Thresholds bill fails

June 25th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Parliament has voted down a bid to close the loophole that allows MPs to enter Parliament on the coat tail of someone who wins an electorate seat.

A bill promoted by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway would have implemented the recommendations of the Electoral Commission following a review which called for the removal of the single electoral seat threshold and a corresponding reduction in the party vote threshold from 5 per cent to 4 per cent. Lowering the party vote threshold would make it easier for smaller parties to win seats in Parliament because they would only need to win 4 per cent of the vote, not 5 per cent, the current threshold. 

Ironically if this had been implemented at the last election, as Labour wanted, Colin Craig would almost certainly be an MP and hold the balance of power. The Conservatives got 3.97% and it is inevitable they would have got 4% if voters had seen them so close to the threshold.

The coat tailing rule is seen as unfair because it means parties that win only a small number of votes can still get a number of MPs in Parliament so long as they win an electorate seat.  It also can allow larger parties to do deals that would help smaller parties into Parliament, which happened with ACT and National in the Epsom seat in Auckland. In 2008 ACT won just 3.6 per cent of the vote after then-leader Rodney Hide won Epsom, in contrast with NZ First which got voted out of Parliament with 4.1 per cent of the vote.

I think the coat tailing rule should go, on balance, but point out that in 2011 there were no “coat tail” MPs and in 2014 there is only one.

But ACT leader David Seymour said the Opposition were “so wrong on every count” about the coat-tailing rule.

He said the only benefiting from the coat tailing rule in the current Parliament was the Maori Party, which got an extra MP thanks to Te Ururoa Flavell winning the Wairiki seat.

Other parties had benefited in other Parliaments including the Greens, NZ First and the Alliance.

“If you take the entire history of MMP, for a period the coat tailing rule benefited the Left and then it benefited the Right.  There is no more to it than that; there is no more sincere motivation than that it has politically disadvantaged [Labour] recently. I’ll be opposing this bill because there is no sound principle, only self-interest.”

Labour, the Greens and NZ First voted for the bill, but National, United Future, the Maori Party and ACT voted against.

Seymour has that dead to rights.

Guest Post: Read This One Post To Understand MMP Better Than A Political Science Professor

August 12th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A Guest Post by Peter McCaffrey:

Whatever your personal views on MMP, the referendum result in 2011 made it clear that our electoral system is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

MMP is exceedingly complicated.

I spent a large chunk of time during my political science degree at Victoria University learning it intimately, and still have to look things up occasionally to make sure I’ve got them correct.

While many people now understand that the Party Vote is the most important vote in deciding the makeup of the legislature, the intricacies of overhangs, top-up seats and the Saint-Lague formula are lost on most people.

It’s common to see mistaken or just plain wrong comments on news media websites and blogs and that’s fair enough really.

No one actually needs to understand the Saint-Lague formula in their daily lives, and putting in the required effort to properly comprehend it would be a complete waste of your time.

Unless, that is, you want to take on the responsibility of explaining the system to others, whether in day-to-day conversations, as a commentator in the media, or as an academic in the classroom.

Which brings us to Q&A on Sunday, and the comments of one of their guests, which provide an excellent opportunity for a refresher course for anyone interested.

Raymond Miller has a doctorate in political science, has written a book about our political party system, served as the head of the Political Science department at Auckland University, teaches courses on elections and is conducting research in to electoral systems.

And yet, he seems to have absolutely no clue about how MMP works, and why the Epsom electorate is so important in this and previous elections.

On the show, Dr Miller claimed that if David Seymour won Epsom but ACT didn’t win enough party votes to bring in extra MPs, then National would have been just as well off with Paul Goldsmith winning the seat.

But this is just completely, objectively, factually wrong.

I hope with this post, I can clear up some of the confusion.

By now, no-one out there should be in any doubt that if ACT receive enough votes to elect extra MPs with David Seymour, then that is extra MPs for the centre-right, obviously.

But what about the scenario that Raymond Miller suggests of ACT not getting anyone other than David Seymour elected?

There are two possible ways this could happen:

Scenario 1) If David Seymour wins Epsom, but ACT receive between 0.0% and ~0.4% of the vote.

In this situation, David Seymour would be what is referred to as an “overhang” MP.

This means that ACT won more electorates than their party vote entitles them to.

This also happened to the Maori Party in 2011.

The Maori Party won 3 electorates, but only received enough party votes to be eligible for 2 seats in parliament.

In these kinds of situations, rather than saying that someone who won an electorate may not sit in Parliament, sensibly, the overhang MP is still elected to parliament.

The size of parliament is actually temporarily increased to 121 MPs, meaning the Maori Party received their 2 seats according to their party vote, and then one extra seat for their third electorate MP.

So even if ACT receives so few votes that David Seymour is an overhang MP, the centre-right still receive a whole extra 1 seat.

[Note: If there are two overhangs in a parliament, meaning there are 122 MPs, then 62 votes would be needed to form a government instead of 61 votes, but even under this unlikely scenario, David Seymour would still effectively count as an extra 1/2 seat for the centre-right.]

