I’m writing about the MMP threshold, to suggest that lowering it is not a solution..
The problems for small parties under MMP, arise mainly from the wasted votes (typically 5-8%) that now occur, and the consequent spoiler effects for small parties.
Voters say “I do not want to waste my vote”. Parties say to small parties on the same side of the house “Don’t take votes from us and then waste them”. Small parties are spoilers. People stay away. New parties cannot get started.
So why do we waste around 5-8% or so of votes every election? And cause all that anguish? There seems to be no good reason. And lowering the threshold does not remove the problem, or the dislike of the threshold.
Instead offer voters a second choice of party vote. If a voter’s first choice fails to pass the threshold, their vote goes to their second choice party. Voters will be careful to make sure either first or second choice is certain enough to pass the threshold.
Problem solved. That 5% threshold is no longer a problem. No voter needs to waste their vote. If a party misses the thresholds, its votes will mainly go instead to a bigger party on the same side of the house. No longer are small parties spoilers. Wasted votes should drop below 1%.
The second choice is easy to understand, easy to implement. One extra column on the party voting paper. For the voter, one optional extra tick. Vote counting is just a little more involved than at present. Results are independent for each polling place.
This idea solves the wasted vote problem, while not requiring any change to the threshold.
Is this the consensus solution that solves the threshold/wasted votes problem without needing to touch the threshold percentage?
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.
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.
The problem with the threshold is not so much its size, but the fact that votes, if cast for parties that do not pass one or other treshold, are wasted.
The wasting of votes in this way is widely hated, for well-known reasons.
Reducing but not eliminating the threshold reduces but does not eliminaate this vote wasting effect.
Reducing or eliminating the threshold prejudices the avowed purpose of the threshold – to discourage the proliferation of small parties in parliament.
The solution is one easily understood and widely used in many situations where we want people to make choices, and we want to ensure that almost nobody misses out. That solution is to offer each voter a second choice of party vote.
No need for a complex preferential voting system. Just a second choice eliminates the problems. Voters can vote first choice for their preferrred party, and second choice for a party which they think is certain to pass the threshold. If their first choice does not pass one or other threshold, their vote goes to their second choice.
This is easy to understand, easy to implement, and solves the problem.
Imagine receiving a wedding invitation, that says:
We would like to seat you at a table with good company. So please say which table you would like to sit at for the Wedding Breakfast
We will have a few larger tables, including one for his family and family friends, one for her family and family friends.
There may be some smaller tables, for special groups. Possibly a table for her work friends, one for his work friends, one for people from their gym, and one for their cycling friends. But we will only have each of those smaller tables if there are enough people wanting to sit there.
If you choose one of the smaller tables, but there are not enough people to fill it, we won’t have a table for that group at all and we will cancel your invite.
Whoa you say, that is not very friendly.
It would be more friendly and normal to say:
If you choose one of the smaller tables, but there are not enough people to fill it, we will place you at one of the larger tables. Please say which you would prefer, with his family or her family.
That demonstrates the difference between the present and proposed MMP systems. If you can’t give someone what they would prefer, do not reject them entirely, as at present. it is better to offer them a second choice.