How best to vote on voting

I hope discussions on the referendum on MMP take very careful note of not just what choices voters will be presented with but how we will be able to choose.

In 1992 the options were the then status quo of First Past the Post (FPP), or a change to a more proportional system with four options: Mixed member Proportional (MMP), Preferential Voting (PV) Single Transferable Vote or Supplementary Member (SM).

The result was decisive:

First stage



Second stage



Change the voting system



Retain FPTP



Retain FPTP



Supplementary Member (SM)






Single Transferable Vote (STV)












Preferential Vote (PV)



The number of people who voted for MMP was greater than the total of those who voted for all other options so even if a preferential system of voting had been used it’s possible MMP would still have won.

But whether that was because people really understood and wanted that system or just wanted to send MPs a message is a moot point.

Anecdotal evidence points to a lot of people voting against MPs rather than for MMP oblivious to the fact that the change to that system resulted in more MPs.

Dissatisfaction at the tail wagging antics of minor parties led to dissatisfaction with the system and had a referendum been held earlier it would almost certainly have gone against MMP.

Now the system has matured dissatisfaction has decreased, helped somewhat by the way National embraced the Maori Party when it didn’t need to and the popularity of John Key.

However, I still don’t like MMP.

It gives too much power to parties when membership is low. The last public figures I saw put National membership at more than 40,000. Chris Trotter reckons Labour has only 5,000 members. The Maori Party claims 10,000 members, two of the parties in parliament are really just one-man vanity vehicles and they like the other wee parties probably have few if any more than the 500 minimum required for registration.

It allows small parties to wield power far out of proportion to their membership and voter support.

It allows unprincipled MPs to take and cling to the baubles of office.

 It enables MPs to stay in parliament when they’ve been rejected by voters.

It has created electorates which are far too big – and this problem will increase unless the population growth imbalance between Auckland and the South Island changes.

A change in the voting system is an important constitutional matter and  I’d have preferred a Royal Commission to look at the options before we have a referendum.

That isn’t going to happen so there will need to be a lot of education if we’re going to be able to vote intelligently. 

I’d also like a discussion on how we vote on how we vote. 

Last time it turned in to a two horse race between FPP and MMP, mostly because those were the systems which got the most publicity.

These are still the systems most people know most about, although  younger voters will have only known MMP for central government elections.

If we’re given as many choices this time as we were in 1992, and it’s not going to be another two-horse race, a system which enables us to rank our preferences might be a better way to vote than one which lets us tick just one.

Update: Adolf discusses the issue at No Minister.

Not PC asks To MMP or not to?

11 Responses to How best to vote on voting

  1. gravedodger says:

    I accept that MMP does give minority opinion recognition but in nearly all situations an emphasis way beyond its value in the big picture. My biggest opposition to our present system is the “election” to a position of power, that is far and away beyond its deserved leverage, of representatives who would never in a hundred elections under FFP get elected and would probably achieve a similar outcome in an open primary system.
    These “successful candidates” then go on and on, no matter how irrelevant they become to the political reality, to occupy that position of power. The Hon J Anderton comes to mind.
    Another great weakness that MMP has thrown up is the loss of the wide spectrum of opinion that was once a strength of the political party. The Labour party that was thrown out last year had become IMHO a party of very narrow talent and background as dissenting views within the old party left to voice their positions from another platform instead of staying to change the party from within. The Maori party is an example and if Labour had had to listen to what was a significant part of the party instead of, with the sanctuary of MMP, being able to ignore the dissidents within and force the S&F act on the country by using other minority groups that MMP had spawned as electoral support. The implementation of the EFA was another poor outcome foisted on the people by a parliament that was able to ignore the majority of its citizens. I wonder how many of the members who supported that bill had a complete understanding of what it meant or what it would achieve in the light of recent recantations.
    I agree that a Royal commission could have a role to play in investigating any change to electoral law but with one big reservation. It will be dominated by the Intellectual bias it will attract, when DEMOCRACY is way too important to hand over to any narrow sector of the people and unless only enfranchising the educated elite is the desired outcome then one man one vote with all its limitations is the preferred option. Was it W.S.Churchill who said along the lines that the Westminster system was not perfect but it was better than any other available .


  2. cowbell says:

    Wait… Did you just rail against how crap MMP is and then right at the end advocate for an MMP-ish way to run the referendum to choose the alternative?