Scenario 2) If David Seymour wins Epsom, and ACT receives more than ~0.4% but less than ~1.2%.

In this situation, ACT receive enough votes that David Seymour won’t be an “overhang” MP, but not enough to elect a second MP.

This is where MMP starts to get really complicated.

To explain, let’s start with a background on how seats are allocated under MMP.

The number of seats a party receives in parliament is determined almost entirely by the party vote they receive, according to the Saint-Lague formula. 

Typically, parties win a large enough party vote to entitle them to more seats in parliament than the number of electorates they win.

For example, in 2011, National received 47.31% of the vote, entitling them to 59 seats in Parliament.

National candidates won 42 electorates, which was then topped up with 17 list MPs to ensure National had the 59 MPs they deserved.

Had Paul Goldsmith won Epsom in 2011, National would still only be entitled to 59 seats in total, as their party vote hasn’t changed, but would now hold 43 electorates, meaning the number of top-up electorate seats they would receive would simply be reduced to 16.

So, Paul Goldsmith winning Epsom would have cost ACT a seat, but not gained National any extra MPs – result: one fewer MP for the centre-right.

But where did that ‘spare’ seat go?

As ACT wouldn’t have won an electorate seat, ACT’s votes would now be wasted votes, and this would change the Saint-Lague calculation.

It is technically possible that the election’s party vote result could fall in such a way that during the calculation, the Saint-Lague formula determines that National receives this ‘spare’ seat.

But it’s much more likely that the ‘spare’ seat is awarded to Labour, or the Greens, or New Zealand First, leaving the centre-right with one fewer seat, and the centre-left with one more.

This is exactly what would have happened had Paul Goldsmith won Epsom in 2011, as the Saint-Lague formula would have awarded the ‘spare’ seat to Labour.

You can see for yourself using the Election Commission website’s Saint-Lague calculator:

Just load in the 2011 election results, but change ACT to have won 0 electorate seats, and National to 43.

ACT drops from 1 to 0 seats, National stays on 59 seats, and Labour increases from 34 to 35.

On that result, the Labour, Greens, NZF, Mana and Maori Parties would have had enough seats to form a government.

It’s possible the Maori Party might have chosen to continue working with National.

But then, rather than John Key being able to pass legislation with UF and ACT or with the Maori Party, National would have needed both United Future AND the Maori Party’s votes on every single bill in parliament.

The Maori Party would have held the balance of power on every single vote.

It’s not merely an exaggeration that ACT winning Epsom in 2011 decided the entire election.

If you know any Epsom voters, show them this article, and make sure they understand they might also decide the 2014 election.

Espiner on Alan B’Stard

June 17th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

Mayall’s character Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman was so close to privileged Tory truth that it was practically a documentary. B’Stard’s promises on the hustings; abolish taxes, free housing, free tuition fees, and free electricity don’t seem so very far away from what our own parties are promising in the upcoming general election.

Neither, incidentally, does B’Stard’s frank admission that none of his promises will ever happen: “We just say we’re going to make these changes, then when we get in we just blame the other lot and say they stopped us doing it.”

And B’Stard on the beauty of proportional voting: “Even if they don’t vote for me I’ll probably still get in.” The secret of great comedy may be timing, but good satire needs also to be uncomfortably close to the truth.

He must be a Labour campaign strategist! We may only get 29%, but if we can get Greens, Winston, Hone and Kim Dotcom there also, we might beat the guys on 48%!

Cunliffe pledges to change electoral law under urgency with no consensus

June 4th, 2014 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

In Firstline this morning David Cunliffe said that Labour will amend the Electoral Act within 100 days of office, to remove the one seat electorate threshold in MMP.

This is absolutely appalling. A Government that will ram through major electoral law changes under urgency, probably with no select committee hearings, and without consensus, is dangerous. Labour have form for this.

It doesn’t matter that I agree that the one seat threshold should go (and submitted that way). That is not the point.

The Electoral Act is not the ultimate winner take all prize for the Government of the day.

National has bent over backwards to only make major electoral law changes which have broad parliamentary support. They even agreed to keep third party spending limits, to keep Labour and Greens happy.

The last thing we want is a Government promising to unilaterally change the Electoral Act under urgency within 100 days of an election. Any changes should go through a full select committee process at a minimum. The precedent this would set is horrific. It means any future Government can ram through changes to the Electoral Act under urgency after an election to try and help them stay in power.

Also note the timing. Labour will be quite happy to have the Mana Dotcom Alliance use the one seat threshold to help make them the Government. It’s only after the election they’ll turn their noses up at it.

UPDATE: Further reports do not make it clear whether Labour is pledging to pass the law within 100 days, or introduce it within 100 days.

Regardless no party should be declaring they will change such a major aspect of electoral law (it would have probably changed the result of the 2008 election and given Labour a 4th term) unilaterally. It is quite appropriate for parties to state their positions and ask people not vote vote for parties that have a different position. The way to remove the one seat threshold is to place pressure on all the parties (or at least the major ones) to support a change, or risk being punished by the voters. But in the absence of an agreement, a Government should not use a bare majority to tilt the Electoral Act in its favour (and make Parliament less proportional). You do what National did with the Electoral Finance Act – work with other parties on the replacement law, and compromise when necessary.

