Electoral Systems

Readers may recall how the weekend before last I was labelled a member of a sinister cabal trying to overthrow – in fact I was its strategic advisor I found out to my great surprise.

This was on the basis that I had had three or four conversations over six months with the campaign organiser, totalling around 30 minutes. It seems answering my phone is now a bad thing to do.

Ironically last year I also had drinks with the Campaign for MMP head, and we chatted about the referendum. Does that make me their strategic advisor also?

What I found interesting from the non-story in the SST was the reaction from certain people. There was no debate about the pros and cons of MMP. There was just attacks that if one was involved in promoting an alternative to MMP, then you were an enemy of the state and an evil bad person. We saw this with some hysteria from Metiria Turei:

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has criticised the motives of the men behind a soon-to-be-announced anti-MMP campaign. …

Ms Turei told 3 News Mr Shirtcliffe had admitted to her he regretted being too negative in the early nineties, leading her to believe the ‘anti’ campaign may have some more positive surprises up their sleeve this time round.

However, she was adamant that the ‘anti’ campaign was a negative campaign by definition.

“It’s anti-community, it’s anti-representation, it’s anti-women, it’s anti-Maori, it’s anti-ethnic representation,” she said.

Again motives are attacked, ironically from someone who personally benefits massively from the current electoral system.

Supporters of MMP, such as Turei, are often zealots. They are incapable of rationally arguing the pros and cons of different . They proclaim that MMP is the only acceptable electoral system for New Zealand, and demonise anyone who might suggest a preference for another system.

The reality is all five electoral systems on offer are acceptable electoral systems. All of them are in use in various countries that are universally recognised as democratic. The moment someone tells you that only one system is acceptable, is the moment when you should stop listening to them.

Now this is very different from saying certain systems are preferable to other systems. This is in fact the exact debate we should have – what are the pros and cons of each system, and which one is preferable. And this is an individual decision, which depends on what criteria you regard as being the most important.

If the criteria that matters the most to you is having the lowest possible score on the Gallagher Index (which measures disproportionality) then MMP is likely to be your preferred system. If what matters most to you is having no List MPs at all, then FPP, PV or STV will be more attractive.

There is no one sole criteria that you must judge an electoral system off. Some of the criteria that people may use include:

  • Proportionality
  • Size of Electorates
  • Ability to sack an unpopular Government
  • Diversity of Parliament
  • Stopping one party rule
  • No need for policy compromises
  • Minor party representation in Parliament
  • No of Maori Seats
  • No pork barrel politics for marginal seats
  • No wasted votes
  • Ability for a Government to manage fiscally
  • Concerns over extremists having power

These are just a few off the top of my head. Others will their own issues also. And different people will place different importance on each issue. What some see as a positive, others may see as a negative.

As I said earlier, I regard all five electoral systems as acceptable, and don’t let anyone tell you they are not. All five systems have pros and cons. And one criticism I do have of those supporting MMP is their inability to sometimes accept the flaws of MMP. It is one thing to say the pros outweigh the cons and it is the best alternative. It is another thing to reject that it has any flaws.

I am not going to be part of any campaign for or against a particular electoral system. What I do hope to do is help engender debate and discussion on the pros and cons of the various systems on this blog.

As people know I also run a polling company. At present it is not contracted to any group involved in the debate, and it accepts clients on a first in first served basis – so if the pro MMP campaign wanted to hire Curia to poll, they could do so, and have an exclusive relationship (once you have a client contracted, you can’t do work for direct competitors). Regardless of whether Curia does any work for a group promoting a particular system, it won’t affect what I blog.

So over the next six months, I will blog a fair amount on the referendum and the options. I have a long-standing interest in electoral law, and as I said I regard all five options as valid electoral systems. I’ve not decided exactly the format I will use, but what I might do is do a blog post on each potential criteria, and evaluate the five systems against that criteria.

Now you might be wondering, yeah sure – but where do you stand on the options. Well the truth is I’ve not decided how I’ll vote at the referendum. With regards to MMP, I’m actually pretty happy with it. I certainly think it is a major improvement over FPP, and if MMP is retained I’ve got no problems with that.

I would not vote to go back to FPP. I’ll explain why in some detail in future posts.

I would not vote to go to PV or Preferential Voting. It has all the defects of MMP, but just has a slightly fairer way of determining the winner in an electorate. However I would support PV being used for the electorate vote in an MMP or SM two vote system.

If there was an option of a 70/50 (electorate/list) Supplementary Member option, I’d regard that as having more pros than cons. Unfortunately the version of SM on offer is 90/30 and I have some significant reservations about SM configured that way. On the plus side it would mean smaller electorates – but I’ll go into details later.

I’m quite attracted to STV also. Under STV you would have multi-member electorates, say with five MPs each. So Wellington City might be one electorate, and you’d probably have two Labour MPs, two National MPs and one Green MP representing it. Another electorate might be North Auckland which might have three National MPs, one Labour MP and one ACT MP.  I regard STV as having more pros than cons.

So my thinking at the moment is between MMP, SM and STV.

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