Referendum riddle


Why would the Maori electorates vote so strongly in favour of MMP ?

The Maori Electorates were massive MMP supporters (Te Tai Tonga at 78.9% for keep, the only one below 80% support);

FPP, PV and SM would have given them several more Maori electorates – 12 with FPP and PV and 9 with SM rather than 7 under MMP.

System or times?


Proponents of MMP argue that it is better for getting representation of women and ethnic minorities.

This post at the Hand Mirror leaves no doubt that parliament has become more diversified since MMP was introduced, but how much has that had to do with the system and how much has it had to do with the times?

Society has changed a lot in the last 15 years. More women and a wider range of people from different nationalities and cultures have entered parliament on lists, but I wouldn’t want to suggest many, maybe even most, could and would not have been able to win electorate seats.

An example of both how they can and what’s wrong with MMP is Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transvestite mayor. She entered parliament by winning a seat but then when the electorate kicked her out she stayed on as an MP through the list.

To believe that people on lists wouldn’t be able to win seats would be a very poor reflection on both them and the parties they represent. It would mean their presence in parliament wasn’t due to what they had to offer but to tokenism.

That leads on to the question of whether diversity in parliament has made a material and positive difference to the communities these people are supposed to represent and wider New Zealand or whether their presence has just been a token one.

I think the jury is out on that. Some have made very real contributions, others have been nothing more than a bum on a parliamentary seat when votes are counted.

It’s all very well to say parliament is more representative of some sectors of the population but it has come at the cost of others. Does, for example, any party but National have any farmers (proper ones, not lifestylers)? Phil Goff was asked in a radio interview how many of his caucus had run their own business and he struggled to name any.

Even if increased diversity could only be achieved through lists, and I don’t think that is the case, it has come at the very high cost of fewer and therefore much larger electorates.

Greater diversity in parliament is small comfort for the people who find it much more difficult to meet their MP in their electorates.

If we changed to a system with more electorates there would be far more opportunities for people to be selected for winnable seats. Smaller seats would also increase the pool of people able to stand, make it much easier for MPs to service the electorate and for constituents to have access to them.

No electoral system is perfect, all have advantages and disadvantages.

Among MMP’s weak points is the amount of power it gives to parties when National is the only one left with a wide and numerous membership base.

That increased power for parties has resulted in poorer representation for people.

Who sits in parliament doesn’t make much difference to most people.  MPs who are able to service their electorates easily and provide ready access for constituents is far more important.

That is why I’ll be voting for change tomorrow and choosing Supplementary Member.

Electorate representation better than tokenism


Jon Johansson reckons John Key’s decision to speak out against MMP smells of partisan greed and hubris.

Johansson hasn’t got his knickers in a twist when other party leaders have spoken in favour of MMP so why so upset that John Key said he’d probably vote for Supplementary Member?

This is not the first time he has spoken about doing that and even had it been, what’s wrong with that?

He was asked a question and he answered it, openly and honestly.

Johansson also said:

We have a Prime Minister who wishes to vote to turn back progress for women participating in parliamentary politics, and a Prime Minister who in defiance of our dramatically changing demographics prefers not to facilitate Asian New Zealanders, Pacifika New Zealanders, or other ethnic Kiwis participating in their own democracy. . .

That is patronising and wrong.

With SM we’d have more electorates and it is likely that most of the list MPs would stand in those seats, and win.

My MP happens to be a woman  and I was electorate chair when she was selected. She wasn’t selected because she’s a woman, she was selected because we were confident she’d be a good candidate who could win the seat, be a good MP and an asset to caucus, as she is.

However, she has to service an electorate that’s 34,888 square kilometres in area which is far, too big.

If I was a woman I’d be very unhappy that my Prime Minister, one who has seemed to make MMP work rather effortlessly, has decided to favour an electoral system that will make it harder for me or my daughters or grand-daughters to pursue a political career.

I am a woman and I’m delighted that my Prime Minister has decided to favour an electoral system that will make it easier for other women to pursue a political career.

Bigger electorates reduce the pool of people who are willing and able to stand as candidates. In cities would-be MPs could keep working and campaign in the evenings and weekends until close to the election. In bigger provincial electorates, the large distances they’d have to cover and the time that takes would require full or very near full time campaigning for a much longer period.

Juggling family life with the demands of an MP’s job is difficult enough in a city. I know women who were considering standing in bigger provincial electorates who chose not to because of the impact it would have had on their children.

I’d much rather have more, smaller electorates under SM which would be more likely to attract women candidates than MMP with huge lectorates and lists characterised by tokenism.



MMP campaigner Philip Temple has found 20 writers who support that electoral system:

As support continues to grow for keeping MMP in the referendum on November 26, a group of top New Zealand writers have added their voice to the campaign.

Author Philip Temple, a spokesperson for the Keep MMP Campaign, says “It is brilliant that so many of our best known and loved authors have been willing to support the campaign to keep MMP. . .”