If Labour can change the Electoral Act unilaterally after the election to try and wipe out smaller parties, then how could you argue against National changing the Electoral Act to move the threshold to say 10% to wipe out the Greens?

You really really do not want to go down the path of a Government making major changes (and this is really major) to the Electoral Act without broad parliamentary support.

Hehir on MMP bill

November 19th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Standard:

Mr Lees-Galloway says these changes would implement the recommendations of an Electoral Commission review of MMP. That is not quite correct, however. The bill does not include recommendations that Labour opposed – such as banishing the “overhang” effect that allows a party to win more seats (through winning electorates) than the party vote entitles it to.

That the bill is self-serving is underscored by its timing. Mr Lees-Galloway has announced that the “current regime has been a disaster for democracy. It has delivered us Rodney Hide, John Banks, Peter Dunne and now Colin Craig . . . People are sick of these cosy political deals designed to circumvent our democratic system.”

In other words, it is a bill designed to get rid of MPs Lees-Galloway doesn’t like.

You might ask why Mr Lees-Galloway did not make reference to Jim Anderton, the former Member of Parliament for Wigram. For many years, Mr Anderton was ostensibly the leader of the Progressive Party – despite being so integrated into the Labour Party that he was actually its agriculture spokesman at one point.

This is true!

There was no handwringing in the media about coat-tailing then. It wasn’t until Anderton retired in 2011 that Labour announced it intended to abolish the practice.

Indeed not.

In the days of the Roman Republic, a young patrician named Tiberius Gracchus became angry at the pillaging ways of his own class. He was elected a tribune of the people and sought significant economic reforms. He knew he would meet resistance from the Senate, however, so he decided to pass his legislation directly through the popular assembly.

There was nothing illegal about this. However, the procedure flew in the face of the tradition – part of the unwritten Roman constitution – that the Senate be consulted on all major items of legislation. Naturally, the Senate was not above using its own powers to retaliate against and prevent implementation of the Gracchan reform. It very quickly becomes a sad story, as those who know what became of the Roman Republic are aware.

Our constitution is similar to that of the Romans in that its body is held together by custom, convention and tradition. Central to such a system is a measure of good faith and trust between the factions.

Would the passage of Mr Lees-Galloway’s bill without consensus doom democratic politics in New Zealand? Of course not. It would, however, be an act of bad faith corrosive to the democratic spirit. It would make constitutional matters more partisan. Look to America if you want to know where that leads.

Indeed, the bill is a bad faith thing to do.

Ultimately, there is a simple test of principle. Imagine if the Government had a bare majority to raise the threshold to 15 per cent. That would signal the death knell for NZ First and probably the Greens. How likely is it that Mr Lees-Galloway would say: “There’s no need for consensus here.”

Would only take 61 votes to do so. You really do not want political parties using bare majorities to change the threshold for other parties to get into Parliament.

My rule of thumb is that any significant change should be supported by around 75% of more of parties in Parliament, and representing at least 75% of the MPs.

Labour says no need for consensus on electoral reform

November 15th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:


A bill that would lower the threshold for minor parties to enter Parliament and “put an end to tea party-style stitch-ups” has been drawn from the ballot.


Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the bill lowered the party-vote threshold from 5 per cent to 4 per cent and removed the coat-tail provision that allowed major parties to do deals with minor ones to help them into Parliament.


The Palmerston North MP’s Electoral (Adjustment of Thresholds) Amendment Bill was pulled from Parliament’s ballot today and seeks to implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission review held after the MMP referendum.

Personally I support changing the thresholds, and my submission said so. But these sort of significant changes should only occur if there is consensus between the more significant political parties. The Electoral Act should not be some sort of grand prize which winning parties use to screw over losing parties, to try and stay in power longer – which is what Labour did last time. National has deliberately refrained from making significant changes to electoral law, if Labour doesn’t agree with them. The idea is to maintain that consensus, but it looks like Labour are ditching the need for consensus:

Lees-Galloway acknowledged he would probably struggle to get support for the bill.

“There’s no need for consensus here. Political parties just need to vote according to what they think is right,” he said

So who knows what changes to electoral law we’ll see if Labour wins.

It is worth noting that this bill does not implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission in full. It cherry picks the recommendations they agree with, but doesn’t implement the recommendation to get rid of overhang seats or setting a ratio of electorate to list seats.

By not getting rid of over-hangs, Labour’s bill would have seen the size of Parliament in the last three elections as 127 MPs, 128 MPs and 126 MPs.


The case against sacking List MPs

May 19th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Rodney Hide writes in the HoS:

Then we had the constitutional point. That no one, including the Prime Minister, could fire Gilmore forthwith was presented as a failing of our Parliamentary system. He was a list MP. He had done wrong. He should be fired.

I am not so sure those calling for the summary power to dismiss list MPs would appreciate the consequences.

I had two list MPs in my caucus forever trying to dispatch me. If I had been able to fire them, I would have. And I would still be there. But that’s hardly a satisfactory outcome for anyone.

