Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: MMP Review #1: The Party Vote Threshold

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  • Graeme Edgeler,

    My next one won't be as long, I promise :-)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Raymond A Francis,

    Interesting as always Graeme
    I tend towards the no threshold at all but see your point about needing three MPs to be effective.
    Germany is interesting with its using different thresholds at different levels of government

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 545 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis,

    It does appear that 5% is too high in that the alternative of 1 electorate MP has become the avenue most likely to be used by parties that wish to circumvent it.
    It would be wise for the threshold to be 2.5% for with or without an electorate seat,. that is they dont get extra MPs until they have reached the threshold.
    I dont see a different threshold for Maori interest parties would be required as there are Maori seats which allow a functioning party which doesnt reach the 2.5% level. This occurred in 2008 and 2011.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 235 posts Report Reply

  • Harry Musgrave,

    Well argued. Halfway through your post I was thinking that 3 was a good minimum number of MPs and I'm happy to see you came to the same conclusion.

    Since Jul 2009 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    At what level is a parliamentary party likely to be too small that its MPs will be unable to do a substantial amount of the work we would expect even a small party to be able to do? Perhaps if a party is so small that it can do almost none of the things we would expect of people representing our voices in the House of Representatives, the arguments in favour of thresholds have some meaning.

    But surely that's a question for voters, rather than self-interested political elites, to decide?

    And if the voters keep electing small parties, then the onus is on parliament to change its Standing Orders to allow them to be effective representatives, not use those arbitrary rules as an excuse to constrain voter choice. It has already done this once, around the 1996 election (when suddenly we got proxy voting, proportional distribution of select committee seats and primary questions, and a whole host of other changes). It can do it again.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1664 posts Report Reply

  • Sam Hill,

    Graeme, you suggest 2.5% as a threshold. I have been suggesting 2.0% for a long time.

    Here's why:

    Ideally we should have 120 MPs - 70 electorates, and 50 list MPs.

    However due to overhangs we have had a variable number of MPs. This is one of my major hang ups with the current system.

    I suggest we keep 70 electorate MPs, entrench the 50 list MPs, and for every 2% that a party earns in the party vote, they get a seat. 2% is 1/50th of the party vote. If it turns out that we're a few seats short, the seats are allocated to those closest to the 2% threshold.

    The house would currently look like this (brackets for current seats)

    Party vote % Seats
    National 47.31 66 (59) 42 electorate + 24 list
    Labour 27.48 36 (34) 22 electorate + 14 list
    Green 11.06 6 (14) 6 list
    NZ First 6.59 3 (8) 3 list
    Conservative 2.65 1 (0) 1 list
    Māori 1.43 4 (3) 3 electorate + 1 list
    Mana 1.08 2 (1) 1 electorate + 1 list
    ACT 1.07 2 (1) 1 electorate + 1 list
    United Future 0.60 1 (1) 1 electorate

    Tokoroa • Since Apr 2012 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Homer, in reply to Sam Hill,

    That's supplementary member. It's not in scope for the review.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Idiot Savant,

    But surely that’s a question for voters, rather than self-interested political elites, to decide?

    And given that there is likely to be majority support among voters for a threshold, we may be doing just that.

    Also, as I note, I do support not having a threshold. But a lot of voters - not just self-interested elites - have valid reasons for supporting some limit on parliamentary representation, and knowing what some of those reasons are, and recognising the imperatives behind them, it's only reasonable that I should consider how that can be accommodated when reaching a consensus view. Otherwise I'd be acting no terribly differently from those elites you oppose.

    he onus is on parliament to change its Standing Orders to allow them to be effective representatives, not use those arbitrary rules as an excuse to constrain voter choice.

    There are only so many waking hours in day. Unless Parliament drastically cuts the amount of work it does (by, for example, devolving a lot more of it to the Government, as occurs in other countries), it will simply not be possible for a single MP to remotely cover everything important to those who elected them.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    I dont see a different threshold for Maori interest parties would be required as there are Maori seats which allow a functioning party which doesnt reach the 2.5% level. This occurred in 2008 and 2011.

