“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” – Edward Lorenz 1972   tweet-graphic-4-58x20

I wrote the original blog post on the ‘Butterfly Effect’ Voting Strategy shutterstock_85326271before the Federal Election of 2013, thinking about this from the electors’ viewpoint: a light-hearted view on how we might approach our voting choice from the jaundice and ennui that most people felt about politics and the candidates on offer.

At the time I didn’t think much about the possibility of candidates or parties gaming the system, although in hindsight.  Although this did (at face value) produce the outcomes that the ‘Butterfly Effect’ Voting Strategy espouses, little did I imagine how significantly the cynical exploitation of the electoral and parliamentary process by numerous small parties would only deepen my disgust.

As of today, it would seem the thought below is very true:

“Every country has the government it deserves” – Josephe de Maistre,  Lettres et Opuscules Inedites (1851) vol.1, letter 53 (15 August 1811)tweet-graphic-4-58x20

Chaos Theory and Electoral Processes

The “Butterfly Effect” voting strategy gives a lowly ranked party/candidate a chance to be promoted above other candidates and so not be eliminated first in any preference distribution.

They become a recipient of preference distributions, not the provider.

This provides the opportunity for the “Butterfly Effect”, i.e. an unexpected outcome beyond the individual power of your vote.

Is it likely that your candidate could win?  Possibly, although unlikely.  But even you don’t get your candidate up, you are affecting the larger candidates’ vote accumulation in unpredictable ways, which may just affect who prevails in the final tally.

House of Reps

Vote for the candidate/party most likely to be eliminated first in any preference count, i.e. get the lowest tally of first preference votes.  Mark a “1” in the box next to their name.  Continue by giving a “2” to the next most likely to be eliminated, a “3” to the next most and so on.

In the House, it’s important to mark every square to ensure that registered preference deals don’t kick in.


The strategy of voting for the most unlikely party in the Senate may not be as effective as in the House of Reps. Because of quotas and surplus distribution “top down”, the preference distributions come into play in a different way.

Unless you want to mark every candidate according to your ranking strategy, you’ll be voting “above the line”.  This means that the registered preference deals will kick in, but the sum total of these is so complicated as to make it practically random.

Why Think about Voting in terms of Chaos Theory?

“In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” – Wikipedia  tweet-graphic-4-58x20

In most elections past, I’ve felt that my vote wasn’t really much more than a drop in the ocean: I’ve lived in seats with huge margins (both Labour and LNP) and so the overwhelming feeling when I cast my vote is “what difference does it make”.  The only time in living memory that I felt like I had a chance of influencing the outcome was in Bennelong in 2007.

This election, I’m particularly disinclined to vote for either of the major parties.  I’m disenchanted and underwhelmed with the ALP.  And I wouldn’t vote LNP this time around for any reason or any money.

So I’ve been struggling with what to do with my vote.  I can’t quite bring myself to vote for the Greens as I see them now as a fixture in the grand struggle with the major parties.  They have as much staked on party survival as Labor or Liberal.

I’m inclined to vote for an independent candidate, but who? I couldn’t really be bothered scanning through the policies of all the hundreds of limited interest parties.  What’s more the preference deals (or arrangements) mean that I don’t really control the outcome the way I want it.  Can you believe that the “HEMP Party” has 3 voting tickets registered with the AEC?

I like the idea of independent voices in Parliament.  Although this Parliament has been difficult, it’s not because of the independent members sitting in the Senate.

Having more Independent voices is a good idea and we should as a country welcome people with different viewpoints and influences.  To have a proper debate about policy implementation would be as engaging as it would be surprising.  The difficulties of this parliament have been caused by the trenchant behaviour of the Opposition and the completely dysfunctional response of the Government.  Do not reject independent voices in Parliament just on the basis of the past three years.   This would be a mistake.

So I want independents, but how to choose?

In part because of the difficulties of the last 3 years, two things are happening in this election:

  1. There are an unprecedented number of candidates and parties contesting both the upper and lower house, many with multiple voting tickets (preference allocations) lodged with the AEC.
  2. A large number of people are working through an abnormally detached process of deciding their vote: they are currently undecided, and will remain so up until they enter the polling booth, and they are disenchanted with their traditional voting choice for one reason or another.

It seems to me that more people are likely to do unpredictable things in the ballot booth as they are confronted with the reality of writing down some numbers.  Some will file empty papers, some will donkey vote.  And some, no doubt will come up with a protest comment (as my friend Murray described it he was going to “draw big dicks all over the ballot paper”).

But the way I see it, there is the strong likelihood of minor parties and candidates getting a larger first preference vote than in other elections.

