How to Make Elections More Democratic


As Jane Caro shows, TV advertising makes Australian elections less democratic and more expensive. Caro suggests we ban election ads because of their corrosive effect on the health of our democracy. That might be a good start but more reform is needed before our elections are truly democratic.

Below are two dozen steps for electoral reform where Australia could lead the world, as it has before.  How many of these reforms are still too way out and how many do readers agree with?

It is not enough to complain. We can be constructive.

Voting for key policies as well as for candidates is now electronically and economically feasible, and would stop winning Parties claiming a mandate for all their policies.

Ensuring voters are informed by the media, not by advertising. Election news should take up more time than the sports news, be as exciting, and detail policies on all the important issues that will face the next government, all the candidates and their chief policies, what the costs will be and who will pay for them.

Fairer Senate ballot papers. Allow voters to validly mark ballot papers consecutively from Number 1 only up to the point that they wish. They should not be forced into the simple above-the-line vote with all the Party deals that result.
Voters are warned that if all their preferences fail to
score, their vote is lost as it will transfer nowhere else.

Major political Parties can put up two candidates for the same seat, as in some elections in the USA. Two candidates would allow voters to decide between wings of the Party and preference individual candidates. It would cut pre-selection faction in-fighting and give more chance to new blood. The Electoral Commission should charge no more for two candidates to stand for a Party than for one.

Elections should be timed to avoid major diversions such as sporting events or student exams.

Give the Electoral Commission a better website, with links to all Parties and Independents and their policies including summary pages on issues and an ongoing debates page specifically for all claims, counterclaims, and a page for corrections of mis-information in the media, regardless of its source.

All political candidates’ websites should be listed in newspapers and on television. If they are barmy then all the more debate is needed and possible.

The media could present election information under three headings: Trivial Pursuits, Serious Pursuits and Rude Sledging. The Trivial Pursuits include all leader personality cults, gossip, funny events and polls. The Serious Pursuits are about policies, past records, future problems, and relevant information about all candidates.

The open record of the previous Government including a summary of the legislation it passed, the income made from selling off public assets, the costs of selling off the assets and who profited from these costs, how much total foreign debt has increased by Government sales (profits, interest and more private debt pays higher interest) and what benefits Government actions gave to the major funders of its political Party. A brief summary of the record of the Opposition when in government should takes more account of findings of royal commissions than of its sledging.

No polling of voters’ intentions. Every interviewer who asks anyone who they think will win is fined $100 on the spot. This leaves huge amounts of money, space and time to spend on important issues and increases excitement about outcomes.

Open-ended surveys concentrate on what voters want and what they do not want more useful to everyone. No push-polling.

The media keeps a running record of promises, like a batting list. After the election this promise list is periodically reviewed.

Winning Government candidates put up a bond on their election, to be paid back or not as their promises are kept or not.

All claims by one Party against another trigger an automatic right of reply.

Peaceful freedom of speech in public places during elections is not prevented, as long as pavement or road traffic is not impeded. Advance notice may be given courteously to authorities for anything larger than say a folding table.

Lies do not lie down, however much they are nailed down, so the media should surely have a responsibility to set out the facts when lies are repeated.

The Party in power cannot put any advertising material on a government-funded website, even under the guise of ‘press-releases.’ For eight weeks before an election, ‘government’ letterhead, funding and helicopters cannot be used in campaigns.

Sitting MPs willfully resigning pay for the by-elections they cause out of their Government-funded pensions.

Electorates not gerrymandered. Proportional voting for all Upper Houses.

Compulsory voting retained as a civic responsibility. Voluntary voting allows too many abuses, as in the UK and USA, giving the advantage to the wealthy and powerful.

Parliamentary record of other Parties and Independents can also be published. Print media will set this out in a consistent place and layout so that voters can collect and refer back to it when preparing to vote.

The media can set up definitions of terms, for example: ask candidates to explain what they mean by ‘growth,’ and what sort of jobs they plan. Journalists win awards for clarity and points are deducted for spin.

Score every election out of 10 for how close it comes to being a democratic election as described.

Submit this article to the Independent News Aggregation Site -

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.