Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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

177 Responses

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  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Can you clarify for me how the party threshold waiver works for ‘ethnic’ or regional parties in Germany?

    Not really. The German electoral system is still in a state of flux, after the German Constitutional Court ruled parts of it unlawful.

    In short, my understanding was that a party needed 5% of the overall party vote, or 3 electorate seats, to get qualify for list seats. I understand that there is overall proportionality, but that list seats come from the states, in a mechanism which can increase overhang (which is one of the problems the Court had problems with).

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

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Yes that was my understanding too. Technically, Germany is without an electoral law at the moment, because the court has found that the current situation violates the constitution which says 'each vote must be equal'. This is my simplistic take on the situation, so I may be wrong. Whenever there are 'overhang' seats, alarm bells should ring, because it means that there is sufficient dis-proportionality to warrant votes being shifted from 'poor parties to rich parties', as it were. Do you agree?.
    What is interesting is that the Electoral Commission cites Germany as a model to emulate. However, Germany has a three seat electorate threshold (which is proportionately lower than our one seat threshold) yet the electoral commission propose to abolish ours, but not make any meaningful reduction to the party vote threshold. This to me seems inconsistent. Do you agree?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    What is interesting is that the Electoral Commission cites Germany as a model to emulate. However, Germany has a three seat electorate threshold (which is proportionately lower than our one seat threshold) yet the electoral commission propose to abolish ours, but not make any meaningful reduction to the party vote threshold. This to me seems inconsistent. Do you agree?

    I'm not sure the Electoral Commission has sited Germany as a model to emulate, so much has just advised that they have MMP too.

    I am not a fan of the Commission's threshold proposal, although a consistent argument can be made (and has been made by me, on occasion) that the two thresholds should be considered separately.

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

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    I should have said the Royal Commission (RC) held up Germany as a model to emulate - and the Electoral Commission is using the RCs 'criteria for judging voting systems' as the basis for its proposals. I argue that the Royal Commission introduced the one seat threshold to assist minor and new parties, given the hurdle of the 4% electorate threshold (only one step below what they called a 'too severe' 5% threshold).
    I agree the one seat electorate threshold should go. However, its removal should be concomitant with a meaningful reduction in the party vote threshold. 4% is not meaningful, as its the same as the RC recommendation, and will not result in any real change in proportionality, nor effective representation for minor or new parties, the RC's first two criteria for judging electoral systems.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    However, its removal should be concomitant with a meaningful reduction in the party vote threshold.

    Absolutely. Divorcing the two, and then dropping coat-tailing without dropping the thresholds would be a leap backwards, IMHO.

    This is my reason for thinking it should be retained. Making it "fairer" by eliminating coat-tailing ignores that it makes it unfairer to people whose representation would then be excluded. It's a dirty hack of a system, but I don't see that it improves matters to "rationalize" the system by making it represent less people all over again. That's like saying we're helping the poor by taking away some of the benefits they were getting, because other people were excluded from those. Net effect is that the poor lose. Net effect from removing coat-tailing without reducing the party vote threshold substantially is that we are moving backwards, away from representation of minority interests. And I don't even LIKE the interests they have generally represented over the years, but I think they should be retained, because I believe in democracy more strongly than I believe in my own personal political views.

    Dropping the party vote threshold would make coat tailing redundant anyway. Perhaps that is the main reason why it is resisted so strongly. Coat-tailing is a convenient whipping boy in our MMP implementation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    If you believe in democracy, above all else (as I do), then I don't see how you can support keeping the one seat threshold (OST). It simply creates unfairness between equals, and I am sure that the big parties will find a way to exploit that unfairness for their gain, as in the case of strategic voting in Epsom, and elsewhere.
    Keeping the OST only puts a gloss on what is an unjust electoral set up, the 'severe' party vote threshold - it is unjust to 'minor, new parties and special interest groups. If the OST is dropped, and the PVT is 'reduced' to 4% (LOL), the unfairness to minorities etc will become more glaring. It is better, in my view, that this be seen for what it is, not glossed over in half measures like the one seat threshold. the disparities and inequalities in our society will continue to grow, mirroring the electoral inequality. What the EC proposes is a worsening of the status quo, IMHO. I think the EC proposals re the OST and the PVT are highly vulnerable to critique because of that, and I am not sure that the smaller parties in the house are fully aware of the implications for them, particularly the Maori party.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Steven Peters,

    What implications for the Maori Party? They've never actively contested the list.

