The British for their independence. Thus, the

The country of
Australia was first colonized by the British in 1788. In time, the British
government established a parliament of New South Wales through a Legislative
Council and a Supreme Court. This was done in order to reflect the British’s
own parliamentary system, in hopes to soon form a “responsible” Australia.
These hopes were not in vain, for the colonies thrived under their newfound
responsibility, and were able to prove that they were self-sufficient enough to
petition the British for their independence. Thus, the Commonwealth of
Australia gained its independence from the British Empire on January 1, 1901,
after a legislation was passed by the British parliament granting the six Australian
colonies the freedom to govern themselves in their own right as members of the
Commonwealth of Australia.

Merely twenty-five years following the
independence of Australia from Great Britain, the Balfour Declaration
established the Commonwealth of Nations on November 19, 1926. The Commonwealth
is an international political organization comprised of independent countries
(and their respective territories), all of which recognize the British monarch as
the head of not only the Commonwealth of Nations, but of their own countries as
well. This is due to the fact that the origins of all of the member-states of
the Commonwealth, were birthed from the British Empire. The organization is
currently comprised of fifty-two members-states and is proportionate to
approximately 20% of the world’s land area. Though the countries have no legal
responsibility to one another, they share their history, language, and culture,
and are homogeneous in their principles regarding democracy, human rights,
freedom of speech, and the rule of law (“The Commonwealth,” Commonwealth
Secretariat, June 19, 2010).

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Through the “comparative approach method,” in
which using the most similar units, but still resulting in different outcomes,
this article compares the nations of the United Kingdom with that of the
Commonwealth of Australia, with a particular focus on their electoral systems.
Despite the fact that one country was truly birthed out of the other, and the
fact that they are so similar, even to the extent that they still technically
share the same monarch, as well as many of the same ideals, one can still see
many differences. The most notable being that of the electoral systems.

Electoral systems are the approach to how
countries elect their representatives. Otherwise known as a voting system, it
determines the rules and regulations regarding how the political parties and
candidates are to be elected. Though the governments of the UK and Australia
are so similar, it is the electoral systems that shape the party systems.

BRITISH SYSTEM

Known as the “Mother of Parliaments,” the
Parliament of England was the first of its kind. Following the Magna Carta, and
its subsequent limitation of King John’s taxation ability, the English
Parliament gradually restricted the power of the English monarchy, to the
extent, that centuries later they were limited to nothing more than constitutional
monarchs with very little executive authority. This came about with the
formation of the Parliament of Great Britain, under the Act of Union in  1707. The first general election to follow
was a year later in 1708.

Though
the British use a different kind of voting system for nearly all of their
elections in varying districts and sub-levels, in the United Kingdom’s general
elections, when people vote for a candidate, they are voting for the political
party that he or she is a member of. The candidate who receives the most votes
is the only winner in each district, as it is a single member plurality system,
otherwise known as the “first past the post” system.

This first-past-the-post system is used to
elect Ministers of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons. Under this system,
the United Kingdom is divided into 650 voting districts known as
constituencies. Each of these constituencies has relatively the same number of
registered voters, and each is represented by a single member of parliament who
sits in the lower chamber in of the British parliament known as the House of
Commons. This system applies only to the lower chamber due to the fact that the
members of the upper chamber of the parliament, known as the House of Lords,
are not elected. Instead, they are named by the Queen, on the recommendation of
the prime minister.

Prior to the elections, candidates are selected
by the political parties for each constituency, however, smaller parties may
only have representative candidates in a limited number voting districts.
Individuals are able to run for office as independent candidates as well.  

The actual process of voting in the British
single member plurality system is fairly simple. When voting, the constituents
mark an “X” on the ballot paper next to the candidate’s name whom they most
prefer. The ballot papers are then counted in each constituency, and the
candidate who has the most votes is elected to have a seat in the House of
Commons for that particular constituency.

In order to properly govern, a party must have
won at least 326 seats (more than half) to be named a “winning party.” The
leader of the winning party is then appointed as the Prime Minister by the
Queen, and must form a Cabinet of senior politicians. However, on the occasions
when none of the political parties has the absolute majority of the seats, the
election, then, results in what is known as a “hung parliament.” In a hung
parliament, no single party has the right to assume authority of the executive
branch. In this situation, the party with the largest number seats in the
parliament may do one of two things. First, they may form a coalition with a
party that has fewer seats, or they may try “form a government” on their own,
relying on an informal alliance with smaller parties. On the other hand, those
smaller parties may band together to form their own government through a
coalition that would, together, be a majority, and that does not include the
party with the most votes at all.

