Poll Dancer by Keith Ng

Political Science Fisticuffs: Part 1

Ah, the calm after the election: when the nutters have tired themselves out, when the politicians have gone to ground, and when we are without a government. It seems that this is, ironically, the best time to have a political debate.

My last post on the Maori seats have generated more comments than anything else on Poll Dancer thus far, and with the exception of one vitriolic nutter, I've really enjoyed getting the feedback from everyone that took the time to do it. And with Che wading into this, it seems, we have a genuine debate going!

First, Graeme Edgeler points out that Maori make up 18% of the NZ population, not 15%. Nice little tidbit to get out there.


I've convinced myself that I've got the upper-hand on Che on the strictly electoral side of things, so I'll start from there. (That, and he did his PhD on indigenous political participation, so I figured I'd better warm up before I approach Citadel Che...)

Part 1: Why some tactical voting is worse than others

I just want to explain how tactical voting in the Maori seats differ from the other tactical voting that has taken place.

(Bear with me while I lay the groundwork...)

a) The core idea behind MMP is that Parliament should be proportionally representative of the political views of the population. If half of the country likes Libertarianz, then half of Parliament should be Libertarianz, etc.

b) The purpose of the 5% threshold is to improve the efficiency of Parliament by weeding out the little parties, and to prevent every two-bit outfit with cult-backing to get in there. However, in doing so, it makes Parliament less proportional (bad).

c) The purpose of the exemption from the 5% rule for parties that win an electorate seat is that, since that single MP is going to be in Parliament slowing things down anyway, they might as well bring the other lot in to ensure as much proportionality as we can achieve.

Thus, while tactical voting in the instance of Epsom was used to scam the 5% rule, it did not distort the proportionality of Parliament - the most important part of our electoral system - though it might have distorted the true preference for the electorate candidate.

With the Maori seats, the tactical voting resulted in those on the Maori roll having had enough votes for four MPs but electing six. Thus, the overall proportionality of Parliament was distorted, and this is what makes the two types of tactical voting fundamentally different.

A few of my astute correspondents have pointed out that my beef is really with overhang - the extra seats that result from a party getting more electorate seats than their party votes provide - and that overhang is not a phenomenon unique to the Maori seats. Andrew says this:

[The] risk of an overhang occurring is inherent in the MMP system, and is completely unrelated to the existence of the Maori electorates. It could just as easily be the case in the future that individual candidates representing (say) "The Farmers' Rights Party" are elected in several rural electorate seats, with the voters in those electorates then casting their party votes for the National Party.

If a fictional Farmers' Rights Party did manage to scam a few seats via overhang, then my Electoral Abnormality Alarm would be wailing, too. And I agree that overhangs are not particular to the Maori seats, and can occur anywhere else. But my claim is that having voluntary opt-in seats - such as the Maori seats - *encourages* overhangs.

The voluntary nature of the Maori roll amounts to DIY-gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing electoral boundaries for political gains. It's an American term which generally doesn't apply in New Zealand, because our electoral boundaries are not controlled by the government of the day (because that would be retarded, really). But hypothetically, if National could redraw the electoral boundaries, they might choose to redraw Otaki to include a few true-blue townships, and thus tip the balance there in their favour and gain an extra seat. But even if it could be done, and it's actually all very useless in an MMP election, since it would just mean they would lost a list seat. This is where tactical voting and gerrymandering collide.

For example, if we had separate "rural" seats that people living outside urban centres can opt into, then obviously those seats are going to be favourable for a party such as the Farmers' Rights Party, who can campaign exclusively for the electorate seats in ultra-friendly electorates while allowing those party votes to go to National. Similarly, voluntary Maori seats are bound to be stacked with Maori who consider race to be a primary issue, and thus an MP who consider race to be a primary issue is almost assured - freeing up the party votes to be tactically spent elsewhere.

By allowing Maori voters to choose their own electorates, they've created a system of institutional seat-stacking. This isn't so bad on its own, but coupled with the two votes of MMP, it results in the electoral distortions that we've seen.

And let me reiterate, my beef is with the system; it's not with Maori voters, with the voters on the Maori roll, or even with Maori voters who consider their primary political identification to be race. They should absolutely be represented, and my EAA would be wailing if they weren't. But they shouldn't be represented 150%.

(More - much more - later. And again, I stress that the electoral aspect is probably the smaller side of it. The political community is definitely the big boogie here. I just want to get the electoral parts out of the way before we go there. Part 2: Are Maori electorates different from general electorates?)