Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Council Elections: STV Q&A

125 Responses

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  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steve Todd,

    Being patronizing doesn't strengthen your argument,Steve.
    Local and DHB elections may be different, but the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform found 'MMP is clearly superior to STV in providing proportionality of seats to votes, and to do so consistently'.
    However, the role of party politics is, ostensibly, less important in local and health elections. .
    At the national level, could STV as you propose it, secure for parties that gained say 3%, of first preference votes, 3% of the seats in the House.? If it did, a might be a convert.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    At the national level, could STV as you propose it, secure for parties that gained say 3%, of first preference votes, 3% of the seats in the House.? If it did, a might be a convert.

    If the electorates were large enough, yes. If they were 3-5 MPs each? No.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    The problem I have with STV is not so much the use of the system for councillors (although I think MMP would be better) but in the direct election of a mayor per se.

    By electing a figurehead directly, rather than having a person with the confidence of a majority on council act as leader/mayor we:
    - remove through-term accountability. An indirectly elected mayor could be replaced by a vote of council, a directly elected mayor can't.
    - turn the election into a popularity contest on who can make the biggest short term impact (even worse with FPP)
    - prevent effective governance by electing mayors who do not have a majority in council (and resulting in a situation where the permanent staff lead policy rather than the elected representatives)

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Hello, Steven—

    I acknowledge your response to my response to your message of a day or so ago.

    Firstly, I apologise for coming across as patronising. I am a staunch advocate and self-appointed defender of STV, and that comment of yours that I reproduced, did not sit well with me *at* all. It was not only wrong, but potentially damaging (to the prospects of STV being adopted by more local councils). Also, I’m sure you’ll accept that your last sentence could only be taken as rather flippant, and, given that you clearly must know that it has no basis in fact, I simply couldn’t let you get away with it.

    While I disagree with the Royal Commission that MMP is superior to STV, we were talking about the use of STV in NZ local elections, where the number of councillors varies from 6 or 7 to 21, usually elected from several wards. The chance to adopt STV for NZ national elections has gone, probably forever, so the following is somewhat moot, but I’ll try to convert you nevertheless.

    Although STV is a proportional representation (PR) system, it is primarily a system of *personal* representation, which has the ability to give proportionality by more than just ‘party’ (depending on the number of representatives being elected, and the number and intensity of the issues that are of importance to voters).

    I don’t have a raft of detail immediately to hand, but, yes, at the national level, it is quite possible for a party receiving 3% of first preferences to gain 3% of the seats. The obvious example is Ireland (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_general_election,_2002). Out of 166 seats (165** elected from 42 constituencies (3-, 4- and 5-seaters); ave. about 4 seats each), the Progressive Democrats got 8 seats (4.8%) on 4.0% of the vote; the Greens got 6 seats (3.6%) on 3.8% of the vote; and Sinn Fein got 5 seats (3.0%) on 3.9% of the vote. In 1997, the Democratic Left won 4 seats (2.4%) on 2.5% of the vote. There are many such examples throughout Irish electoral history. And, the great thing is, STV enables the election of independents – 13 in 2002 (some in 3-seat constituencies where they needed 25% of the vote to get elected).

    ** The Speaker is returned without having to face the voters.

    The main reason why a system in which people vote for individual candidates can give party outcomes that are remarkably proportional to votes received, is because only the best candidates across the board (in the collective opinion of the voters, of course) are elected – unlike with the bloc vote (in local elections), which enables the lesser candidates of the majority to be elected, and ensures the better candidates of the minority are defeated. If STV were used to elect the NZ parliament (with most electorates being 5-seaters, not 3- and 4-seaters, as in Ireland), the leaders / high-profile candidates of the minor parties would often secure one of the 5 (or 7) seats, especially, on offer. For example, in a 7-seat Auckland electorate, Winston Peters would get one of those seats; in a 5-seat Wellington electorate, Russel Norman would get elected. (High-profile minor-party candidates only have to appeal to their own, local voters – just 16.7% of them in a 5-seat electorate; it doesn’t matter what the rest of the country thinks of them.)

    Bearing in mind that 3% of 120 is only 3 or 4 seats, there is no reason why the minor parties could not achieve some measure of PR under STV. Given our current politics / party structure, it might seem hard to imagine, but, over time, our party system would change as STV voting bedded in; as people slowly came to realise the power of their vote. (In this regard, it is worth noting that Ireland has been using STV for 90 years.)

