I have previously stated that the participation of thousands of voters should not be a measure of success for NSW Labor’s community preselections. Low barriers to participation will inevitably mean a higher level of participation. This has been demonstrated by the open primaries held by the British Conservative Party five years ago.
In 2009, the British Conservative Party trialed two open primaries. The primaries were held for the seats of Totnes and Gosport with every voter on the electoral roll sent a postal ballot. Both open primaries had a high level of voter participation, Totnes had a turnout of 24.6% of registered voters while Gosport had 17.8% of registered voters participate. As a comparison, turnout in state wide primaries in the United States was 17.3% in 2012.
While further open primaries using postal ballots have not occurred since, they do give an indication of what turnout should be expected by a trial of primaries in Australia where voter is mailed.
There are some key differences that limit the comparison between the Tories open primary experiment and NSW Labor’s community preselections. The Tories mailed ballots while NSW Labor will only be mailing out instructions about how to participate. Both seats were not in a major city and were safe Conservative seats which meant greater media focus on the primaries. Unlike Australia, the United Kingdom has voluntary voting (only 82.3% of the population was registered to vote in 2011) and there is still a rank-and-file component in Labor’s community preselection.
Still, based on the experience of the Tories’ trials in the United Kingdom and considering the differences, it would be reasonable to expect that the NSW Labor’s community preselections should get at least 10% or around 5,000 participants in the primary component. Anything less would not be a success considering the cost and resources invested in this process.
UPDATE 31/3/14: According to The Australian, there were 1,061 non-member voters in Campbelltown community preselection and 1,345 non-member voters in Newtown or approximately 2% of each electorate.
UPDATE 21/9/14: The Ballina community preselection had 2,317 votes cast (no member/non-member breakdown is available yet) or approximately 4% of the electorate.