    The only change that would affect them at all is abolishing overhangs, which would mean they'd get say 3/120 seats instead of 3/122.

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

  • Keir Leslie,

    Part of the problem is that representation is a bit zero sum-ish. If Peters can’t get in with 4%, I don’t want Banks in with 3%. It’s unfair, and to be quite blunt, I'd prefer a fair but slightly less representative system to an unfair but slightly more representative system.

    (Also spooky action at a distance, privileging of certain electors, the inevitable disrepute the deal making brings, etc.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    It’s unfair, and to be quite blunt, I'd prefer a fair but slightly less representative system to an unfair but slightly more representative system.

    I guess I just don't. Every step towards representation is won very slowly, one grudging bit at a time. Sweeping it backwards with abstract ideas of a better design, perhaps with an eye that the threshold might then be lowered at some random time in the future, is giving ground that does not need to be given. Only IF the two are done simultaneously, can I possibly agree to it.*

    It is better, in my view, that this be seen for what it is, not glossed over in half measures like the one seat threshold.

    I get what you're saying, Steven, but I don't agree. One shouldn't break a bad system thoroughly, just so that it's clearer to people that it's broken. One should fix it.

    *ETA The "two" I'm referring to are "lowering the PVT substantially" and "dropping the OST". The latter is only a progressive step if it's simultaneous with the former. Otherwise it's regressive, and it could stay that way for a long time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But the ground does need to be given; an unfair system is not sustainable, as you can tell from the (continually increasing) public distaste for Epsom-collusion.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Unfair is not sustainable? That would be ignoring most of human history. Unfair is normal. That doesn't mean it's good, but I don't think the solution to someone having more rights than another person is to take their rights away. It's to give them to the other person also.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Actually sometimes in the electoral situation it is: equality of vote means no one has more rights than anyone else, and that may mean taking rights away. In this case I think it is.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    Rich, my thinking regarding the Maori party is more medium term. The changes proposed by the RC could be dire for them, but I will keep my reasons under my hat for the time being.Overhangs are of no real consequence in the scheme of things. I think the issue here is the OST and the PVT threshold changes.

    Leslie, your statement "I’d prefer a fair but slightly less representative system to an unfair but slightly more representative system" is a contradiction in terms, IMHO. Fairness can only correspond with increasing proportionality, not decreasing, don't you think? Can you clarify what you mean about Winston P and J Banks. Banks won an electorate, (with a lot of help) - he gets in. Peters got over the threshold - he (and co) get in.
    Are you for keeping the OST Ben, or dropping it? The issue is, the EC has proposed dropping it, with an inconsequential drop in the PVT. Who are the people who lose out by dropping it the OST? Act and NZ first- how sad is that. Haven't we got more important issues, like trying to get the 4% PVT to a fairer level for ALL 'minor' and new parties, and special interest groups, (yes, including ACT and NZF) as was the RC's desire in the first place. After twenty five years since the RC report, and 16 years of MMP we should know whether a 5%, or even 4%, PVT is realistic, such that enables these groups to cross it, and represent thier constituents in parliament. I think history, and the figures, show that we do have some answers, and that it would require a lower threshold than 4%.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    By taking the OVT away you don't ensure no one has more rights than anyone else. You ensure that everyone that supports a party with less than the PVT gets no representation. You are enforcing the higher power of the larger parties more strictly than before.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Are you for keeping the OST Ben, or dropping it?

