How the new counting system may give us a more diverse town council


A new system of counting votes may result in a more diverse town council after the elections on March 24.
Diversity certainly isn’t a feature of the Mayoral poll: To a man – pardon the pun – the five candidates are male, white, middle-class, middle-age small businessmen.
The only apparent distinction is that the four challengers of incumbent Damien Ryan have links, some tenuous, with the vocal Advance Alice movement, and that they all want to get rid of Mr Ryan.
How this will translate into preferences as the campaign unfolds remains to be seen.
However, the new voting system is very likely to generate more diversity among the eight councillors, to be chosen from a field of 15 candidates representing much of the town’s broad social spectrum.
Unlike in the previous system, candidates for councillor will not need to reach 50% plus one, but a smaller quota, a key factor in the new system.
This makes it less likely for people from powerful groups – interest, commercial, regional, ethnic, for example – who have many electors, to dominate the councils.
It is more likely for smaller groups to get their candidates up.
The new voting system – the Single Transferable Vote Proportional Representation (STVPR) counting – is a bit of a mouthful but it’s quite simple, at least so far as the Mayoral count is concerned.
The count for Mayor (one vacancy only, of course) works like this:-
Alice Springs has 14,239 enrolled voters. Let’s say 70% cast valid votes – which is about the norm – this would result in 10,000 ballot papers to be counted.
Let’s say the candidates are, in order of first preference votes, Fred, Julie, Gus, Anna and Harry.
In the first count none of them gets the “quota” which is 10,000 (the number of formal ballots) divided by the number of vacancies plus one, and add one – that’s 5001 ballots.
If no-one is elected in the first preference count – they all fail to reach the quota – the candidate with the least number of votes, Harry, is eliminated.
On ballot papers where people were voting “1” for Harry and have put “2” (their second preference) against another name, that vote now goes to the candidate indicated by the “2”.
A new count is done.
If the quota is now achieved by a candidate, that candidate is elected and we have a Mayor.
If not, then whoever is now the candidate with the least votes will be eliminated.
This may not be Anna, because the distribution of Harry’s preferences may have advanced her in the count.
Again, the bottom-scorer’s preferences will be distributed.
Further counts will take place until one of the candidates reaches the quota.
The count for Councillor, however, could be a quite a brain snapper.
The election of Councillors follows similar lines to the Mayoral counts, except that preference votes are transferred but not necessarily at their full value … and this is where it gets tricky.
Again, the formula for the Quota will apply: In Alice Springs – in the reasonable assumption that there will be 10,0000 valid ballots – it will be 10,000 divided by 8 vacancies plus one and add one, that’s 1112 or approximately 11% of the vote.
Anyone getting that number of votes or more is automatically in. (If no-one gets quota, the candidate with the least number of votes is excluded).
If a candidate is elected, the next thing is the distribution of the votes the elected member has received in excess of the quota.
For example, front runner Rita got 1217 votes which means a surplus above quota of 105. Her preferences went to Amy (252), Myrtle (428) and Jim (537).
Now a factor is applied to work out what fraction of these votes is passed on to the other candidates.
That factor is Rita’s excess over the quota divided by her total vote, namely 105 divided by 1215 which equals .086419.
So Amy gets 252 times .086419 equals 21votes, Myrtle 36 and Jim 46 (no rounding).
The same is done with the excess votes for any second candidate already elected.
The new vote totals are checked to see if any candidate has now reached quota. If they have, they are elected and any surplus votes are distributed.  If not, the process reverts to the elimination of the bottom scorer and the allocation of his preferences until enough candidates reach 1112 to fill the remaining vacancies.
For further exploration go to the Electoral Commission’s website then > all information click here > Alice Springs Town Council > Proportional Representation System where you will find three useful links.
Or view an animated presentation “How Your Vote Counts” on the Electoral Commission of South Australia website.
PHOTO: Mayor Damien Ryan – strong on ceremony but soft on leadership, his critics claim.


  1. Thanks for the explanation, Alice News. So this means in order to get past these four trying to roll Damien – that is obvious – we must vote taking in the system and the ballot in this way: Damien, Dave, Habib, Eli then Brown. Let’s do it Alice Springs 🙂 Sorry you four and Action for Alice, we’re not stupid.

  2. Erwin, Thanks for explaining that. One more question, please.
    Is it still necessary to put a number next to each name on the list of hopeful Councilors, or can I cast a valid ballot with only my first 1 to 8 numbered?
    And for Mayor – is it 1 to 5, or will 1 do?
    Thanks, Hal.
    ED – Email from the Electoral Commission this morning: “You must place consecutive numbers in all of the voting squares, commencing with the number 1.”