    If you believe precise party PR is paramount, you might not be persuaded by my comments, above. But, the only reason minor parties get representation under the party-oriented MMP system is because of the one-seat exemption to the 5% threshold. However, once the FPP-holdover politicians (Dunne, Peters; plus Banks) have left the stage, so, too, will their parties leave, and non-Maori minor parties will be shut out, meaning PR won’t be quite as precise as it is now.

    I consider ‘party’ to be just one factor to be taken into account when electing representatives, and I regret the fact that I will never be able to use STV to vote for my MP. Fortunately, STV is also perfect for NZ local elections – for any election(s), in fact – where, as you say, “party politics is … less important” (and where, therefore, the personal qualities of the individual candidates are *more* important), so at least I can console myself with the gains made there.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    After many years of mayors being directly elected, I, too, have come to the conclusion that a return to the system whereby the newly-elected councillors choose / elect one of their own to lead them, is preferable (boring, but preferable), for the reasons you give.

    But, I disagree with your view that local councils should be elected by MMP. It simply isn't practicable.

    The idea is raised occasionally, and makes me groan every time. I was at select committee about 15 years ago, waiting to talk to my submission, when one of the representatives of a local council suddenly said something like, "Rather than STV, we should provide for councils to adopt MMP." I literally had to restrain myself from leaping up and making a scene.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steve Todd,

    Thank you for your apology – accepted. Yes MMP unsuited to current local/health elections. However, I wouldn’t give up on STV for national elections just yet, if I were you, as I think dissatisfaction may grow with MMP, if the party vote threshold is not reduced significantly. After 2014 there will only be four parties in parliament, (excluding those in the dedicated Maori electorates – which will be all, or mostly, Labour Party seats anyway). Those four are Nat, L, NZF, Gr, which, In my view, do not do justice to the diversity of the NZ electorate, and the specificity that so-called ‘testimonial’ parties can provide. My vision is for more smaller parties in the House, particularly for the marginalized and voiceless (‘the poor’, the disabled, children, future generations, animal rights). My vision is that with a small enough threshold, supporters and members of these groups (which make up a sizable percentage of the electorate) will organize into pol parties, and could gain a voice, and crucially votes in our representative politics.
    But I digress. STV is no doubt superior than plurality forms of voting, so I imagine it is getting rolled out across all the local bodies/health over time?
    However, from my experience, local government and health are in need of structural reform. Here in CHCH we have STV, but the council has a massive empire; an international airport, huge trading companies, stadia, rental housing, land, commercial buildings and who knows what else.The state hospitals are typical of the ‘free’ but compulsory model, which leaves little room for a more nuanced mixed and interlinked system of public and private providers.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd,

    Thanks for that, Steven.

    I suspect Rich does not realise that about 85% of all local councillors in NZ are independents / No Party, so it's hard to see how MMP could possibly work. I would be interested in his thoughts on that.

    Judging by a previous post, he wants overt party politics in local government in order to get an explicit Labour / Green council in Wellington, but he should be careful what he wishes for - he might get a more or less perpetual National / ACT council.

    Local MMP would mean requiring the 'national' parties to operate at the local level the way they do at the national level. But, there are many people (with business, financial and other skills), who want to be of service to their communities without having to be members of and / or beholden to, a political party. Such people would be lost to our communities in a local MMP environment.

    With regard to STV being adopted for parliamentary elections, we have to accept the fact that the matter is now settled, for at least a generation, and probably well into the second half of this century.

    Electoral systems are notoriously difficult things to change. As far as I can determine, NZ'ers are the only people in history who have been given the opportunity to decide the way the members of their national legislature should be elected, at a binding referendum. Now that we, collectively, have confirmed our original decision, any future opportunity to re-visit the matter must surely, and rightly, be a long way off.

    To get what *you* want would require the removal of the threshold entirely, so that the natural threshold of 0.83% applies (subject to the Sainte-Laguë (modified or not) seat-allocation formula), but the Electoral Commission recommended a reduction to only 4%, so your vision will continue to be frustrated, I'm afraid.