So maybe we shouldn’t reject unpredictable outcomes: perhaps we should embrace them, and let fate and chance determine the makeup of the next Parliament.  It can’t get any worse, methinks.

This is where the “Butterfly Effect” strategy comes in: if a relatively small number of people voting unpredictably can change the most likely order of preferential elimination in the vote count, then this brings into play the many registered preference cards.

At its core, the “Butterfly Effect” voting strategy involves casting your first preference for the party or candidate that you believe will be eliminated first in the vote count, whilst still having a chance of contributing to the outcome.  In this way, there is just a chance that the party or candidate who was going to be eliminated first, might be promoted above other candidates, which means at some point they will be the recipient of preference distributions, not just the provider.

And, depending on the initial conditions of the vote count, i.e. how many other people have changed their votes (for any reasons) to a minor party instead of a major party, the resultant preference distributions could go in any direction.

Not only does this mean that there may be an unexpected outcome, but it also means your vote becomes the hardest working vote in your electorate or state: it contributes multiple times to a decision through the respective preference distributions, rather than only counting once, in the event that you choose to vote for one of the major parties.

The strategy varies according to the counting methods used in the House of Reps and the Senate: these are very different and come with a very different voting profile.

Check out the following link for a good overview of the voting methods used in both houses.


But the principle is the same: let your vote be a butterfly wing flapping in the Amazon: it just might cause a Tornado in Texas

How it Works

Basic Strategy (Common to Both Houses)

As mentioned above, the “Butterfly Effect” approach is based on casting your vote for the candidate or party that has the most likelihood (in your view) of being eliminated first in any preference count.

In other words you vote for your candidate with the expectation that at the first round of counting (assuming no-one gets a first-round 50% + 1 majority), that your candidate’s preferences are distributed first.    Of course, if one candidate gets a first round majority, then you’re out of luck as no preferences will be distributed (except for the notional “2 Party Preferred Tally” that the AEC does for comparison purposes each election)

But depending on the voting patterns, more than one round of candidate elimination and preference distribution may be required.

This is where the fun starts: just because you changed your vote from a major party to this one, it just may be enough to push this candidate or party above their expected position in the poll.  So perhaps

It’s important to realise that the elimination is based on an absolute value, so all one candidate needs is 1 vote more than another to jump above him/her to avoid being eliminated in whichever round is being counted.

Example – District of Bennelong in the House of Representatives

Given that the parties that are most likely to be eliminated first are so marginal that their vote count is likely to be very low, an additional 1 vote from me has a significant impact on their total, proportionally.  If someone only gets 100 votes, then my 1 is worth 1% of their total.  This is a far cry from say 1 out of 45,000 or 0.0089% which is what my vote counted for in Bennelong in 2010.

Interestingly the person who got the least number of votes in Bennelong in 2010 received 170, so my vote would have been worth 0.58% of their total.

The next highest number was 275, then 478, 570 and 725 and then over 1000.

So admittedly, a fair few people would have to come along for the ride with me to push the 170 past the 275 and change the order of the elimination.

Lets assume similar numbers for the others candidates as per 2010.  So if your candidate (the one that got 170 last time) now gets, say, 280.  This means that candidate with 275 gets eliminated and his/her 2nd preferences are distributed.

I’d say there are very few people who could predict where those would go ahead of the election, but assume for the sake of the argument, they surprisingly go to your candidate (who would now have 545 votes) and none go to candidate with 478.  This now means that your candidate is not eliminated in the second preference distribution, and candidate 478 is.  All your candidate needs to get is 36 votes out of the 478, and voila, they aren’t eliminated on the third preference distribution (always assuming that no-one got to a simple majority in the meantime).

Now this will continue as long as the difference between your candidate and the next one up is less than the total votes your candidate has plus the reasonable proportion of the next lower down candidate (assuming your candidate gets most of the preferences).

It’s all completely unpredictable, but depending on voting patterns, it’s possible that your candidate, who you originally thought would be eliminated first, may survive a number of rounds of preference distribution.

Is it likely that your candidate could win?  Not really, but remember that every time your candidate receives a preference vote in the distribution, some major candidate is not getting them.

So even you don’t get your candidate up, you are affecting the larger candidates’ vote accumulation in unpredictable ways, which may just affect who prevails in the final tally.

That gives your vote real leverage in ways that you would normally never have obtained.


Now if you’ve read the AEC link on the Senate vote counting you’ll know it works differently.  They have a top-down quota achievement and surplus distribution process, and only do preference counting when there is an unfilled quota, and no surplus to distribute.

This means that the strategy of voting for the most unlikely party in the Senate may not be as effective as in the House of Reps.  However, it’s balanced by having a much larger voting population, this time by state rather than seat.

