• MMP Review

last modified August 31, 2012 by strypey

This is the text of the response I made to the Electoral Commission's Proposals Paper for the 2012 review of the MMP voting system used in general elections for the New Zealand Parliament. 

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Ko te mihi tuatahi,
He mihi nui tenei ki a koutou, ngā kaimahi o te Electoral Commission.
He mea rahi tō koutou mahi, engari kua puta rā te hua.

Having read the Proposal Paper produced by the Electoral Commission, and given some thought to the arguments and evidence presented in support of them, I can comfortably support all of the proposals except one; the proposal to retain a party vote threshold set at 4%. I would like the following points to be considered before the Commission makes its final recommendations to parliament.

The Commissioners express support for a party vote threshold on the basis that the "proliferation of small parties" is a potential threat to the stability of government. However, if these "small parties" truly represent the people voting for them, this is an argument against truly representative democracy.

In their Proposal Paper, the Commissioners say:
"Abolition of the one electorate seat threshold would not prevent electorate only or single member parties, nor should it."

I agree that the voting system should not discriminate against single member parties with an electorate MP, even though such MPs have been the ones most likely to wield disproportionate influence as “kingmakers” in MMP elections in NZ (eg John Banks and Peter Dunne deciding which major party would govern in 2011). Why then should the voting system be allowed to discriminate against single members parties whose voters can only support them through party vote? The intentional suppression of emerging parties through the imposition of any threshold is also an argument against what the Comissioners call one of "the fundamental principles of the MMP voting system... that all votes should be of equal value"; presumably including those cast for emerging parties.

2,418,587 voters registered for the 1996 general election, of whom 88.3% voted, just over 2,100.000. In 2011, there were 3,070,847 registered voters, of which 74.21% voted, just under 2,300,000. Proportionally the lowest turnout under MMP. This suggests that in future elections, a party could reasonably expect to require between 15,000 and 25,000 votes to reach 1/120 of the total party vote.

Under the Commission's current recommendations, a single member party could not be represented with that many party votes, however they could still be represented through a list seat on the strength of less than 15,000 votes, all from people in one region. Consider that in 2011 United Future were represented on the strength of the 14,357 votes cast in Ohariu for Peter Dunne, while only 13,443 party votes were cast for United Future. By contrast, 24,168 party votes were cast for Mana, almost double the number. Yet under any party vote threshold above 1%, had Hone Harawira not won Te Tai Tokerau, Mana supporters would not currently be represented in parliament, while United Future supporters would be.

Two values which are mentioned frequently in the Proposals Paper are those of "fairness and equity" as well as "proportionality". As with the comparison between the ACT and NZ First results and representation in 2008, I believe the example above shows that the imposition of any threshold above 1% fails to uphold any of those values. Please note that this is the case even before we attempt to factor in the tendancy of any threshold barrier to divert "strategic" votes from emerging parties which might otherwise receive a much higher proportion of the total vote, redirecting them to the established parties which are more assured of crossing the threshold, even though they do not fully represent people's views.

Please consider also that many of the arguments raised by your correspondents in  support of 'transferable vote' systems relate to ensuring the diversity of MPs, and representation of minority viewpoints in parliament. In my view, these are valid concerns which could be addressed by a greater reduction of the party vote threshold, or indeed its total elimination, without introducing any further complexities into the voting system.

Finally, I ask the Commissioners to keep in mind the opinions expressed about the threshold in the first round of representations from the public, as summarised in Figure 3 of the Proposal Paper. Of the clear majority who supported lowering the threshold, a clear
majority also supported a threshold under 4% when the various options below 4% are added together.

Taking into account the Commissioners' view that dropping the threshold below 3% would substantially change the electoral system, requiring a referendum, I ask that the Commissioners make the following ecommendations to parliament:
* That the party vote threshold be dropped to 3%
* That a referendum be held on whether there needs to be a party vote
threshold higher than that required to elect one list MP

Ki ōku nei whakaaro, ko ngā tohu katoa o ngā tangata katoa o te motu,
ko te kai hou o ngā rangatira o te ao hurihuri.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Naku noa
Danyl Strype