I agree with Rodney that a party should not be able to sack a List MP. It would turn them even more into creatures of the party.

It would be a power too open to abuse by party leaders to get rid of MPs that challenge their authority.

The parties on MMP

May 15th, 2013 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

15 May 2013_Party Positions on MMP

A useful table showing the total lack of consensus on the MMP recommendations.

I’d be careful concluding that retaining the status quo is beneficial to National. Neither United Future or ACT got any List MPs via the one seat threshold in 2011, and frankly I am dubious they would so in 2014.

If anything the party most likely to bring in a List MP might be Mana.

Also lowering the threshold from 5% to 4% is most likely to benefit the Conservative Party, which is a potential coalition partner for National. So again retaining the status quo is not really of much benefit to them – in fact could disadvantage them.

No changes to MMP

May 15th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

From Hansard:

HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Does she intend to bring legislation to the House that will implement the recommendations of the MMP Review in time for the 2014 election?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice) : No.

Holly Walker: Why did she bother to hold the MMP review if she had no intention of implementing its recommendations in the time line intended?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Of course, I did not hold the MMP review; that was a matter that was undertaken by the Electoral Commission. But I can also say that I have made it very clear that we need consensus on these matters for any change, and there is no consensus for any change.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I believe that Dr Holly Walker was correct on this matter when she wrote: “There is a tradition of legislation making changes to the electoral system being passed unanimously in Parliament, and it would be great if all parties were able to put aside their own short-term political interests and build a consensus around the Electoral Commission’s report.” Dr Walker wrote that on 6 November last year in a little-read blog called Frogblog, and I agree with her.

This was entirely predictable.

I agree that significant changes to electoral law should not be made without wide-spread support from affected political parties. A policy Labour shattered with the malignant Electoral Finance Act, but one honoured by National in drawing up replacement legislation. In fact I actually think National compromised too much on that legislation by agreeing to third party spending limits.

I actually think National should have backed changes to both thresholds, namely reducing the party vote one from 5% to 4% and eliminating the one electorate seat threshold. But they have decided not to, and such a significant change should not occur without wide-spread parliamentary support.

I remain very nervous that when there is a change of Government, Labour and Greens will again abandon any commitment to not making significant partisan changes to the Electoral Act and will rewrite it to suit themselves. Time will tell.

The final MMP recommendations

November 5th, 2012 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has made its final report reviewing MMP. There is little change from the draft proposals.

The key recommendations are:

  1. The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished. I agree, as I think it promotes tactical voting rather than voting for the best candidate. I do not though it would make Parliament less proportional in some cases.
  2. The party vote threshold should be lowered from 5% to 4%. I also agree. I would not go lower, but I think the original Royal Commission had it right at 4%. it also reduces tactical voting by having a lower threshold.
  3. There should be a statutory requirement for the Electoral Commission to review the operation of the 4% party vote threshold and report to the Minister of Justice for presentation to Parliament after three general elections. I disagree. Let’s not keep tinkering with it.
  4. If the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, the provision for overhang seats should be abolished. I agree.
  5. Consideration should be given to fixing the ratio of electorate seats to list seats at 60:40 to help maintain the diversity of representation and proportionality in Parliament obtained through the list seats. I agree – this means that over time Parliament may grow beyond 120 seats due to population growth in the North Island.
  6. Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the selection and ranking of candidates on their party lists. I agree, but I think there should be greater obligations on parties to involve members.
  7. Political parties should be required to give a public assurance by statutory declaration that they have complied with their rules in selecting and ranking their list candidates. A meaningless feel-good gesture. Better to have some requirements they must meet.
  8. In any dispute relating to the selection of candidates for election as members of Parliament, the version of the party’s rules that should be applied is that supplied to the Commission under section 71B as at the time the dispute arose. Agree.
  9. Candidates should continue to be able to stand both for an electorate seat and be on a party list at a general election. Disagree. I think this turns List MPs into shadow electorate MPs. I would treat the jobs as quite different. Also dual candidacy encourages tactical voting rather than simply voting for the best party and the best candidate.
  10. List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections. I disagree, as I think it means the outcome of by-elections are people get elected who are not on the ballot paper, and it encourages tactical voting.

The Government is going to consult with all political parties on the recommendations. I predict they will all continue to advocate what is in their self-interest, rather than what is in the interest of the best electoral system. That is because all parties believe the best electoral system is one that gets them into Government!

National response to MMP review proposals

September 14th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Been reading through some of the responses to the MMP changes proposed by the Electoral Commission. National in its submission has said:

Our position is evidenced by the impacts of the proposals if projected against four of the last six MMP elections. After each of the 1996, 2005, 2008, and 2011 elections, these three proposed changes project significant adverse impacts on the ability of both major parties to form and maintain stable Governments.

This is a point the Herald editorial responds to:

National has applied the three proposals to the results of past elections and calculates that they would have reduced the ability of both main parties to form and maintain a stable government after the elections of 1996, 2005, 2008 and 2011.