    For the record, the Chch City Council is elected by multiple-FPP; 12 members elected from six 2-seat wards. There is no real prospect of STV in Chch for some time yet, but al least you get to elect your DHB by it. (All 20 DHBs are elected by STV.)

    Unfortunately, STV is not exactly being "rolled out across all the local bodies". The Local Electoral Act 2001 provides for STV as an option only. It is up to local people to push for their councils to adopt it, or to force a local poll on the issue. Chch resoundingly rejected STV at a poll about 10 years ago.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd,

    The link to the 2002 Irish General Election is reproduced again, here. Hopefully, it will work now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_general_election,_2002

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steve Todd,

    Thanks for that informative post, Steve. Simply because candidates call themselves so-called 'independents', does not precludes MMP at the local level. If you are standing as Mr Frank Lee, Independent, then that is the name of your party, as in the Jim Anderton Party. You only require a membership of one, but you need to have a registered 'party' name for your candidacy. Its all a bit academic unfortunately, as LB electoral change does not appear to be on the radar screen.
    The nature of our MMP system is in a state of flux at present. There is unfinished business lying on the table regarding the last referendum resulting review, and lack of action by the current coalition govt. on the (needed) recommendations. This will all go into the mix at the next election campaign, and, it won't go away until it is sorted, in my view, as the public have wisely expressed their desire for change to the system through the referendum.
    I do not support the absence of a party vote threshold, although the Netherlands operates one and it seems to work. I think the EC's recommended 4% is too high, as it fails to compensate for the also recommended abolition of the one seat electoral threshold -the default mechanism put in place by the Royal Commission (1986) to allow small parties to enter parliament. As such it is a retrograde step from 1986 - absurd - no wonder the governing coalition rejected it -there is nothing in it for small parties, traditional players in our electoral history, especially since 1996.
    Had the EC recommended a PVT of 3%, or even 2.5%, this may have incentivised existing small parties to support the EC proposals. A 4% PVT is unachievable for genuinely small parties, as opposed to medium size (Greens, NZF).
    unachievable, whereas 4% is.
    Next parliament, Winston Peters is going to give the two major players his own version of the 'Chinese Burn'. It is a sad commentary that the unattractive rump of NZ's deeper and darker (metaphorically speaking) political centre is going to have such prominence in our politics. But then again, maybe that is what we deserve.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Steven Peters,

    All along, when people have said they would like to see MMP in local government, I have assumed they actually meant MMP. It seems to me that what you are describing is Party List PR (without the single-seat wards), and perhaps that is what Rich means, too.

    Either way, you're talking about a party-centred PR election method, whereas, in my view, local government is better suited to a personal, candidate-centred election method, the best one on offer (that is truly responsive to the wishes of the voters, whether they be party-oriented or not) being STV.

    I have another solution to the threshold question - what I call the graduated threshold, but this is not the place to launch into that. I will say though, that I have appeared before select committees four times now, and I am utterly disenchanted with the process. That is why I did not put a submission in to the MMP review committee this time.

    My (very comprehensive) submission to the 2000 MMP review took me two years to prepare, and two months to carefully type up. Jonathan Hunt did not let me speak to it; I could only answer questions. And, like all the other submissions, it was utterly ignored.

    So, given that my graduated threshold proposal would never be accepted by the politicians, I would be satisfied with a 3% threshold, with no one-seat exemption.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steve Todd,

    A graduated threshold at the National level? I would be interested in hearing what you mean (s.peters@clear.net.nz).
    Could anyone tell me what % of the party vote would be required for a party to be entitled to three MP's in Parliament (and 2 or 4 MP's if you have the time).
    I agree regarding your view, Steve, regarding submissions to select committees. This is part of the reason why ignoring the Electoral Commission review is a festering sore, because it undermines public faith in the referendum, review and public submission processes, turning us into cynics about our democracy.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Prior to the 2011 election, I did historical numbers for a new party crossing the one-seat threshold, for each of previous elections, in order to, for example, show how many votes an ACT, United Future, or Mana Party might need to get a list seat. Numbers below:

    1996: 0.39% (1 seat); 1.17% (2); 1.99% (3); 2.79% (4); 3.64% (5); 4.45% (6)

    1999: 0.40% (1 seat); 1.19% (2); 2.00% (3); 2.85% (4); 3.67% (5); 4.49% (6)