    The recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System that there should be a threshold waiver for Maori interest parties was on the basis that they were recommending the abolition of separate Maori seats.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    My view on the justification for a threshold is influence.

    A single MP can, by acting as sand in the machine, achieve policy and office that an MP for a larger party would struggle with. (If Dunne was a National MP, would he be a minister? Or get his policies enacted? If Banks was a National MP, would we hear anything of Charter Schools?).

    We can't do anything about MPs who've got an agglomeration of support in one area (apart from changing the whole system, which I won't cover here). But we can have a threshold.

    I'd agree with the 2.5% level, and no coat-tailing.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4471 posts Report Reply

  • Sam Hill, in reply to Michael Homer,

    I think most people would see that it keeps much of the same 'proportionality' of MMP though, except that it is fairer.

    I don't see why the Greens for instance, can win only 11.06% of the party vote, yet be awarded more list seats than Labour?

    We get two votes in NZ. One for our electorate, one for the whole country. I think they should be worth and equally significant amount. Ideally I would like the same amount of electorate and list MPs, say 60 - 60.

    Tokoroa • Since Apr 2012 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Darlington,

    But a lot of voters – not just self-interested elites – have valid reasons for supporting some limit on parliamentary representation...

    That term "valid" bugs me. The only basis for a threshold other than 0.83% of the party vote is Tyranny of the Majority - ie, if lots of people don't like small parties, small parties can be given a hard time getting into Parliament. Democracy allows for tyranny of the majority, but that doesn't make it right.

    I think most people would see that it keeps much of the same ‘proportionality’ of MMP though, except that it is fairer.

    Fairly obviously not, given that most people voted to keep MMP.

    Since Nov 2006 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Sam Hill,

    I don’t see why the Greens for instance, can win only 11.06% of the party vote, yet be awarded more list seats than Labour?

    Because it's the party vote, not the list vote. The party vote determines how many MPs each party has.

    Under Supplementary Member, the list vote determines how many list MPs each party has. But supplementary member is not MMP.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    I thoroughly agree with you Graeme. I am interested in no threshold so as to not disenfranchise voters, but I feel that single MP parties are not really parties at all, so my submission recommended a 2-seat limit as the threshold. This also eliminates the winning of an electorate seat bringing in extra MPs.

    Incidentally, is there anything in the calculation that requires the threshold to be a %age rather than a number of seats ? I think discussing it as a seat limit is a much better idea, and I would like a 2 or 3 seat limit.

    If we do have a threshold, then there is another simple change that we can make to avoid disenfranchising voters. Provide a mechanism, whereby a voter can specify a back-up party vote. Should their party vote not be counted due to the party not meeting the threshold, then their back-up vote can be counted. This will allow voters to vote for the party that truly represents them, without running the risk of their vote not counting at all.

    The only argument against this that I can see is complexity. Allowing people to write a 'B' (for Back-up) against a party should work well, as 'B' is totally unlike a tick or cross or a 1, which people are likely to use for their primary vote. An alternative would be to number (or assign a letter to) each party, and provide a box at the bottom of the voting paper into which the back-up vote could be written.

    This mechanism should have little effect on the counting of votes, since it is likely to be used by only a small minority of voters.

    Can anyone see any other drawbacks ?

    If not, then I would encourage everyone to include this proposal in their submissions. It should definitely increase the turnout at elections.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 426 posts Report Reply

  • Alice Ronald, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    That's sounding like STV - proportional, yes, but often confusing.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 48 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    One of the concerns many people have with minor parties is their exercising disproportionate power. But the greatest chance of that happening is when there is only a small number of small parties.

