Who should rank party lists?

March 14th, 2012 at 2:39 pm by David Farrar

In my blog at , I ask the question who should rank party lists?

16 Responses to “Who should rank party lists?”

  1. jaba (2,181 comments) says:

    this is where Labour REALLY need to get their shit together .. I said as much on the questionnaire they had on the website that Whale linked to. Their List has been their downfall .. it should be a strength

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  2. Michael Mckee (1,251 comments) says:

    The party members, not the hierarchy.

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  3. s.russell (2,072 comments) says:

    My (draft) submission to the review:

    The closed list method of selecting list MPs should be retained. It is simple, and it has produced extremely good results. Open lists, however, add complexity to the voting process, unfairly trample on a party’s right to choose its own candidates and would tend to degrade the quality and representativeness of the list of candidates elected.

    The closed list system provides a simple choice between groups of candidates and has boosted representation of women and minorities, ensured broad regional balance and allowed for the representation of diverse viewpoints within parties.

    Parties have the right to choose whom they want

    Whatever the makeup of a party list it is inevitable that there is dissatisfaction with some of the individuals elected.

    Much of this dissatisfaction comes from people who dislike the persons elected on lists of parties they do not actually support. In my view, such objections should be ignored. No sensible open list system would give those people the ability to influence a list they don’t vote for.

    But even among a party’s supporters there are differences with regards to who should be elected.

    If such supporters are members of said party then they already have far greater power to influence the list than an open list system would give them, and so also have no valid cause for complaint.

    So we are left with those people who vote for a party, but are not members of it. An open list system would give those people some power over who among that party’s candidates is elected via the list.

    But is it actually fair or reasonable that they should have such power? It is tantamount to demanding the power to select a party’s candidates without having to belong to it or contribute to it in any way.

    Selecting a list is little different to selecting candidates for safe, marginal and unwinnable seats. No-one compels candidates – or voters – to belong to parties. At bottom a party is simply a group of people who voluntarily provide support to individuals who they think will be good MPs. That is their choice and no-one should have the right to compel them to direct that support other than how members will it to be directed.

    Getting the best group of people elected

    Under the present system each party strives to create a list which ranks the most able people higher even if they are not well-known, and which provides a balance or representation across regions, gender, ethnicity, political viewpoint, background, and so forth.

    The results are imperfect. For one thing, judgements about how good an MP someone will be (if they are not one already) are sometimes mistaken. Other, less desirable considerations may influence a party’s choice – such as a desire not to rock the boat.

    But would opening the list to the public ameliorate these problems? No: It would probably make the problems worse because the voters know the candidates far less well than the party members, and will vote for recognised incumbents over promising newcomers.

    The reality is that only a tiny minority actually know or care who is on the list even of the party they support. And only a miniscule minority would know enough of each person on the list to be able to make any meaningful judgement about their relative merit.

    In fact, I believe that opening the lists would have a wide range of harmful effects. The scale and mix of these depends on the precise characteristics of the system, but may include:
    • Favouring celebrities and incumbents who have high name recognition over the fresh talent that parties (and ultimately the country) really need;
    • Favouring big-city candidates for whom locals will parochially vote over rural candidates with small voter catchments;
    • Squeezing out minorities (ethnic, social and ideological) who are hampered in getting a wide spread of votes in favour of bland middle-of-the-road white middle class men;
    • Giving inappropriate power to the media who supply the all-important publicity (positive or negative) to a chosen few candidates;
    • Favouring the loud and colourful over the quiet and sensible; and
    • Favouring prima donnas, extremists and polarisers who attract dedicated followers over the sensible people who get lost in the crowd.


    Any open list system carries with it nightmare issues of complexity. Consequences of this include:
    • Discouraging people from voting because it becomes so much more complicated;
    • Creating problems with administration such as unreasonable ballot paper size and the challenge of randomising the order of lists on each ballot paper so as not to favour the Aardmans over the Zimmermans (as would surely happen with 70 candidates on a list)
    • Delaying results because the counting of votes becomes far more complex

    Enough people have trouble understanding the two-vote MMP system as it is. There need to be compelling advantages to any proposal that adds a further vote or votes.

    In this case the advantages are small and the disadvantages are large. And it is likely that only a small minority will want to take advantage of open lists anyway.

    Who gets to decide

    An open list system may provide voters two options other than a deliberate vote on the list order:
    a) ticking a box to vote for the party’s nominated order
    b) not voting and having a neutral effect

    In case a) the open list system becomes an illusion, because, inevitably, most voters will simply tick the box, and if every individual’s vote is to have equal weight (as it should) then any re-rankings (even provided they did not cancel each other out) would then be overwhelmed by the vote for the party-nominated order.

    In case b) the tiny minority who do order a list obtain disproportionate power – with undesirable results.

