Victoria’s journey to one vote, one value

15 January 2024 Read the paper

Former Premier Tom Hollway who formed the Electoral Reform Movement.
Former Premier Tom Hollway who formed the Electoral Reform Movement.

The Victorian Electoral Commission works to ensure each vote cast in the state is of equal value, but that wasn’t always the case.

Prior to reforms delivered in the 1980s ‘malapportionment’ was a significant factor in Legislative Assembly elections. 

A recent paper from the Parliamentary Library explores the history of this malapportionment and its influence on elections, particularly from the 1890s on. 

Malapportionment refers to discrepancies between legislative representation and population, for instance where a large rural electorate has fewer voters than a small more densely populated urban electorate. 

It is distinct from gerrymandering, since it does not imply manipulation of boundaries to include or exclude a particular demographic or members of a group. 

Victoria's electoral system has a history marked by considerable malapportionment, rooted in its colonial origins and peaking in the first half of the 20th century.  

During the early stages of Victoria's history, there was an assumption that rural districts would naturally cover larger areas with fewer voters. The emergence of a party system and Federation between 1890 and 1914 further amplified trends favouring rural areas. A zone-based system, introduced in 1915 and 1926, assigned different-sized seats based on metropolitan, urban, and rural criteria. 

Under this system the Country Party controlled a disproportionately large number of seats relative to its voters, peaking at 37 per cent of seats in 1943.

Reforms initiated in the 1950s, following political controversies, aimed to address malapportionment.

The paper notes the Liberal and Country Party's reform attempts, a subsequent party split, and the formation of the Electoral Reform Movement by former Premier Tom Hollway.

The establishment of the state's first majority Labor government in 1952-1955 legislated reforms to reduce malapportionment. 

Despite fluctuations in malapportionment levels between the 1960s and 1980s, the comprehensive electoral reforms of the 1980s finally brought an end to region-based disparities, at least for the Legislative Assembly.

You can read the full paper on the Parliament’s website.