In 1996 a lower threshold (4 per cent) would have brought an additional party, Christian Heritage, into Parliament with five seats. But more importantly, it would have reduced both National and Labour’s allocation by two seats.

National says “neither would have been in a position to form stable government”. But National’s coalition with New Zealand First after that election was not exactly stable and it’s hard to imagine a third conservative partner would have made things worse.

Oh it would have. NZ First placed great importance on the fact they could negotiate an agreement with just one party, without a smaller party able to veto it. Also it is by no mean certain NZ First would have gone with National, if they could not govern by themselves. It could have been a Labour/Alliance/NZ First Government.

The Electoral Commission has proposed changes which would arguably have seen National not able to form a Government in any of the six MMP elections to date. You’d have to be the most incredible optimist to think this would lead to change.

In 2008 Act wouldn’t have got four extra seats by winning Epsom, National would have got two fewer list seats and the Maori Party would have held the balance of power. That outcome would have been repeated at last year’s election. By implication, National regards the Maori Party as a less reliable partner than Act or United Future.

Of course they are less reliable. They have never ever chosen to go with National. ACT and United Future made it clear they will support National if elected. The Maori Party have never been in a position to choose between National and Labour. They have made clear they can go either way.

National also made this point:

After every MMP election, Governments have included strong minor party representation. Since the inception of MMP, there have never been less than six parties represented in our Parliament. At the last election, eight parties gained representation.

Research by the New Zealand Electoral Study also indicates an absence of almost any public support for more parties in Parliament. Just 2.2 per cent of those surveyed in 2011 believed there were not enough parties in Parliament. This compares to 47.1 per cent who believed there were too many.

I do support lowering the threshold to 4%. Those who argue it should go even lower, or be abolished are a miniscule minority of New Zealanders.

Also an interesting point from Stephen Glaister:

I want to draw the Commission’s attention to the fact that the allegedly fiendish 2008 Status Quo saw Act get 5 MPs for its 85K party votes while NZ First got 0 MPs for its 95K party vote. But under the Commission’s policy nearly exactly the reverse happens: Act gets 1 MP for its 85K party votes and NZ First gets 5 MPs for its 95K party votes. That looks almost as whine-worthy surely! And in both cases the Maori party cheerily gets 5 MPs on 56K party votes. Some progress!

A fair point.

I think the argument to change the vote thresholds are around reducing tactical voting, not around perceived unfairness of results – any threshold always will have winners and losers.

The politics of the proposed MMP changes

August 15th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I missed 10,000 Green votes in 2011 when calculating the election outcomes based on the Electoral Commission recommendations. In fact it is National, not Greens, who would lose one seat.

Putting aside the principled issues, this makes the changes politically very scary for National. Without being too dramatic, it is quite possible that National would never have formed a Government since 1993, under the proposed law changes.

  • In 1996 a major reasons why NZ First went with National was that National and NZ First could govern with 61 votes, while Labour and NZ First would also need the Alliance and Peters did not want the Alliance having a veto. If National lost that advantage of being able to  solely with NZ First, Peters could well have chosen Labour.
  • In 2008, the CR parties would drop from 64 to 58 seats. The Maori Party and NZ First would hold the balance of power. People forget the Maori Party has never ever chosen National over Labour. They have only gone with National in a situation where a Labour-led Government was not possible. In 2008, Helen Clark would have offered a lot to the Maori Party to retain office – arguably more than National could.
  • In 2011, it would be like 2008, with the Maori Party holding the balance of power, and they could well choose Labour over National considering they vote with them more often in the House.

So looking backwards, National MPs will be wondering why the hell would they vote for a law change which might have seen 18 years of Labour-led Government. I suspect they see it as a long suicide note.

However they should be careful not to assume the past is the future.

Removing the one electorate threshold only has an impact is a political party can get 1.2% party vote or higher. I have doubts that ACT or United Future can do so, in a sustainable fashion. Mana though is more likely to make 1.2% with non green disaffected lefties defect from Labour. So removing the one electorate threshold may impact the left more.

Likewise on lowering the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%. On the left the Greens look set to stay well above 5% and Mana unlikely to make 4% or 5%. A 4% threshold does make it easier for NZ First to stay on, but they are unlikely to survive long-term once Peters retires or dies. So not that much benefit for the left in 4%.

On the right, National faces an existence without ACT or United Future. The Conservatives got 2.7%. Them making 5% is a hard call, but 4% is more achievable. I hope ACT survives, but if it does not that will leave room on the political spectrum for a new “liberal” party. They would struggle to make 5% but again 4% could be more achievable for them.

So while on past election results the changes would be a disaster for National, they might be beneficial in the future. From a pure self-interest point of view, National should very carefully consider the future as well as the past.

Now personally I support the three recommended changes on the basis of improving MMP, by reducing tactical game playing. But all political parties in Parliament will be looking at them from a viewpoint of “Does it make it more or less likely this will help us form Government”. That is to be expected as you can’t implement the policies that you think are good for New Zealand unless you actually get into Government.

It is clear that the changes would not have been good for National in the past. However in the future I think on balance of probabilities they would be – in the long term.