    Absolutely, it's always confused me when people advocate HIGH thresholds by complaining that small parties "wield disproportionate power". It strikes me that they only do so because we realistically limit their number to around 5-6, of which 3-4 are likely to be "clearly sided" to a particularly major party.


    Regarding your broader point, perhaps we should be asking why the workings of Parliament make 1 or 2 MPs so hamstrung in executing their mandate and if there aren't improvements to be made?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1722 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    Incidentally, is there anything in the calculation that requires the threshold to be a %age rather than a number of seats ? I think discussing it as a seat limit is a much better idea, and I would like a 2 or 3 seat limit.

    No. You could do that calculation once. Exclude all parties that get less than 2 or less than 3 seats and do it again.

    Or you could set it at a fixed number of votes. Or a proportion of votes for the largest party, or whatever.

    This mechanism should have little effect on the counting of votes, since it is likely to be used by only a small minority of voters.

    Can anyone see any other drawbacks ?

    The main drawback is confusion. Not just in the voting booth, but if the public advertising campaign mentions things like this might some people be scared off from voting/registering altogether?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Gareth Ward,

    Regarding your broader point, perhaps we should be asking why the workings of Parliament make 1 or 2 MPs so hamstrung in executing their mandate and if there aren’t improvements to be made?

    I don't think the major problems are the workings of Parliament. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

    I feel a Royal Commission coming on...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1722 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    The main drawback is confusion. Not just in the voting booth, but if the public advertising campaign mentions things like this might some people be scared off from voting/registering altogether?

    Would this be smaller or larger than the number of people encouraged to vote since their vote would be much more likely to be counted ? I think smaller, but maybe not. One would hope that some research would be done to determine the best way to implement and advertise this feature, in order to minimise confusion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 426 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    My view on the justification for a threshold is influence. A single MP can, by acting as sand in the machine, achieve policy and office that an MP for a larger party would struggle with.

    I think that's an issue with large parties and small parties working together, as Graeme suggested. I'm not convinced small parties always have as much influence as is sometimes made out by complainers, but the influence they get is a consequence of a dominant party having few choices of those they want to work with.

    Personally I think big parties like National and Labour don't help with MMP, because they take the power of expression away from voters and shift policy decisions behind doors instead of in open debating and negotiations. Big parties are a hangover from FPP that hasn't completely died, but I'm sort of hoping they do die as generations change. Labour's seemingly already started with its former support being split between several more specific parties, which is great because some former Labour supporters can now positively vote for what they specifically liked about Labour instead of just voting for a big black box. There are parts of what remains of Labour that could easily work with parts of National if they had such freedoms, but in the current form, Labour will never work with National. And that's why Winston Peters had so much fun in '96, because living through decades of FPP meant that National and Labour had evolved themselves into two giant mutually exclusive gelatinous blobs.

    Single-party MPs will always be possible through electorate voting, so there will always be the potential sand-in-the-machine issue if they're in a position of high influence after an election. I don't think we'll ever end up with 120 parties in parliament though, because wannabee candidates will always try to flock to a party with an established name (just as with National and Labour now, but they'd have more choices), so I think if lowering or removing the threshold will give MPs of larger parties the confidence to jump ship and form more specific smaller parties to take support from the large parties, it'll be a good development.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 436 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    The more I think about percentages the less clear I am. They seem arbitrary but I am not aware of what thinking went behind setting these thresholds 0- 5% .

    From the angle of groups and the whole.
    If electorate seats represent people grouped by geographical area and List seats represent people grouped around ideas or ideals.
    Then what size should a group be before the rest of us recognize it's right to have some influence on the whole?

    It would be an interesting exercise to model this with a microcosm eg a whole group of a 1000 people. If 20 (2%) people said we stand for x, would the rest of us be happy to give them a voice? What if it was 50?

    I am wondering if it is not just about individuals and smaller groups getting some kind of substantive representation but also the willingness of the larger group to tolerate a spread of ideas.