    2002: 0.40% (1 seat); 1.20% (2); 2.04% (3); 2.87% (4); 3.71% (5); 4.57% (6)

    2005: 0.41% (1 seat); 1.25% (2); 2.10% (3); 2.97% (4); 3.82% (5); 4.73% (6)

    2008: 0.39% (1 seat); 1.19% (2); 1.99% (3); 2.80% (4); 3.64% (5); 4.46% (6)

    edit: assumptions were the current system including the 5% threshold. The '1 seat" level is the vote needed for a one-electorate party to not cause overhang. Numbers would be higher if you used modified Sainte-Laguë, or had no threshold.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Regarding my graduated threshold proposal, I'll get back to you in the next day or two. It is based on my objection to the fact that, if a party gets 5% of the party vote, it gets 6 seats; one vote less than 5%, it gets no seats. That means parties lurch into, and out of, parliament, and campaigning and voting is based around polling as to how close to the 5% threshold, any given party is. It doesn't need to be that way. Of course, the starting point has to be set somewhere, and my proposal starts at 3%, but it could just as easily start at 2.5%, or 2%.

    As an aside, I think that Graeme's figures show that your vision would need the removal of the threshold, even though you think it should not be lower than 2.5%, assuming the grouping(s) you mentioned would never have a leader / high-profile candidate capable of actually winning an electorate seat under FPP conditions in a party-oriented electoral environment.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Thanks for this Graeme. So we are looking at roughly 0.4,1.2, 2.0, 2.8, 3.7 and 4.6 for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 list seats respectively. Assuming the operation of the EC recommended 4% party vote threshold, if a party were to achieve, say 4.40% of the party vote, it would receive five list seats (is it rounded down, not up?).
    Given that the voting percentages are variable to seats proportioned, I would have thought the EC would have proposed a minimum 'seat threshold' to enter parliament, instead of a 'vote threshold'. Why not a a '5 seat' threshold, which is a little under their favored 4% party vote threshold. Why, in your view, did they not take, or at least mention, this option?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steve Todd,

    To take your last point first, Steve, the Electoral Commission has proposed the abolition of the one seat threshold, correctly in my view, but they have not adjusted the party vote threshold sufficiently to compensate small parties for its loss.
    I agree with your view about the party vote threshold - it is a very blunt instrument - and the higher it is, the deadening it is, in what was designed to be a more proportional and nuanced electoral system. It is almost like a remnant of FPP, the (over the threshold) winners take all.
    You are suggesting a 3% party vote threshold - which would qualify a party to four list seats. Yet, on Graeme's figures, if a party in 2008 achieved 2.8% of the party vote, they also qualify for four seats - but under your suggested 3% threshold would not get into parliament - correct?.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    if a party were to achieve, say 4.40% of the party vote, it would receive five list seats (is it rounded down, not up?).

    It’s not really rounded at all – they just haven’t gotten enough votes to get more – but if you want to look at it that way, yes, rounded down.

    You are suggesting a 3% party vote threshold – which would qualify a party to four list seats. Yet, on Graeme’s figures, if a party in 2008 achieved 2.8% of the party vote, they also qualify for four seats…

    The numbers I use apply Sainte-Laguë, which tends to favour smaller parties. There's no particular magic to that choice, and if you applied a different system, the numbers would be slightly higher. A party ‘earns’ 4 complete seats in a 120 seat House at 3.333% of the vote. It’s just that, with 'rounding', a party will get them with a little less than that.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    85% of all local councillors in NZ are independents / No Party

    Do you have a reference for that? Even if they purport to be non-party, many of them have thinly hidden party affiliations and have often run for parliament as party candidates (Prenderghast, for instance). Not many people get far enough into politics to run for council without having settled on some sort of party alignment.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Probably worth distinguishing between the (relatively few) big urban councils and the large numbers of rural and provincial councils. The ways that rural councils appear to work is that everyone is elected in the farmer interest, and so there's no need to muck around with partisan identification.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    You say " A party ‘earns’ 4 complete seats in a 120 seat House at 3.333% of the vote."...yet on the figures you gave earlier, the mean is about 2.8%. That seems a substantial rounding (down), if that is what it represents. Any thoughts on my suggestion of a say, four seat threshold, rather than a 4% party vote threshold?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Steven Peters,

    >>> would not get into parliament - correct? <<<

    Yes, correct. You would have to get 3% of the party vote to qualify to participate in the seat allocation process.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    In the year following the local elections, the Department of Internal Affairs puts out it's booklet, Local Authority Election Statistics. The 2010 edition is accessible at their website.

