Inquiry into 2020 election

I have just learnt from facebook that the Justice select committee of parliament is holding an inquiry into the 2020 election. This is apparently something routine after each election. Unfortunately the closing date for submissions was 6 April 2021, so I missed it by a week or so.

From what I have read, the problem of wasted votes creates a barrier to participation in the electoral process. In the 2020 election, about 8% of party votes were disregarded because the voter voted for a party that did not pass either of the thresholds, being 5% or an electorate seat.

Young voters are likely to be interested in new ideas and new parties. But we have a system that disenfranchies anybody who votes for a party that does not pass one or other threshold. This disenfranchisement of minor party voters, perhaps mostly young voters, has a discouraging effect on voter participation.

MMP aims to be a proportional system. But bizarrely we have chosen to disenfranchise a small but significant proportion of voters by discarding their votes. This is a severe deficiency in our supposedly proportional electoral system.

And the problem is not one of the size of the threshold. Reducing the threshold would indeed reduce the problem, and eliminating the threshold would eliminate the problem.

But the problem can be better eliminated by giving voters a second choice of party vote. This solution means that every voter can have a say in the makeup of parliament, as well as expressing support for a minor party.

The two-choice system for party voting effectively decouples the size of the threshold from the issue of wasted votes. We can retain MMP with the threshold at whatever level we want, and still have a highly proportional electoral system.

Labour-Greens agree to consider electoral reforms

An item on stuff.co.nz on 31/10/2020 says that the Labour-Greens Cooperation agreement contemplates electoral reform, including the recommendations of the 2012 review of the MMP system.

That report proposed lowering the existing 5% threshold but that change does not seem to have universal support. Two-choice MMP may be a solution that is a good compromise. It allows the threshold to remain while ensuring that people supporting parties that do not pass the threshold can still have a say in the makeup of parliament.

This would remove the ‘threshold anxiety’ that arises every election:

  • Voters are reluctant to vote for small parties for fear their vote may be wasted in deciding the next government.
  • Major parties fear that their likely support parties may miss the threshold, so denying them the chance to form a government.
  • Minor parties fear that they may just rob votes from the major party they might hope to form a coalition with.
  • The country may encounter a cliff face after an election. One party very close to 5%. Whether a party receives 4.9999% or 5.0000% can change the government. Deciding that could prompt a constitutional crisis, as every last detail of voting and vote counting is debated.

Here’s a post from just after the 2008 election

A post from another site from November 2008.  An example of where the threshold had the effect of moving the result towards the right, by having 7% of votes wasted.  Read it here  :

The final results of the 2008 New Zealand general election were announced in the last few days.  Analysis of the results shows some interesting things:

  • The last seat was a very close run thing between Labour and National.  About 40 more votes for Labour would have given Labour one more seat and National one less.
  • The threshold had the effect of rendering useless the 4% of list votes given to NZ First.
  • Another 3% of votes had no effect on the makeup of Parliament.
  • Had the threshold been 4%, NZ First would have won 5 seats.  A Labour-led government wouls have been possible, although it would have required all parties except Nat and Act to support it.  The hypothetical results table below, calculated according to official method apart from threshold setting.

Election result had 4% threshold applied to this election
Election result had 4% threshold applied to this election

I’d like to see the rules changed to avoid votes being wasted like this.  Two ideas:

  • Exclude the top 4-6 parties from the threshold.
  • Allow voters to nominate another party to get their list vote in the event of the threshold not being  passed.

Will Gareth Morgan’s TOP party make the threshold?

On Stuff (stuff.co.nz) 1 July 2017 there was an item about TOP party created by Gareth Morgan.

A major theme of the article is that this party may not make the 5% threshold for gaining seats in Parliament.  If the party does not make the threshold, the effect will be to take votes away from other parties.

The difference between making the threshold or not could decide the government.  We have already had parties from right and left gain more than 4% of the party vote, but fail to pass the 5% threshold.  So far these situations have not had a huge effect.

But imagine a situation where one party (or grouping) (‘group A’) receives 48% of the vote, another (‘group B’) 47%, and a small party (‘Party C’) 5%.  But did that small party receive 4.99% or 5.00001%.

Under present rules, the answer to that question (insignificant as it may seem), can change the government.    If it was 4.99% or less for party C, group A can form a government with a 48% to 47% majority. If party C made 5.00001%, it can join with group B to form a government with a 52% to 48% majority.

This situation, eminently possible,  would have all sorts of undesirable effects:

  • There might need to be detailed analysis of every vote that might have been for party C, to ensure that it really was valid or invalid.
  • If there is any kind of problem with votes having been lost, or people not having been able to vote, then the result would hang in the balance until the situation was resolved.
  • Supporters of party C and group B would rightly feel aggrieved that an arbitrary threshold denied them the chance of forming a government.
  • Supporters of small parties would be even more reluctant to support them.

And just the possibility of this kind of result puts many people off voting for small parties.    And that defeats much of the purpose of MMP.   That is that small parties be able to grow, and when they have adequate support have representation in Parliament.

A solution to this was proposed by at least three submitters to the 2012 MMP review.  The solution seems, unfortunately, not to have been seriously considered.  It was mentioned briefly in the final report, hidden away under a heading related to different ways of selecting electorate MPs.

These submitters suggested that voters be given a second choice of party.  There would be two column on the party voting form, one for first choice party, and one for second choice.    Votes with a first choice of a party that fails to make threshold, would instead be given to the second choice party.

Most people voting for a party at risk, would give their second choice to a larger party more likely to make the threshold.

Thus the vast majority of votes would count in the final proportionality of Parliament.

Under the present system 10 to 15% of votes can be wasted.  Under the proposed two choice system, this percentage could drop almost to zero.

More information will be going up on this site in coming days and weeks.