    Keeping it, and dropping the PVT. If the PVT were low enough (ie one seat) then the OST would become irrelevant.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    two wrongs don't make right. Yes everyone under the PVT, if the OST is dropped, is treated equally, not unequally. If it remains, the unfairness and anomalies it creates will be, and is, exploited by the main parties anyway, which exacerbates an already iniquitous threshold. Either we follow the principle of equal votes for all, or we trade it away for a few pieces of silver and lots of blankets (for the large numbers who don't get a seat, and don't reach the threshold, and who are out in the political cold). The only party likely to win a seat and not reach the PVT in the near future are ACT and NZ First. Are they worth trading away an important principle for? Not IMHO.Keeping the OST provides a reason to keep the threshold high, which will disenfranchise many more voters, and small parties.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    If someone has more rights than others in the electoral situation that should be based on the principle of equality of votes, then they don't have more 'rights', but are in a privileged situation relative to other voters, and that should be either be removed, or the rights of other raised to match them.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    What implications for the Maori Party? They’ve never actively contested the list.

    I dispute this. The Maori Party has actively contested the Party Vote at every general election since it formed.

    And they get greatly annoyed at pundits repeatedly telling people that voting for the Maori Party is a wasted vote.

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

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    And they get greatly annoyed at pundits repeatedly telling people that voting for the Maori Party is a wasted vote.

    It kind've is, though :)
    I'd be happy enough with a 2 or even 2.5 % threshold. 4 is too high.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    A vote for the Maori party a wasted vote. In what way?
    Regarding the notion of retaining the one seat threshold. Isn't this trying to reinvent a process and agenda that has already happened, and been set? ie tilting at windmills. The Electoral Commission, after hearing public submissions, has proposed to the government that the one seat threshold be abolished, and the reasons it gives are sensible ones. There is public dissatisfaction about this threshold, and to my knowledge, no political party has come out and rejected the idea (except ACT perhaps, for obvious reasons). What is the point of ignoring the fact of the Electoral Commission proposal and the public dislike of the one seat threshold. It seems all over for it bar the cheering, and the odd boo.
    Energy would be better spent in my view seeking to address the high party vote threshold the Electoral Commission has also proposed, as the grounds it gives for this figure are not nearly sensible as the reasons for abolishing the one seat threshold, and upon which there is broad agreement. Indeed, their argument for 4% is questionable given their proposal to abolish the one seat threshold, recommended by the Royal Commission to reduce wasted votes because they recognized the party vote threshold would be difficult to achieve for small parties. They wanted to see small, new parties and special interest groups in the Parliament.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steven Peters,

    to my knowledge, no political party has come out and rejected the idea (except ACT perhaps, for obvious reasons)

    National has come out opposed to dropping the one seat threshold. I think Mana, too. Maybe UF.

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

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Thanks for clarifying. Oh well. Looks like the one seat threshold will stay, and the party vote threshold will stay at five. However, if the National Party cannot get the votes to keep the one seat threshold, they may agree to drop the party vote threshold to 4% (lol), to do it.

    I will have a closer look at the various parties reactions to dropping the one seat threshold as proposed by the Commission.
    National is going against public opinion , and the electoral commission, wishing to keep it. They might change their tune, especially if the if it comes at a cost in order to get the numbers.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    It seems all over for it bar the cheering, and the odd boo.

    That's never going to stop me thinking something is right or wrong. Or saying it.

    National is going against public opinion , and the electoral commission, wishing to keep it.

    They haven't always been that way. When Winston Peters was routinely getting Tauranga, they said it was shite a lot. They might change their tune when people start realizing that Hone Harawira serves the same purpose with Mana, so a vote for Mana is not a wasted vote.

    I'm trying not to let my own partisan beliefs affect it, even though coat tailing has worked against my preferences for quite some time. It's still a system that allows little parties into existence, serves some good on that account. The really oppressive part of the system is the party vote threshold. That would only become more oppressive if coat-tailing were eliminated with no other changes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10616 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Steven Peters,

    A vote for the Maori party a wasted vote. In what way?

    The calculation (as you're probably aware :)) is that a party vote for the Maori party is probably 'wasted' because looking at polling and history, the MP are most likely to get too many electorate seats for additional party votes to add any further MP representation.
    Won't be wasted if your aim is to make the MP's party vote look better, or you just want to show your support for them...

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    This argument the one seat threshold empowers minor parties is nonsense, anyway. The one seat threshold empowers major parties: functionally, most electorate seats are in the gift of National or Labour, and so they can control which minor parties get to take advantage of that option.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

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