The 5 per cent MMP threshold is regarded by many as the biggest problem in the New Zealand electoral system. This problem remains perhaps because no solution has been found that satisfies two important interest groups. One interest group wants the threshold reduced, because it leads to wasted votes and creates an excessive obstacle to new political parties. But another wants to retain the threshold, because they fear a proliferation of small parties in parliament if the threshold were to be reduced.
There is a solution, one that arises from understanding some nuances of the apparently competing interests. The interest group that wants the threshold reduced appears to be driven mainly by the desire to reduce the wasted votes that arise from a simple threshold. The group that wants to retain the threshold is primarily concerned about avoiding a proliferation of small parties.
Seems to me there’s a deal to be made here. Big parties get to keep the threshold percentage. Small parties get to see an end to most vote wasting.
What is exciting is that there is an easy way to achieve this. Easy to understand, commonly used in the real world, easy to implement, ticks all the boxes.
Yes, the solution is to give each voter a second choice of party vote. If the voter’s first choice party fails to pass the threshold, the vote goes to the second choice party. So most voters would make sure one of their choices was for a party pretty certain to pass the threshold.
This proposal just requires a second party vote column on the party voting paper, and minor changes to vote counting. Once we have totals for each threshold passing party, the existing seat allocation tool works exactly as now.
Just consider the pluses here.
- Pressure to reduce the threshold percentage is lowered, making the big, powerful parties more comfortable.
- A higher proportion of voters have a say in government formation. We could go from around 92% to easily 99%.
- Nobody has to choose between voting for a minor party and abandoning the minor party for a major one so as to have a say in overall government formation.
- Minor parties probably get some more votes, because voters do not need to vote strategically, so the threshold seems less distant.
- Nobody needs to take into account the risk of wasted votes in any aspect of participation in an election. That makes planning, and cooperation between like minded parties, much easier.
- Results would give a better indication of the real support for each party.
- The difference between a party just missing and just making the threshold cannot change the coalition-leading party.
- It is in many ways better than just reducing the threshold percentage slightly, because it puts a stop to all the perverse effects of wasted votes
So here we have a win-win solution to the long-standing MMP threshold problem. And all at the small price of adding a column to the voting paper and inviting voters to place one more tick if they wish.
This idea may be useful in other MMP systems with thresholds. Offering a second choice can be simply implemented and can help improve proportionality and encourage voters to express their real views.
Here is a mockup of a voting paper modified to provide for a second choice of party vote.
This is what the results table might look like, with the same format for everything between polling place and the whole country.
You can find out more about this proposal at www.twochoicemmp.nz