    In times of peace and prosperity I suggest the larger group is more willing to tolerate a broader spread of ideas and views. But in hard times that tolerance shrinks - think of the conscientious objectors of WWII.

    Should our electoral system allow the larger group an influence or should it be above that?

    Aside from percentages how many voters are needed before their view - via a representative - is heard.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 507 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Richard Aston,

    In times of peace and prosperity I suggest the larger group is more willing to tolerate a broader spread of ideas and views. But in hard times that tolerance shrinks – think of the conscientious objectors of WWII.

    I would argue that NZ has always been a strongly conformist society that has never had much tolerance for minority views at all, the difference between peacetime and wartime being that in wartime people get locked up.

    Remember the original MMP debate and how people explained the threshold was necessary to keep extremists out, that's why Germany has it's threshold, having learned from its '33 - '45 experience?

    The trouble here, of course, is that we need to decide where to set the limits of acceptable political ideas and discourse. Some would like those limits set very narrow. Others might prefer to allow more room at their end of the political spectrum than at the opposite. The trouble for those who would like the threshold lower is that those who want fewer minor parties go straight back to the Nazi argument. You can then argue that the major parties would refuse to work with such extreme right minor parties, but unfortunately Austria has in recent years gone and blown that theory out of the water.

    It seems to me a threshold needs to be set somewhere, otherwise how do we deal with a party that gets only the votes of its 500 registered members? I'm inclined to think 5% is too high and find Graeme's arguments persuasive.

    I don't think it'd be terribly much work tracking down a fairly large number of people who would rather Hone Harawira, the Greens, and others like them were exiled to the Chathams and forever forbidden from speaking ever again. Trouble is persuading them that the good old days when it was either National or Labour weren't actually all that good, and that they really don't have anything to fear from requiring parties to cooperate, and that forcing them to compromise might actually be a Good Thing leading to more, rather than less, stable government.

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2162 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    I agree with you Chris about true MMP forcing parties to compromise will lead to more stable government - my hope is it will evolve past compromise to collaboration . I reckon the indicators of this starting to happen may be seen pre-election as parties publicly partner up rather than waiting to see who's got what slice of the pie before "compromising" .
    Speaking of the Chathams exiling Hone and the Greens there would change the Rongotai electorate majorly - that would be interesting for Wellington .

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 507 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Also, as I note, I do support not having a threshold. But a lot of voters - not just self-interested elites - have valid reasons for supporting some limit on parliamentary representation, and knowing what some of those reasons are, and recognising the imperatives behind them, it's only reasonable that I should consider how that can be accommodated when reaching a consensus view. Otherwise I'd be acting no terribly differently from those elites you oppose.

    OTOH, some of those reasons - "I don't want X in Parliament" - are explicitly anti-democratic. I see no reason at all to accomodate them.

    There are only so many waking hours in day. Unless Parliament drastically cuts the amount of work it does (by, for example, devolving a lot more of it to the Government, as occurs in other countries), it will simply not be possible for a single MP to remotely cover everything important to those who elected them.

    I was thinking that it could choose to distribute that work differently. For example, debate allocations are curently in ten-miute slots, with allowance for parties to split theirs. Moving to shorter slots (and allowing them to be combined) would enable diversity, while likely allowing better debate. For Question Time, a modest increase in question allocations would do the same, while increasing accountability. There's not much that can be done about select committees, but I think that small parties accept that they have to focus their efforts in that regard.

    And again, I think the only people who can validly answer the question of whether an MP is meeting their expectations of representation are the voters who elected them.

    (BTW, I support your general point: the Electoral Commission should be looking at all the options here, and using the past 15 years of MMP as data on what small parties can do. But I also think that some of the things people think are barriers aren't, or rather, should be left to voters to decide in practice, just as we have seem to have decided that we want a diverse parliament rather than the expected 3-party model a lot of people were expecting)

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1664 posts Report Reply

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