Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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MMP Review: Last chance!

The Electoral Commission's MMP Proposal Paper is here.

It is taking submissions until 5:00pm today. Mine follows.

Submission of Graeme Edgeler

On the Electoral Commission’s MMP Proposal Paper

1. Thank you for the opportunity to forward my views on the Electoral Commission’s proposals for the MMP voting system. I recognise that the Commission is unlikely to depart substantially from its initial proposals, so do not pursue my earlier views. Instead, I ask the Commission to consider proposing a lower threshold within the range it considered would be acceptable in the New Zealand electoral environment.

A 3% List Seat Threshold

2. In its Proposal Paper, the Commission suggests adopting a list seat threshold of 4%, and removing the one seat threshold. This is a move in the right direction, although it is notable that the Commission proposes changing our voting system to one that is less proportional than that the Royal Commission considered was appropriate for New Zealand in 1986.

3. The Commission considered a range of potential list seat thresholds. It considered 5% too high, 4% and 3% as being acceptable, and less than 3% as being too low.

4. The Commission has made a clear argument for having a threshold in the range of 3%-4%. The MMP Proposal Paper gives a number of reasons why 5% is considered too high, and lists a number of concerns with having a threshold that was too low, but as between 3% and 4%, both of which the Commission thought acceptable, few reasons are offered:

  • The MMP Proposal Paper says a threshold for earning list seats of 4% would limit the proliferation of small parties, but it also notes that there has only been one instance of a party receiving between 3% and 4% across all our MMP elections.
  • The MMP Proposal Paper tentatively suggests that 5 MPs seems reasonable as a number of MPs a party might require to operate effectively in Parliament.

5. Having determined that thresholds of both 3% and 4% are within the acceptable range, I encourage the Commission to look anew at the reasons for choosing one over the other.

6. For myself, I do not see that a 3% threshold would result in the proliferation of small parties the Commission seeks to avoid, and I consider that a party of 4 MPs will be able to operate effectively in the House (and certainly will be more effective representatives of their voters than the zero MPs those voters might be entitled under a higher threshold).

7. I consider that as between 3% and 4%, the small advantages in the areas that the Commission argues are important (avoiding proliferation, and increasing party effectiveness), are outweighed by the prospect that the voices of a large number of voters may be ignored in the election result. One additional party in Parliament (which is all there is ever likely to be as between list seat thresholds of 3% and 4%), even if that party has only 4 MPs, will increase the effectiveness of Parliament as a whole, in the terms that the Royal Commission envisaged (particularly in holding the government to account on issues that might not be important to larger parties). There seems to be little, if any, chance of even a small decrease in stability. Indeed, an additional party will often provide a major party an alternative for seeking support in the passage of legislation which will decrease the prospect of any minor party exercising disproportionate power in the House.The Commission may have additional reasons for favouring 4% over 3%. If so, I encourage it to list them, as this will enable a fuller debate of the options once the final proposals reach Parliament.

Other Matters

8. The MMP Proposal Paper only makes recommendations on the issues that Parliament specifically directed it to consider, and does not include any recommendations on “other matters”.

9. I encourage the Commission to consider making supplementary recommendations on other matters, including some of the technical matters I raise in my original submission.

10. Many of these matters are intended to address concerns that are unlikely to occur, but as the 2011 Waitakere electorate race showed (with the possibility that an election petition could have distorted the proportionality of Parliament), we should not confuse the unlikely with the impossible. Some of the unlikely scenarios, were they ever to occur, may do real damage to public confidence in the MMP voting system. If we are going to be amending the detail of our voting system, it may be better to tidy such things up now.

Conclusion

11. I look forward to seeing the Commission’s final recommendations, and engaging with any legislative processes that may follow.

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