The United Kingdom holds its general elections
after the dissolution of Parliament. A dissolution, generally speaking, occurs at
the completion of a term, the limit of which is specified in the constitution.
However, as the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, the
Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 states that that parliament remains in session
for no longer than five years. The only exception to this act, being if a vote
was cast by a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons for an early
election. This is known as a snap election. A snap election is when the
election is called earlier than anticipated. For example, prior to this past
summer, the last British general election took place in 2015, and the next was
not scheduled until 2020. However, in April 2017, the now UK prime minister,
Theresa May, surprised the world by calling for a snap election, primarily
because she wanted the people’s support before she began the Brexit
negotiations.

Australian
System

The Commonwealth of Australia was established
as a Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. This can be broken down
into four parts, the first of which is a federation. The nation is formed up of
states with their own level of government, as well as their own separate
powers. This separation of powers is essential in a federation, to secure the
freedoms of the people, and to ensure that the central government is not
powerful enough that it may one day develop into an authoritarian regime.
Australia has a parliamentary system in place, which means that the executive
branch must answer to the legislative branch. In contrast, however, to a
presidential system, a parliamentary system’s separation of powers is much
weaker, and has less checks and balances, giving more power to the Parliament,
or legislative branch, than any other. For example, in a parliamentary system,
the parliament has the power to choose or remove the heads of government, and
they also have the power to request a dissolutionment of government, prior to
the scheduled end of term.

In addition to being a Federal Parliamentary
system, Australia is also a considered a Constitutional Monarchy. This means
that the nation has a written constitution which became the supreme law of the
land, under which the government functions and enforces, on July 9, 1990,
though it was not officially entered into force until 1901 when the country
gained its independence from the British. This also means that the official
head of the state is a monarch. In fact, the same monarch of the United
Kingdom.

Australia has an intricate electoral system,
which incorporates essential features of both proportional and constituency
systems. The Australian electoral system is composed of the laws and procedures
used for electing the members of the Australian Parliament. Currently, the
system has numerous unique characteristics, some of which include compulsory
enrollment, compulsory voting, majority-preferential instant-runoff voting in
single-member seats to vote for the lower chamber, also known as the House of
Representative, and the application of the single transferable vote
proportional representation system to vote for members of the Senate, which is
the upper chamber of parliament.

In the House of Representatives, the
instant-runoff electoral system is a practice used in single-seat elections
when there are more than two candidates running. It is also known as the
“ranked-choice voting.” In order to vote for a Minister of Parliament, for the
constituency seat, the voter must rank the candidates on the ballot by
numbering them in order of their preference.  For example, if the voter wishes the Greens party candidate
to take office, they must write “1” in the box next to the candidates name.
However, if they like the Labor party candidate the next best, they put a “2”
in that candidate’s box. The voter is required to place a number in the box
next to every candidate listed. If they do not, the vote is regarded as
“informal” and is not valid. Many of the larger political parties send out “How
to Vote” cards to their constituents, advocating the arrangement of the
candidates in which they want the voters to vote. For instance, the Greens
Party would often recommend to their constituents to select the Liberal Party
as the last option. The voters are not required to heed the advice of the
cards, however, many often do.

If a candidate receives 50% plus one of the
primary vote, with the most boxes marked “1,” that candidate is elected.
However, if no candidate receives an absolute majority vote, the candidate with
the removed, and the other predilections of the ballots are rearranged for the
other candidates. This procedure persists until a single candidate has obtained
50% plus one of the votes, and that candidate is chosen for that seat in the
House of Representatives.

The Senate, however, is a different process
altogether. An Australian citizen has two ways in which he or she may vote for
their state’s senator, Above the Line or Below the Line. In order to vote
“above the line,” the voter must select the party which they wish to be elected
by placing a “1” in the box next to it. By voting above the line, the voter is
giving the responsibility to the party they selected, to determine all of the
other voting preferences for them. On the other hand, when voting “below the
line,” the voter must rate each and every candidate in order of their
preference, as they would in the House of Representatives. Also, as in the
House of Representatives, if every box is not marked, the vote will be
considered informal, and will not be counted. If a candidate receives
approximately just over 14% of the votes, that candidate is then elected.
Thereupon, a complicated procedure rearranges the remaining ballots.