Parliament under the Electoral Commission recommendations

August 14th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has recommended three significant changes being:

  • Party vote threshold from 5% to 4%
  • No electorate seat threshold
  • No over-hang

I’ve modeled how the 1996 to 2011 elections would look under these changes. They are:

In 1996, this would have resulted in the Nat/NZF Govt being unable to govern as they would have fallen two seats short of a majority.  Rev Graham Capill would have become an MP and Party Leader of a five person party. Either ACT or Christian Coalition would have been needed to join Nat/NZF or it would be a Lab/All/NZF Govt.

In 1999, there would have been no change under different rules.

In 2002, the only change would be United gain a seat and Progressive lose a seat.

In 2005 there would have been a significant impact as the Lab/Prog/NZF/UF Govt would be one seat short. Either the Greens (whom NZF had vetoed) or Maori Party (last cab off the rank) would have been need by Labour also. Alternatively Nat/NZF/Maori/ACT/UFNZ could get 61 seats. Either way the combinations look pretty unstable.

In 2008, National would have been unable to govern without the Maori Party as Nat/ACT/UFNZ would have gone from 64 seats to 58 seats. One could have ended up with a Lab/Gre/NZF/Maori Government.

The only change in 2011 would have been one less Green MP.

So overall in 1996, in 2005 and in 2008 these changes would have meant a different Government being formed, than what was possible under the status quo. It may have seen Labour. not National, form Government in 1996 and 2008 which is partly why Labour likes the proposals, and National do not.

However the past is not necessarily the future. A lower threshold may benefit the CR more than the CL, if it allows the Conservatives in.

UPDATE: I mistyped the party vote for the Greens in 2011, so in fact they stay the same and National would lose an MP in 2011 under the EC proposals. This means that in 2011 as well as 2008 the Maori Party would hold the balance of power.

The Electoral Commission’s draft recommendations on MMP

August 13th, 2012 at 12:04 pm by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has published its draft recommendations on changes to the MMP electoral system. The key points are:

  • The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished.
  • The party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats should be lowered to 4%.
  • Candidates should continue to be able to stand both in an electorate and on a party list at general elections.
  • List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections.
  • Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists.
  • The provision for overhang seats should be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold.
  • On the basis of current information it would be prudent to identify 76 electorate seats (in a 120 seat Parliament) as the point at which the risk to proportionality from insufficient list seats becomes unacceptable. New Zealand is unlikely to reach that point before 2026.
  • The gradual erosion of list seats relative to electorate seats risks undermining the diversity of representation in Parliament. Parliament should review this matter.

You can provide feedback to the Commission on their draft recommendations.

They will publish final recommendations later this year. Then it will be up to Parliament as to whether or not they adopt them.  It will be interesting if any party proposes a members’ bill to adopt all their recommendations, rather than cherry picking the ones they think personally favour them.

I’m a bit disappointed the Commission has been so timid. I do support lowering the threshold to 4% and abolishing the one seat threshold. However I think they should have recommended greater internal democracy measures for party list rankings, and should have proposed either not allowing List MPs to contest by-elections or indeed even abolishing by-elections (which they talk about but take no stance on). Also no movement on dual candidacy means that the issue which most upsets people the most in my experience, is not dealt with. I think so long as List MPs do not have their own distinct role, and instead remain shadow constituency MPs, we will have significant issues.

So some good stuff there, but overall disappointingly timid.

Glaister on MMP review

May 15th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve embedded below the submission from Stephen Glaister on the MMP review. Stephen argues well against some of the other submissions (including my own) on various issues, so I thought it was worth highlighting his arguments. First he argues against lowering the 5% threshold too low:

But the micro-parties that have flourished under the 5% threshold in NZ (principally because of the one electorate seat waiver) have tended to be simpatico with at least one major party. The sorts of micro-parties that no (or minimal) thresholds would grant representation would be much more selfstanding, and we’d predict, much more fractious and problematic as partners than the sorts of tame micro-parties that have flourished under a waiver-encrusted 5% threshold have been.

A good point. He argues to retain the one electorate threshold saying :

(it) creates incentives for micro-parties to do proportionality-enhancing deals with (interested, politically compatible) larger parties rather than pure overhang, antiproportional deals

He also states:

The threshold expresses a phobia of micro-parties in parliament. But since MMP is a mixed electoral system, parties can get members into parliament anyway if they win electorates. But if a party is going to have a parliamentary delegation anyway (notwithstanding the threshold) then our phobia of micro-parties recommends allowing it to have as many MPs as possible compatibly with proportionality. Additional proportionality itself is valuable, of course, but so is non-trivial team-hood for parliamentary delegations.

This is the best argument for the one electorate threshold. I still don’t like it though because it encourages tactical voting, rather than people voting for the best candidate in an electorate. Stephen also deals with the argument that it is unfair:

A threshold+waiver regime is logically just a disjunction of two boundary rules. Standard, tempting, childish mewling about what are always, partially arbitrary boundaries [24a, 24b] is then sent into overdrive by the target-rich environment of a more complicated, disjunctive boundary.