    In past years, the statistics included actual numbers of members who were party-aligned, independents, or no party. In 1999, I think, I laboriously went through the figures for all local bodies and calculated the percentage of independents / No Party members at 85 point something. Not knowing the current figure, but knowing it wouldn't be much different, I said "*about* 85%", above.

    However, I have now accessed the 2010 booklet online, and, at pages 28 and 29, discovered the relevant stats are now glossed over. It states that 18% of candidates were party aligned, 18% were independents, meaning 64% were "No declared designation" (NDD) - i.e., 82% were independents / NDD. It also states that 40% of the party-aligned candidates were successful, as were 37% of the independents. But, 53% of the NDD candidates were successful, meaning the successful candidates must have comprised at least 85% independents / NDD. Bluff successfully rebuffed, I think.

    I agree with the rest of your post, but what you say is not the point. Yes, in 2010 we all knew Kerry was a member of the National Party and Celia was a member of the Green Party, but so what? They ran as independents so they could act independently, without having their party hierarchies trying to influence them. The same with other candidates all over the country. In any event, as you well know, National does not formally operate at the local level, so Kerry couldn't have said she was the National candidate for mayor.

    I made reference to the 85% figure in the context of you saying you would prefer local councils to be elected by MMP, but you have yet to say how that would work. So, I now call *your* bluff.

    Do you actually mean MMP? Or do you mean a Party List system of PR? How many members would locally-specific parties need to have, to get on the ballot? Would you intend that the current 85%+ local members around the country who are not party-aligned be required to declare their hand? What if they don't want / refuse to? In that case would the system shut them out? Is there a place for genuine independents (right-wing, left-wing, whatever) in your system? Exactly how would the seats be allocated to parties? And so, and so on.

    If you haven't even begun to think about these things, Rich, and you're not actually trying to get your system included as an option in the Local Electoral Act (as I did, successfully, with STV), then saying that you want MMP in local government is just meaningless words.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Steve, Rich has in fact answered those questions: he clearly does want to reduce the number of independents in local body politics, seeing them (correctly, in my view) as (a) broadly deceptive and (b) corrosive to good governance, voter choice, and accountable government. It's a pretty clear stance.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Todd, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    It is pretty clear where most candidates are coming from. They reveal themselves pretty clearly by which wards they stand in, by their candidate profile statements, and by their voting record once on council, etc.

    The last thing we want is the national parties dominating local government, as they do in the UK, for instance. Forcing people to join political parties as a prerequisite to serving their local communities would be entirely counter-productive, in my view. Many good people would be lost to local government, to be replaced by party hierarchy-dominated hacks.

    Nevertheless, Rich needs to provide evidence that what you say is true - he's quick to cryptically enquire of others what evidence they have for their statements - and he needs to explain how it would all work.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2013 • 125 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Given that the voting percentages are variable to seats proportioned, I would have thought the EC would have proposed a minimum ‘seat threshold’ to enter parliament, instead of a ‘vote threshold’. Why not a a ‘5 seat’ threshold, which is a little under their favored 4% party vote threshold. Why, in your view, did they not take, or at least mention, this option?

    I favour a minimum seat threshold of 3. I'm not sure why people always talk of thresholds as percentages. Perhaps it is to make it independent of the number of seats ? But if the threshold is suppose to solve the "problems" of too many small parties in parliament, and small parties being ineffectual, then choosing a number that makes a party effectual makes more sense than a percentage.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 615 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    Exactly. It shifts the debate over to the question of 'when does a so-called 'small ' party become a so-called 'ineffectual' party?. The Electoral Commission has seemingly decided, tout court, that anything under a five or even six seat party (4% threshold entitlement) is 'ineffectual'. This assumption needs to be rigorously scrutinized, and switching the debate from abstract vote percentages, to a seat threshold, which is more easily understandable by all, will aid this process, in my view.
    Your suggestion of a three seat threshold, Brent, equates to a 2% party vote threshold. I think the Electoral Commission would disappear on the argument if you put that to them, as probably would most parliamentarians, and half of the public. Something higher might be more achievable.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

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