Australia enforces compulsory voting. The idea
of compulsory voting was introduced in Australia gradually from 1915-1925,
primarily due to the fact that there was such a low turn out of voters. Approximately,
5% of registered voters decline to vote at most elections. In these
circumstances, the people are required to provide a clear reason for their
absence. If, however, no acceptable explanation can be presented, such as an
ill health or a religious forbiddance, a financial penalty of up to $170 is inflicted,
the failure of which to pay ensue in a court hearing and additional costs.

Currently, there is a huge debate over whether
or not compulsory voting should remain in practice. Those in favor of it claim
that compulsory voting promotes true democracy, hearing from all of the people.
This is said to bring a multitude of collective advantages. If everyone is
required to vote, then everyone is equally represented, making it difficult to
intimidate or suppress the votes of the disadvantaged, including the elderly,
illiterate, or disable, as well as interference against certain social classes,
race, or gender, some of which include enrollment conditions or the location of
voting polls.  Compulsory voting
also ensures a systematic and manageable process, and the officials do not have
to estimate how many voters might actually show up. They know that
approximately 95% of the population will be there. They also claim that in
electoral systems such as these, the constituent retains his or her right to
abstain from voting at the polls, through the practical capability of not
filling in every box, subsequently voting informally and spoiling the vote.
This is possible because of the secrecy of the ballot. An informal vote does
not benefit any political party, and is subsequently equivalent to abstaining
from voting in a non-compulsory voting system.

On the other hand, others believe that
compulsory voting could counteract the responsibility of the voter to promote
the end result of the election, as voluntary participation in elections is
considered to be an origin of the responsibility to obey the law in a
democracy. In anticipation of the 2010 election, there was a politician who
emboldened the voters to spoil their vote by submitting blank ballots, claiming
that is undemocratic to force the people to vote if they do not wish to, or to
force them into voting by threatening them with a payment penalty. In reaction
to this campaign, a representative of the Australian Electoral Commission
confirmed that the Commonwealth Electoral Act did not specifically forbid the
submission of a blank ballot, though that reaction of the AEC is also debated.

COMPARISON

When comparing countries, one must recognize
that the broader scale of the political system certainly has an effect of how
the countries differ. The United Kingdom has a multitude of important
characteristics that can support varying voting patterns, such as the fact that
voting there is not compulsory as it is in Australia. They cannot know how many
people will turn out to vote, or exactly how many voting polls they might need,
for if they shoot too low, the people will be standing in line for hours, and
may refuse to come in the future due to inconvenience. On the other hand, it
may be a wasted expense to pay for quite a few voting polls to be available,
when only a few people come in.

A
few more characteristics of British voting that differ from Australian are that
there is no public funding for the political parties. The candidates who
receive over 5% of the votes, to meet the threshold necessary of entering into
the House of Commons, may only reclaim their deposit. Also, as opposed to
Australia, the primary labour and conservative powers are in individual parties
in the United Kingdom. The upper chamber of the United Kingdom, the House of
Lords, is not elected, whereas the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia is. The
result of these differing characteristics of the electoral systems in the
United Kingdom are in relatively contrasting situations to those of Australia.
The United Kingdom is contingent upon whether hung parliaments and coalitions
are advantageous aftereffects or not, how similarly the result should emulate
ballots submitted, if the extremists can or cannot be elected into office, and,
finally, whether or not a single political party has any exceptional advantage
over others. It is primarily these contingencies why, after a referendum in
2010 to possibly change the British electoral system to that of Australia’s
rating system, the British remained with its first-past-the-post system.

 One of the previously mentioned
contingencies was whether or not a hung parliament is beneficial or not. To
elaborate further, there are numerous possible situations comprising both hung
parliaments and/or the outcome in which a party receives the greater number of
votes, and another the greater number seats in the House. According to Tom
Roll-Pickering, in his article “The Alternative Vote in Australia – What does
it Produce?,” though Australia has observed hardly any hung parliaments, mostly
due to the absence of a substantial third-party in the lower chamber, the last
of which occurred in 1940, it has observed multiple elections in which one
party gained the two-party alternative vote, and another party gained the
majority. In fact, this has occurred five times following the Second World War.
On the other hand, when reviewing the elections of the same time frame in the
United Kingdom, one can see that a party other than the one that received the
most votes can form a government (1951); a hung parliament can still result in
a party with the most votes and receiving the most seats by forming a coalition
with the third party (2010). Finally, another was a hung parliament in which
the party that received the largest amount of votes had the second largest
amount of seats in the House, while the party with more seats formed a
government. Eight months later they called for another election and officially
won the absolute majority (1974). The election of 2010 generated the first
peacetime government made up of a coalition since 1930s. However, though the
Australian Coalition unites two instinctive allies, the British coalition
consisting of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives integrates two
opposing ideologies.