But, if you look at past results, you’ll see that some pretty minor parties have claimed a Senate seat based on extra-ordinarily small 1st preference votes.

So you can either go with the Lower House strategy and vote for a bottom feeder, or perhaps pick someone in the middle of the pack.

The ABC has a great page which helps you figure out the Senate outcomes from percentage of 1st preference votes.  Try experimenting with this and see where you get to.

See this link: http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2013/senate-calculator/

Warning: “Indies ain’t Indies” – Independents In Parliament and the Butterfly Effect

A word of caution on selection of Independents: “Indies ain’t Indies!” when it comes to their purpose or intentions.  Single-interest groups and narrow constituency representatives are not what I am looking for.

In this election, there is a plethora of what I heard the ABC’s 730 Report call “micro-parties”: tiny parties with single interests and not much more than the intention to prosecute that narrow view within the legislature.  That they have engaged a political consultant to help them with their preference distribution agreements is interesting, and makes me wonder whether this means that the “Butterfly Effect” voting strategy would have more power, or less.

But we’ve seen the outrageous influence that the Shooters and Fisher’s party has wreaked in NSW, as tough-minded negotiation and a focus on promoting the interests of their constituency has achieved some remarkable results.  In fact, it’s only issues within their own organisation that has undermined their gains.   On the other end of the spectrum, the Family First representation in the Senate has not managed to achieve much at all.

This election we have such jolly parties as “the Pirates Party” for which I have no idea what they stand.  The HEMP party’s agenda is all to clear, but one wonders, after so much Cheech and Chong style stereotyping, whether they will remember what they came for, if and when they arrive in Canberra.

Parties like the “No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics Party” seemingly have no purpose, as the LNP will do their job for them.

Regardless of the narrow interests of these “micro-parties”, I wonder what they will do if they achieve their goals? Do they just continue to amp up their goals, based on achievements?  Do they kick back and live high on their taxpayer’s salary? Do they pack up and go home?

I don’t think such a party is going to do much for our Parliament, regardless of the apparent benefit of their single interest.  There’s just too much legislator resource tied up in one area of policy.

What I mean when I say I want more Independents, are generally-skilled people who are interested in public service at its most general.  Folks with intelligence and objectivity; with knowledge gained from education (formal and auto-didactical) as well as life experience, preferably both positive and negative.

I don’t see any problem with such a legislator having focus areas, such as Nick Xenophon has on gambling.  The world is too complex a place to be an expert on a lot of things, let alone everything.

But more importantly, they need the ability to assimilate large amounts of information, to do the objective analysis and to form the views that enable critical and balanced debate of proposals coming from the Government of the day.

Or to assess the problems coming out of the world we live in, to find useful and creative solutions.

Their views and plans should be tempered that their terms of office are finite.  Without an organisation behind them (such as the major parties – including the Greens) who see success as creating a living entity that survives beyond those that are in office at any given time, our Independents will come, do their jobs for a term or two, and then go on to the rest of their lives.  They will not seek to become lifetime Members of Parliament, just for the sake of doing so.

I mentioned Nick Xenophon above and I hold him out to be a poster child for the type of Independent that we should aspire to have in our parliament.  Sadly I don’t live in South Australia, otherwise I would be able to help him the next time he faces the voters.  And he is also a Lawyer, which we’d be better without so many of in parliament.  But I don’t hold that against him.

Windsor and Oakshotte also present to me as broader-based independents.  Although they have a geographic constituency, and have pushed hard for benefits to their areas, they also bring to the debate the kind of general analytical skills, objectivity and “in touch with reality” connection with the people they represent.

Albo got caught out quoting Michael Douglas in “The American President”, without acknowledgement.  But those Hollywood-scripted words still hold meaning if you read them in the context of Independent Members of Parliament: “we need serious people to solve serious problems”.  And it would be better if more of them were not creatures beholden to any particular party.

The Butterfly Effect voting strategy cannot selectively help “real” Indies over “micro-interest” Indies.  But it’s still worth a go.

At least those that are elected will have to stand up on their own and propose their solutions, defend their actions, and argue their criticisms.


I came up with the “Butterfly Effect” voting strategy to see if I couldn’t achieve some unexpected value out of my paltry one vote.  And perhaps to leave to karma a decision about getting more and different voices into the Parliament.

It’s unlikely (but not impossible) for that one single vote to be the Butterfly Wings that cause a Tornado, but if more people adopt the approach, then the power will be multiplied.

Let’s get some variety into our Parliament, and have 2 houses that force some decent debate and not the tripe that has been served up by the major parties.

There are hundreds of them so there are plenty to choose from.

Why not have someone from the “Pirate Party” or the “Stop CSG” party in Parliament? It can’t be much worse than it is now.

Vote with your wings!!