached an absolute majority after the first round, the candidate with the lowest number of first preference votes is excluded. The votes on these ballot papers are then reallocated amongst the remaining candidates as if they were first preferences.[4] This system of excluding and redistributing the votes continues until one candidate has secured an absolute majority and is duly elected. In case a second preference would give a vote to a candidate who has already been excluded, the next available preference is allocated.

A number of distinctive traits can be allocated to preferential voting. This majoritarian system ensures that the chance of a candidate being elected although the majority of voters are against this candidate, is kept at a minimum. A peculiarity of this system is that it is not necessarily the most preferred candidate with the most first preferences who wins the election. By adding second and subsequent preferences, even a candidate with a low first-preference vote has a good chance of winning, indicating that he is the least disliked candidate.

Despite the fact that this system ensures that electors can support minor parties and independent candidates, it tends to promote a system of two or three major parties. This can be an advantage with regard to the fact that few parties in the House of Representatives can provide governmental stability.[5] On the other hand, this two-party system works to the disadvantage of minor parties and independents, because it is more difficult for them to gain seats.

If full preferential voting is used, it can be argued that voters are forced to give their preference, even to candidates they are not willing to support or about whom they know only little or nothing at all. This can lead to a high level of informal voting, and the parliamentary results are not in accordance with some of the electors’ voting intentions.[6] A possible solution to this problem is optional preferential voting, which means that only the number “1” preference must be indicated. Marking other preferences is entirely up to the discretion of the elector.


[1] David W. Lovell et al., The Australian Political System, (2nd edition), Longman, South Melbourne, 1998, p. 269.

[2] Ben Reilly, ‘The Alternative Vote in Australia’, 6 March 1999, Electoral Systems, Administration and Cost of Elections Project, <http://www.aceproject.org/main/english/es/>, consulted 2 June 2003.

[3] Electoral Council of Australia, ‘Preferential Voting Systems’, Electoral Systems, Melbourne, <http://www.eca.gov.au/systems/single/by_category/preferential.htm>, consulted 2 June 2003.

[4] David W. Lovell et al., The Australian Political System, (2nd edition), Longman, South Melbourne, 1998, p. 273.

[5] David W. Lovell et al., The Australian Political System, (2nd edition), Longman, South Melbourne, 1998, p. 273.

[6] Brian Costar & Dennis Woodward, ‘The Party and Electoral Systems’, in John Summers & Dennis Woodward & Andrew Parkin (eds), Government, Politics, Power and Policy in Australia, (7th edition), Longman, Frenchs Forest, 2002, p. 158.


ISBN (eBook)
File size
401 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Flinders University – Social Sciences
Electoral Australia Germany Australian Politcs



Title: Electoral systems in Australia and Germany - a comparative study