  3. homepaddock says:

    Cowbell – MMP is a proportional system not a preferential one which is what I suggested.

    And a system which works well for one type of vote might not for another. I think a preferential system might work well for choosing a voting system. I’m not so sure it is the best way for choosing a government and local body elections have shown it’s definitely not a good way to choose health boards.


  4. murrayg1 says:

    Under neither system have we adequately addressed the finite nature of the planet, the country, and resources.
    Until we have elected people who understand the need to do so, the question of which system is in place is entirely – and I mean entirely – irrelevant.
    Once we have those people in place, then it won’t matter either. The correct decisions will simply be taken.
    All Parties are, with only occasional exceptions, not ‘there’ yet. This discusssion is another about rearranging deckchairs – another example of (presumably) mass cognitive dissonance.
    Given that energy underpins growth, growth will cease as of now. Anyone touting same, must look more and more silly as time goes on, and will just end up obsolete.
    Pretty obviously, folk of conservative hue are going to be the slowest to adapt to change, and therefore will be of least use in any new paradigm.
    That won’t change under any system.


  5. Deborah says:

    I’m not so fond to tail-wagging that goes on with MMP either. However I was even less fond of the dictatorships that FPP made possible, notably the dictatorships of Robert Muldoon, David Lange and Roger Douglas, and worst of all, Jim Bolger and Ruth Richardson.

    I would happily go back to FPP if we also had an upper house of review, with elected members, whose terms did not coincide with lower house terms. Alternatively, some form of preferential voting might be good, although again, I would want to see an elected upper house, with terms that did not coincide with lower house terms.

    Or maybe we could go back to FPP if we removed party whips.

    The problem with excessive party control of who gets elected was one reason for opposing the waka-jumping legislation. Waka-jumping reminds the party that it has to work with its MPs, not just take their votes for granted.


  6. homepaddock says:

    “However I was even less fond of the dictatorships that FPP made possible . . ”

    We’ve had dictatorships under MMP which were just as bad as those under FPP eg Helen Clark and Winston Peters.


  7. gravedodger says:

    Sheesh Murrayg1 how lucky you were not to be around 150 years ago when a number of the slightly touched were certain that as all industry and transport depended on coal and at the current rate of consumption would soon run out and everything would grind to a halt, you would have worried yourself sick. Of course some resources will cause different solutions as we progress but I am not moving to a tent a short walk from the cemetery as a save the planet move just yet.


  8. My objection to MMP is the system hands too much power to party grandees and entrenches a political class. It also fails to week out weak candidates.

    Two examples spring to mind. My electorate clearly rejected its previous (Labour) member in the last two elections. She was a poor MP by any standard and quite unpopular. And yet she was returned to parliament as a list MP. Rejected by voters, but selected by party grandees.

    On the other side of the house there’s the example of Melissa Lee. Lee was pumped up by the National party headquarters, but when it came to fighting for an electorate seat, she was clearly not up to scratch. Now the whole Mount Albert byelection was complicated – but it became clear that Lee would not have got into Parliament on her own merit.


  9. Richard says:

    Gosh HP, you have set up a conversation piece. Need more of this debate. Perhaps your post vis satire and MSM and blogs needs reviewing- we will see. But you are on the button about MMP- the difficult part is what is the best alternaive.


  10. murrayg1 says:

    Gravedigger – it will be back to the coal soon – or at least, to lignite. There’s a slight difference between then and now, called ‘the exponential function’. Good homework, before you compare peanuts with watermelons….. Have a look at my op/ed in the ODT last week, and Gwynne Dyer’s today. It’s the Many Many People system, and it doesn’t work too good.


  11. Anonymouse says:

    We’ve had dictatorships under MMP which were just as bad as those under FPP eg Helen Clark and Winston Peters.

    Worse, actually, in terms of damage to the country. The only distinguishing feature of the MMP democracy is that – in every case – the governing parties were voted for by at least half the voters turning out on election day. This was not the case with FPP – 1981 where Labour got more votes but National made the government. I think that outcome is very bad.

    On the other had, the idea that beneficiaries, civil servants, WFFers and so on – who have a direct conflict of interest in that they get paid by the government – can also vote for the government is an even bigger problem.
    Frankly, going to a taxpayer franchise, or at least removing the vote from beneficiaries – and to a seven year term would make far more difference to NZ’s governance that mucking about with FPP, MMP or SM…


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