I especially liked his use of “wah wah” in the submission. As I said I obviously don’t agree with Stephen on everything, but his submission is the best defence of the status quo I have seen.


Speaking next week

April 26th, 2012 at 12:18 pm by David Farrar

For those interested, I’ve got three speaking engagements next week.

On Monday evening I’m speaking in Auckland on the MMP review to the National Party’s Northern Region Policy Committee. That is open to party members only.

On Tuesday I’m speaking at a forum organised by the Legal Research Foundation on media and new media regulation. This is also in Auckland and open to the public. There is a fee to attend.

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the “Privacy in the age of big data” forum, organised by the Privacy Commissioner. This is in Wellington and open to the public. Also a fee to attend.

A somewhat diverse range of subjects. Hence, blogging may be lighter than normal next week.

MMP submissions

April 23rd, 2012 at 2:33 pm by David Farrar

Spent this morning at the Electoral Commission hearings into the review of MMP.

I’ve previously blogged on the party submissions, and these were reinforced in their oral submissions. with the exception of the threshold issue, most are calling for no significant change.

Graeme Edgeler submitted in favour of having no threshold, and there was some interesting discussion around that.

I was the only one (so far) who proposed ending dual candidacy and enjoyed when asked about electorate and list MPs saying they are “different but equal”. Yes, I was using an old US quote.

Almost everyone accepted that open party lists are impractical but the Electoral Commissioners did seem quite interested in whether to strengthen the requirement for parties to democratically rank their lists. I proposed that there should be a initial membership vote, which is made public, so the final list can be compared to it to make any changes transparent.

MMP Review Hearings

April 19th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission is holding hearings for its review of MMP. They are in Wellington on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 April. Each submitter has 15 minutes.

On Monday at the Ministry of Justice Tribunals- Room 1, Level 1, 86-90 Customhouse Quay, some of the possibly interesting submissions are:

  • National 9.15 am
  • Labour 9.30 am
  • United Future 10.00 am
  • Campaign for MMP 10.15 am
  • Me 11.15 am
  • Graeme Edgeler 11.30 am
  • NZ First 12.15 am
  • Voters for Change 2.00 pm

More on MMP review

April 11th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I blogged yesterday the positions of the political parties on the MMP review. I’ve amended it for United Future as I had overlooked that they are the one party which supported open lists. Their submission said all list candidates should have to stand in an electorate, and they be ranked in descending order of the percentage of party votes in that electorate their party got. That encourages them to campaign for party votes then. Not a totally bad idea, but you wouldn’t want to be the Labour candidate in Helensville or National candidate in Mangere!

I should also make clear that you can still make written submissions to the review until 31 May 2012. The headline last week was for those who wish to also do oral submissions. These oral submission hearings will start in Wellington on Monday 23 April.

Also the Maori Party submission has now been published. They have some interesting proposals:

  • That those of Maori decent be automatically enrolled on the Maori roll, with an option to transfer to the general roll. At present Maori choose when they enrol, rather than have to opt out.
  • Lower the party vote threshold (they do not specify to what) as no Maori party has ever gained 5%
  • Keep the one electorate seat threshold
  • That like the general seats, no Maori seat can be split between the North and South Islands (Te Tai Tonga includes all of the South Island and parts of Wellington)
  • To include tribal information in the electoral roll

As far as I know, the Mana Party have not yet put in a submission.

Union spending in the campaign

April 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has also published the spending of the registered third parties, who spent over the disclosure limit.

The NZEI spent $280,000 campaigning against National and national standards.under

Just behind it was the PSA who also spent $196,000 campaigning against National, including texting people in the final week of the election to vote to support strong unions.

The big money was also with the Campaign for MMP (despite the hysterical claims about business funding the Vote for Change campaign. The Campaign for MMP spent $157,000 while Vote for Change spent a mere $80,000. There was also referendum spending pro MMP by some of the political parties and unions, but under the disclosure limit.

As with previous elections the spending by unions is a magnitude greater than that by business groups.

The parties on the MMP Review

April 10th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Electoral Commission has all the submissions on the MMP review online. There are over 100 pages of them.

I’ve done a table showing the positions of the political parties on the various issues. While they will not necessarily carry huge weight with the Electoral Commission, they do show what there may or not be support for within the House, when it comes to dealing with any recommendations.

Issue Nat Lab Green NZF Cons ACT United
Party Vote Threshold 5% 4% 4% 5% 3.5% 5% 3%
Elect Seat Threshold 1 None None None unless PV 4% 1 1 1
Elect to List Ratio SQ 80:40 Set ratio SQ 90:30 and PV for Elects
Overhang SQ SQ SQ SQ
Pop Tolerance 10%
Dual Candidacy Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
List Ranking Closed Closed Closed Closed Closed Open based on votes in electorate
By-Elections SQ SQ SQ SQ SQ SQ
List MP to lose seat if leave party Yes Yes

Before I go into each issue, I would comment that overall I thought the political party submissions were (perhaps inevitable) very self-interested, and not particularly well argued (little research quoted etc).

