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The five percent MMP threshold is regarded by many as the biggest problem in our electoral system. –Bryce Edwards 2019

The 2012 MMP review proposed reducing the threshold to 4%. Nothing has been implemented since.

Perhaps this is because this idea pleases nobody very much.  The threshold, as implemented, and at any level, has a chilling effect on small parties and all associated with them, including voters and the larger parties.

Arguably, it is the discarding of votes that is the real problem. Voters don’t like it. Parties don’t like it, especially in the MMP environment where overall election results are often a tight race between party votes for left and right.

Any vote for party that does not pass the threshold is a vote denied its allied parties. So nobody who understands this wants to see votes for minor parties on their side of the left-right divide. Not voters, not promoter of new parties, not established parties.

It is hardly surprising that small parties struggle in this environment. But there is strong pressure to retain the threshold.

The solution lies in keeping the threshold, but doing it in a way that eliminates wasted votes.

Here is a simple solution that should please everybody.

  1. Give each voter a second choice of party vote.  
  2. If the voter’s first choice of party misses the threshold, the vote goes to the voter’s second choice.
  3. Everything else stays the same.
A sample voting paper with a second choice of party vote

Easy to understand.  Easy to implement (just another column on the party voting paper).  Leaves the threshold percentage unchanged. This solution removes the wasted vote issue, it does not just reduce it a little.

If most voters choose a threshold passing party for first or second choice, there will be almost no wasted votes.

That lack of wasted votes brings many benefits:

  1. Voters can vote for smaller parties and parties can see their true support.  There is no incentive for strategic voting.
  2. Every voter can have a say in the makeup of parliament, through one or other of their choices. Very high proportionality as a result.
  3. Larger parties need not fear that potential coalition support parties may take votes from them, then waste them. If a potential support party misses the threshold, then the larger party is likely to benefit from second choices.
  4. The threshold is still there – no small parties in parliament without electorate seats.
  5. When a party just misses the threshold it will not change the overall result of the election.

For larger parties, two choice party voting, as well as leaving the threshold unchanged, also simplifies relationships with small parties. Small parties can be seen as supporters, rather than as spoilers.

For smaller parties, two choice party voting removes the problems created by wasted votes.  Although the threshold percentage is not changed, voters can freely vote for small parties without risk of wasted votes.  As a result, small parties may get some more votes, so the threshold will seem less distant.  Because the risk of wasted votes has gone, small parties should find it easier to work in cooperation with like-minded parties.

This proposed  change is I suggest significantly more helpful to small parties than a reduction of the threshold to 4%.  Seems to offer a win-win solution to a long-standing issue .

It may be that the threshold percentage should also be lowered, in order to further lower the obstacles to new parties. But that is a question outside the scope of this website.

Here is a printable flyer to explain the proposal in more detail TwoChoicev4.pdf

Here is a PowerPoint presentation

And the same in pdf format

Last altered 13/11/2022