Another
factor previously stated was whether or not extremists can be elected. The
argument is brought up occasionally, however, it is more of a question for the
proportional representation electoral system.  Today, the farthest-right political party in the United
Kingdom is the British National Party, which has yet to gain anywhere close to
the amount of votes that the Australian counterpart, One Nation, received when
they reached their capstone in the 1990s. One Nation has been represented in
the state legislatures through the ranking system, far more than if they were
under the British first-past-the-post system. They didn’t succeed on the
national level, however, due to the populist politicians who primarily
emphasized issues that would raise their numbers in the polls, not that
necessarily addressed the ideologies of their party. Their lack of success was
not really due to the structure of the electoral system. The British National
Party, however, has, thus far, not achieved the political position that One
Nation has, and the British politicians are attempting to get a handle on the ramifications
from their lack of extremist involvement and influence. Eventually, however, if
they do grow to a certain extent, it would not matter the form of the election.
They would still gain their seat.

Some
political scientists question whether or not the members of a particular
political party are unjustly at a disadvantage, or punished for their political
beliefs. According to Antony Green in his article, ‘History of Preferential
Voting in Australia,’ since, approximately, the 1970s-1980s, the most notable third
parties in Australia have been the Greens and the Democrats.  In the general elections, not either one
has had a candidate elected into the House of Representatives. Their votes in
the lower chamber have consistently ranked less than 10%. The Democrats,
usually, gain somewhere between the range of 3-7% of the votes, until
ultimately failing altogether. The Greens, however, remain relatively within
this scope of reference. This does mean that with the instant run-off electoral
system, the members of these third parties are able to choose other options as
well. In comparison, however, within that same time frame, the British Liberal
Democrats have yet to receive anything less than 10%, and have been known to
gain as much as 26% on the national level. They have constantly been represented
in the House of Commons, though, still to a smaller degree. In order to
determine whether or not this small representation is enough, is often
contingent upon how high the priority is for single-party government, or if
proportional outcomes are more desirable. The question is, however, if the
Liberal Democrats would be more successful under a ranking vote system, since
their vote would be, by and large, dispersed throughout the nation, and not
concentrated, to generate more seats in the House. 

The
point of view regarding the Conservative and Labour parties is more intricately
involved, and can be more difficult to understand, as voters from both sides
have, at one time or another, been convinced that they were handicapped. The
former, lately, have primarily been fixated on the geographical borders, as
opposed to the electoral system. The latter, for many years, have maintained
that the Liberal Democrats divided the vote, permitting the Conservatives to
stay in office for the majority of the last century. This belief is
controversial, since there has been evidence to suggest that those who vote for
the Liberal Democratic party do so due to its centric nature. It is inclined to
collaborate with either of the two major parties, as opposed to definitively
choosing one side over the other.

It
is evident that the two parties have generally won more seats than votes.
However, it can also be seen that on the occasions when one of the parties goes
down, it goes down dramatically due to the readiness of the contentious
constituency to strategically cast their ballot for the party with the best
odds of winning that specific seat. This basically issues the same results as
alternative voting, without the redistribution. This method of voting has had
particular effect against the Conservative Party over the past couple of
decades, and can be particularly noted in the cases of the 1997 and 2001
elections. They have only been able to gradually maneuver themselves out of the
cross hairs of this calculated stratagem over the last few years.

A
major comparison between Australia and the United Kingdom is the degree to
which minor parties are prepared to promote strategic voting. The British
electoral system introduces the minor parties with a problem. They must choose
to either pursue more votes as a show of loyalty and approval of their position
towards certain movements and principles, or they can attempt to win
strategically with the aspiration that the largest party, whom they dislike the
least, will win the election. Australian parties, however, do not have to face
this problem, because they are able to promote themselves for the first vote,
while also advocating whom they believe should have the next preference, and
the next, and so on, subsequently achieving both goals at the same time.

Australia’s
use of compulsory voting with the ranking system has, nevertheless, presented them
a somewhat biased benefit. Originally, the bias was towards the Coalition, due
to the fact that it permitted both parties to contend, as well as providing the
Democratic Labour Party with the ability to point its predilections in the
direction of the Coalition, as opposed to Labour. The inclination of the minor
parties, however, have been consistently shifting towards the left, beginning
with the Democrats standing in the center but slanting towards the left and
validating the Labour party, and currently the Greens party are adamantly
leftist. Thus, in the past couple of decades, the mandatory preferential voting
has provided the Labour party with more of an advantage than the
Coalition.