On the issue of the party vote threshold, National, NZ First and ACT support it remaining at 5%. I give credit to NZ First for supporting a 5% threshold, when when they failed to make it in 2008. A rare example of principle before self-interest.  Labour and Greens support it reducing to 4% (as do I), and the Conservatives opt for 3.5% and United for 3% – for fairly obvious reasons.

On the issue of the electorate seat threshold to get list MPs, National, Conservative, ACT and United support it remaining. Labour and Green support it going (presumably as a way to stop ACT or United ever gaining List MPs again), and NZ First say that if a party wins an electorate seat then their party vote threshold should drop from 5% to 4%.

On the issue of the ratio of electorate seats to list seats, National and ACT support the status quo. Greens say there should be a set ratio, without saying what. Labour proposes a change to an 80:40 Parliament (even thought that would probably make disproportional results more likely). United goes further and proposes 90:30, so long as there is preferential voting in electorate seats (they believe this means more proportional distribution of electorates, but I would suggest Queensland shows this not to be the case).

The overhang issue has all parties supporting the status quo.

On the issue of dual candidacy (where an electorate candidate can also be on the party list), all seven parties supported the status quo of allowing it. This is no surprise as dual candidacy works very well for political parties. Whether it is so good for voters is another issue.

The parties were also united on the issue of closed lists, with none of them (except United Future who says list ranking should be based on the percentage of party votes a candidate gets) wanting the public to be allowed to rank their lists for them. Again, no surprise.

And once again on the issue of List MPs standing in by-elections, no party wanted a change from the status quo.

In terms of other issues, National suggesting increasing the tolerance for electorate boundaries from 5% to 10%, and Labour and United suggested that List MPs who leave their party should have to leave Parliament.

So overall it is clear that there is no realistic possibility of changes around by-elections, list ranking, overhang and dual candidacy rules. No party supports change there, as it is not in their interests.

There are a couple of differing views on the ration of electorate to list MPs, but none of the parties has come up with a workable alternative to the status quo.

So in reality, the only area where there is a clash of views is on the threshold – 5% vs 4% and whether to have the one electorate seat threshold.

This is not to say that the Electoral Commission will recommend what the parties have submitted. In fact I hope they don’t. They will I am sure apply their own judgement to the issues. But the submissions do show that there is not a lot of parliamentary appetite for significant change.

Submission on MMP Review

April 5th, 2012 at 7:17 am by David Farrar

Submissions on the review of MMP close today for those wishing to appear in person, so of course I finished by submission just after midnight this morning. If you wish to do a written submission only, you have until 31 May.

My submission is below. The summary of my recommendations are:

  1. That the party vote threshold be set at 4%, as originally proposed by the Royal Commission.
  2. That the electorate seat threshold be abolished, subject to the party vote threshold reducing to 4%.
  3. That a party which gains an electorate seat, but does not make the party vote threshold, should be included in the St Lague calculations, but not allocated any quotients in excess of their electorate seats.
  4. That sitting MPs be barred from contesting a by-election.
  5. That dual candidacies be banned, with the possible exception of party leaders who should symbolically be placed at the top of their party’s list even if standing in an electorate.
  6. That parties be required to allow all party members to have a vote on the party’s draft list, and that the results of the membership ballot be made public.
  7. That the status quo with regard to overhangs should prevail.
  8. That the Electoral Act should set a minimum proportion of List MPs to be 33% of Parliament to ensure proportionality and minimize overhang, and that the total size of Parliament should automatically increase if necessary to maintain that ratio.
  9. That the tolerance for electorate seats be increased to 10%
  10. That a superior court be given the power to revise the allocation of List MPs, should an electoral petition affect the eligibility of a party to List MPs.
The full submission is embedded below.

MMP Submission

The satisfaction of throwing out a despised Government

March 27th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I have said many times that overall MMP is significantly superior to FPP. But the recent slaughter in Queensland reminds us of something that you don’t get under MMP – the satisfaction of seeing a despised Government crushed at an election.

Australian Labor won only 7 out of 89 seats, despite winning 27% of the vote. Now this is certainly unfair in terms of proportinality. But in terms of teaching a Government a lesson (being don’t lie and don’t run dirty smear campaigns), MMP reduces the impact of losing the public favour. You can’t actually throw out the top Ministers, as they did in Queensland, as they would all remain safe on the party list.

In fact under MMP it is possible Labor could have retained power in Queensland if they did a deal with Bob Katter.

Again don’t get me wrong, MMP is better than FPP overall. But I do miss losing the ability to really punish a Government as they have just done in Queensland.

Who should rank party lists?

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

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

Should List MPs be able to stand in by-elections?

March 6th, 2012 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

At Stuff I blog on another issue in the MMP review, namely should List MPs be able to stand in by-elections.

My conclusion:

However I am firmly of the view that List MPs should not be able to stand in by-elections. I think the results of elections should be transparent, and someone from Dunedin should not suddenly become a List MP because of how the voters in Mana voted. The average voter won’t get to grips with the details of how a list MP becoming an electorate MP means a new List MP enters Parliament, and won’t be making an informed vote.

You can comment at Stuff, or here.