  3. “Gee Sean”, I don’t think you’ve really got too much to worry about, the only commonality between the contenders is that we were, are, have all been prepared to stand up for Alice at one time or another. The most important thing that differentiated us from Damien is the fact that when the chips were down he was not prepared to do the same!
    That is the very reason that I have chosen to run against him. In light of Damien’s inaction your choice, your right, to give him your vote appears to be somewhat at odds with your statement. Advance Alice, the organisation referred to in the article, was founded some years ago to do as the name says, Advance Alice.
    It was never an organisation by which any Alicespringsite should have felt threatened.
    It ceased to operate some years ago. Interestingly enough the council that we are about to replace contained quite a few Advance Alice members but out of the current crop of mayoral contenders there are only two ex Advance Alice members, one of those being myself. The organisation Action for Alice referred to by Sean was formed after the mayhem of Christmas 2010 to protest the lack of law and order in our town. A very large portion of Alice Springs businesses joined. As far as I am aware only two of the contenders were members one of those, being myself. I stood with Action for Alice Because I believe in standing up for the town into which I was born some 58 years ago, I have and will continue to fight like hell for its survival, forever. My objective is to build it into a healthy prosperous growing town that gives all our kids a great start in the world, and does away with the paternal welfare dependent town in decline that we have become over the last 20 years.

  4. In answer to Hal: To make your vote count it is absolutely crucial you number every box on the ballot paper. So you need to go Mayoral 1-5 and Councillor 1-15 in whatever sequence you choose.

  5. Don’t be fooled by Steve Brown’s rhetoric. He is on record as being in favour of winding back current alcohol restrictions. He has no solution to public alcoholism, apart from law and order. Eli Melky has similar views, involving a curfew.
    The liquor commission initiated withdrawal of cheap cask wine over the weekend is an acknowledgement that further restrictions are needed. Steve Brown et al prosper at the expense of creating welfare necessity through their vision which creates excessive alcohol consumption and related harm.
    I’ve given the figures for this in my article “Central Australia is perishing for a drink.” Those figures reveal how each NT adult is taxed $4200 p.a. plus the cost of services, for the privilege of voting Brown Town prosperity.
    Take-away alcohol free days, a proven measure in combating alcohol-related harm, is not on their agenda. It’s more of the same waste of taxpayers money while they reap a harvest at the expense of alcoholics.
    The trend in alcohol reform is towards cost recovery at the supply end. Steve Brown and his policies are economically redundant and this from the bloke who wants to “fight like hell” to take the town forward.

  6. Sean and Russell,
    You guys are crazy. Agree with Steve or Eli or not makes no difference. They have both done more for Alice by at least starting conversations on the tough issues. At least they create the debate that we all then discuss. Whether you agree with a youth curfew or not doesn’t matter, at least Eli has us all talking about youth issues. I don’t agree with a curfew but as a youth worker, I’m over the moon that someone is at least willing to talk about it.
    It’s Damien’s willingness to push everything into confidential and cover things up that has crippled the town. How can anybody deny the decline is Alice since his appointment as Mayor?
    Alice has felt it in its economy, its tourism and its very social fabric.

  7. Jason, when you get Steve or Eli talking about the positive benefits (or the negatives if they can find any) of take-way alcohol sales free days, you’ll get my appreciation for more than taking an interest in this matter.
    This is the hardest of the hard issues you talk about with a direct correlation to youth welfare. You may be aware that Steve and Eli have dodged the excessive alcohol consumption issue which numerous and widely-collected statistics reveal as unacceptable economically or in lives lost by enslavement to a legal drug.
    As a youth worker, you might at least acquaint yourself with the stats (see “Central Australia is perishing for a drink”).

  8. Russell
    You seem to be using lack of support for further alcohol restrictions as reason for not supporting some of the mayoral candidates. For the life of me, I cannot recall the current Mayor coming out in strong support of further restrictions. If this is the case, I presume that he won’t be getting your vote either. That leaves a pretty slim field for you. Or maybe, the current mayor does support further alcohol restrictions. I’m sure there’s a lot of local issues that they guy is passionate about. It’s just that we never hear of them.