    At worst, an open list system could be like an at-large council vote across whole country with 70 or more candidates on some lists – most of whom will be completely unknown to the vast majority of voters. Modified open list systems would only ameliorate this nightmare.

    Would we get a better All Blacks team if its members were chosen by public vote rather than an expert NZRU selection panel? No. So let the professional rugby experts choose the All Blacks. The public will vote with their feet on the result. And let the party members choose the lists, and ordinary voters respond with their choice of party.

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  4. DJP6-25 (1,779 comments) says:

    It should be individual party members as natural persons.


    David Prosser

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  5. Peter Freedman (127 comments) says:

    To s. russell:

    I was about to add my wee bit to this thread. Then I read your submission and decided not to bother.

    For once in my life I am left speechless.

    There is nothing I can say, you have said it all and far better than I ever could.


    PS: I would love to find out more about your background and experience. If you want to share it here, that’s great. If you would prefer to do it privately e-mail me. If you don’t want to do it at all, that’s your choice. But please do contact me, I would love to hear from you.


    Anyone else who wishes to talk me on any subject at all is free to use my e-mail as well.


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  6. Daigotsu (485 comments) says:

    Who should rank them?



    This is at less theoretically a democracy after all

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  7. lastmanstanding (1,724 comments) says:


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  8. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    This is a question that doesn’t need to be asked, since the answer is crystal clear. Voters get to vote for their local candidate and their nationwide party. That is sufficient and all they can possibly cope with adequately.

    Expecting them to vote for nationwide candidates is just ludicrously stupid and impracticable. They have neither the knowledge nor information to do so. End of Story.

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  9. Sonny Blount (2,043 comments) says:

    Party Members voting on lists is in effect a poll tax.

    If you want to get a candidate into parliament you must pay a political party money and be ‘accepted’ by them.

    Electorate vote ranked lists is the best way to go.

    The most important mechanism in democracy is removablility, and party ranked or voted lists reduce removability.

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  10. gravedodger (1,703 comments) says:

    @ SonnyBlount, that is the second comment on the cost of membership you have raised what is the actual cost, last time it crossed my path it was $1 to join the Nats but that was some time ago.
    When I gave a gold coin donation to hear James Bolger a King Country Farmer and Derek Quigley a North Canterbury Farmer/Lawyer c 1972, the local branch kept sending me annual renewal notices in spite of my protestations to the contrary.

    Winston would almost have to pay his members to join.
    Can you enlighten us as to what you know about the high costs?

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  11. Ed Snack (2,793 comments) says:

    Re: lastmanstanding: No, ME !

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  12. bhudson (4,770 comments) says:


    Extremely well put. I have argued on an a previous thread why it would be a mistake, and frankly wrong, to allow people outside of party members to determine the party’s list.

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  13. KH (707 comments) says:

    Parties can determine lists and who is on them by any means they like.
    So if they have a stupid system and pick stupid people and rank them stupidly — then that is fine.
    they can select by who has the brightest teeth — for all I care.
    What is important is the vote for or against that list.
    The people at the General Election will vote for which list they choose.
    In my view. Probably not the stupid list. And that’s the good bit.

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  14. KH (707 comments) says:

    David is quite right when he says there is a compromise when you feel you have to vote for a list, but there may be an individual you strongly dislike high on the list.
    Well there is a compromise in all votes and you really can’t get away from it.
    Every vote I have made in a general election for a party, has included the realisation that there are one or two policies that party has I really don’t like. I compromise.
    Only way to get away from compromising our votes is to have universal clause by clause, bill by bill, national referendum on every thing.
    And that is a ridiculous proposal.
    You do have to make some compromise vote decisions. We need to live with it.

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  15. Jack5 (9,285 comments) says:

    I detect elitism among those who would shut the public out of voting on party lists.

    The parties could retain the right to select the lists, but preferential voting would make it easy for each voter to have the choice to rank the list of the one party that voter chose for the party vote.

    This choice would surely have pushed down the list folk from the extreme ends of the spectrum, such as Red Keith Locke and the ascetic Chris Finlayson. It would make voters pay more attention to the ramifications of having MPs like rabid Catherine Delahunty, and it would force NZ First to come up with a far better team.

    Computerised voting would make voter prioritising of lists easy from a processing point of view. Offering voters the choice of prioritising only the list of the party chosen with the party vote would make it easily handled by most voters. Those who couldn’t handle it needn’t make the choice, and if they did and stuffed it up, only this part of their vote need be invalidated.

    The inside-party strategists, planners,and would-be puppeteers include conniving bastards whose power should be limited.

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  16. Chris2 (915 comments) says:

    One option is for Party Lists to be compiled after the Election, with the highest-polling unsuccessful Electorate candidates ranking at the top of each Party List, and so on down to the electoral candidate who received the fewest votes.

    This removes the influence of closed party selection, and ensures that even List MP’s have some proven level of personal support from the voters.

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