  9. Harold, it’s not that I’m opposed to the current Mayor, it’s more that I see the need for alcohol reform and wish that a candidate, any candidate would declare it’s necessity, given that the two pubs sell take-away 7 days per week, etc.
    The alternative is economic madness and of course, there’s the inconvenient human toll. We know who’s overly represented there. I trust you’ve seen the figures in “Central Australia is perishing for a drink” (Google AS News Archive).
    The Town Council can request that the NT Liquor Commission hold a hearing, but community-based support would be nice. The council is the local body that should stand up for the town – to coin a popular election phrase – but the fact that it doesn’t appear to be on the radar or at least, as some candidates seem to be saying, in the too hard basket, is what concerns me.
    I’ve been around long enough to lose lots of Centralian friends to alcohol abuse and I miss them. It would bother me to have to lose more, not to mention their children, including those in the womb. So, it’s really a question of whether the town is interested, isn’t it?

  10. Harold, three of the mayor’s opponents (Brown, Melky and Habib-Bitar) are on record as opposing the supermarkets’ decisions to withdraw cheap cask and cleanskin wines, sherries, and fortifieds from their shelves, and/or want to restore the early opening of takeaway sales for all products. The mayor may not be on record advocating more regulation, but at least he hasn’t been party to the dangerous retrograde nonsense that his opponents support. Who in their right mind would vote for less regulation of alcohol in Alice Springs? Nobody should support these candidates if they want to see a healthy future for Alice Springs.

  11. “Diversity certainly isn’t a feature of the Mayoral poll: To a man – pardon the pun – the five candidates are male, white, middle-class, middle-age small businessmen.”
    I was a bit surprised to read that Samih Bitar is white. Are you sure? I haven’t met him, but he is my uncle. As far as I know he is olive skinned. Originally from Lebanon, ie Lebanese, ie DIVERSITY. Do you even know anything about these people?

  12. Russel,
    I have no idea what the current mayor stands for, because he never talks about issues and has run only on spin and ceremony. At least the others have been willing to take a position and wear criticism. They are already stronger candidates for that alone. At least you know where they stand.
    In regards to alcohol policy, I think you preach a lot of nonsense. I work in Alice and Tennant Creek, where alcohol consumption is much worse. Prohibition does not work. It does nothing to correct behavior and does nothing to help those who are addicted to alcohol whose bodies crave and need it. Rehabilitating people is the only way.
    Too fast we remove people’s own responsibilities for their own lives. These people choose to drink! Sure there are a lot reasons that need to be fixed to help them make their decisions better, but even you said it, it’s their LEGAL right to do so. The current restrictions already go against our country’s constitution and deprive the greater community of some of there civil rights. If it wasn’t social suicide someone would have already challenged them.
    We parade alcohol campaigners and restrictions around like they have made some great achievement, yet the youth have never been more at risk and the indigenous people have never been less engaged. We recently had a campaigner recognized at a national stage for their work in Tennant, yet if you ask long term people in TC both white and black, they are loathed and seen as someone who has done huge damage and created a social divide.
    Why are we so powerful and knowledgeable to tell people what they can and can’t do if it’s legal? How do indigenous people ever get treated as equal if we constantly think we know how to better manage their lives. Your whole thought process is flawed and elitist.

  13. Thanks, Jason. Can’t follow the logic of your comment about working in both Alice and Tennant Creek. I’ve been doing the same for the past 30-odd years.
    I’ve never advocated Prohibition. You’ve picked that up from someone else. Let’s stick to what I am focussing on – Take-away sales free days.
    There’s a heap of stats on the value of that and commentary going back weeks.
    If you’d care to come up to speed on that and join the debate on take-away restrictions, I’d welcome that.

  14. Jason (Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm): As a youth worker in Tennant and Alice, you can’t be very observant. You seem to be asleep in some fantasy world. The prohibition about which you complain does not exists. Nobody is proposing that it should be imposed in either of these towns. Russell Guy is not proposing prohibition.
    PAAC has made clear for ten years that it is opposed to prohibition.
    You also claim that rehabilitation “is the only way”. Therefore you are dismissing all regulation of alcohol, all measures designed to prevent excessive alcohol abuse, and all harm minimization mechanisms related to drinking alcohol, without providing any rational reasons.
    You refuse to recognise the value of, and need for, sensible regulation of alcohol, to fit the needs of the particular community. In so doing, you are also refusing to recognise all the problems excessive alcohol consumption causes for the children of alcohol abusers, their partners and the rest of the community – tax payers, road users, hospital staff, police, ambulance workers, council cleaners and many others. You are simply an irresponsible (and anonymous) propagandist for other irresponsible interests, particularly some of the other candidates for the town council election.


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