Twenty writers, 21 if you count Temple too, support MMP – so?

They are entitled to their view and to campaign in support of it but 21 writers supporting MMP is no more than a media opportunity, whether or not they’re best known and loved.

It probably wouldn’t be hard to find 21 people in any other occupation group across the country who support that electoral system nor to find a group of 21 who don’t.

They might not be so well known as the writers but being well known doesn’t make their opinions on the electoral system any more valid than those of people who aren’t public names or faces.

MMP, like all the alternative systems from which we’ll be able to choose in the referendum, is not perfect. There are valid arguments for and against it and the other four – First Past the Post, Preferential Vote,  Single Transferable Vote and Supplementary Member.

Finding 21 people who happen to do the same thing in support of or against one of them doesn’t make it any better or worse and is neither an argument for or against supporting a particular option.

Voters should be considering how each system works and which is more likely to give them the sort of government they want, not whether or not a system has a fan club of people from this occupation group or that.

I will be voting for change because MMP’s shortcomings outweigh its advantages for me and “celebrity” endorsement of that system isn’t going to make it any better.

The case for SM


Next month’s election will decide who governs for the next three years.

The referendum on the electoral system which is to be held the same day could determine how we’re governed for decades.

The anti-change movement has been more vocal until now but people encouraging a vote for change are beginning to speak out.

Jane Clifton has an MMP guide in this week’s Listener  (it included a an error which Graeme Edgler corrected). Sir Geoffrey Palmer put the case for MMP and Roger Kerr put the case for change.

The Maxim Institute which published Kicking The Tyres Choosing a Voting System for New Zealand last month has today issued two more papers.

The first is “A Better Mix: Why SM strikes the best balance and should be New Zealand’s voting system.”

The second is   “Enhancing MMP: How to improve New Zealand’s current voting system.”

They correctly point out all systems have their faults:

“There is no perfect voting system. Deciding which system is best for New Zealand involves making trade-offs among a whole range of criteria—local and interest group representation, legitimacy, accountability and stability of government being just a few of those criteria. After evaluating all the systems on offer at this year’s voting systems referendum, we believe the system that strikes the best balance is SM (Supplementary Member),” says Steve Thomas, Researcher at Maxim Institute. “We also believe that if MMP is kept it could be improved in several ways.”

“There are two broad types of voting systems: majoritarian systems and proportional systems. SM, like MMP, mixes elements of both majoritarian and proportional voting systems. But where MMP is designed to be more proportional, SM is the opposite—it generally produces majoritarian outcomes,” says Thomas.“Mixed systems are a good option for New Zealand, as they allow people to vote for both a candidate and a party to represent them, but we think that SM is the better option.”

“Majoritarian systems sometimes get a bad name, with a perception that proportional systems produce‘fairer’ outcomes. This argument sounds intuitively right, but it does not actually stack up. Majoritarian systems, like SM, can produce a ‘fair’ outcome because the result is representative of which parties most people voted for in their electorates—it all depends on what is meant by ‘fair.’”

“We also think that SM would be beneficial for representation. There would be 90 electorate MPs if SM were used in New Zealand, so it would be weighted more towards electorate representation than MMP is. We think that electorate representation is important for providing a direct relational connection between parliament and local communities. Parties and list MPs can only provide for this kind of representation indirectly. The 30 list MPs that there would be under SM would still enable various non-geographic communities, such as ethnic, minority and interest groups, to be represented in parliament.”

“Under SM, it would also be more likely that single-party majority governments would form. This would provide for stable government and bring clarity of focus to government policy, as the major parties would not have to make policy concessions to the minor parties in return for their support. The reduced influence of the minor parties would decrease the instances of interest group politics unduly influencing parliament and the government’s agenda. Obviously this has other negative trade-offs but we believe that, on balance, this is the best way to go.”

“Proportional representation is not the only factor that should be considered in choosing a voting system. When all factors, like legitimacy; effectiveness and stability of government; representation; accountability; and the need for opposition and oversight are taken into account, we believe that SM strikes the best balance.”

I voted against MMP and opted for FPP in previous referenda.

I don’t want a return to FPP but I do want change from MMP and agree with the points made above.

Electorates are far too big under MMP, reducing representation for people under a system which increases the power of parties.

SM gives, more and therefore smaller, electorates while still allowing for an element of proportionality and a better chance for the wee parties to be represented than FPP.



25/25 in the Electoral Commission’s quiz on the different electoral options we’ll be choosing form in the November referendum.

The tool kit also asks questions on how important you consider accountability, effective government, effective parliament, proportionality and representation. Your answers indicate which system best suits your preference.

My answers left me to choose between First Past the Post, Preferential Voting and Supplementary Member, all of which give more and therefore small electorates than Mixed Member Proportional or Single Transferable Vote.

MMP/SM can’t work for ever with South Island quota


When MMP was first introduced we had 60 general and five Maori electorates, and 55 list seats.

Each time the boundaries changed, as they do after every census, we’ve got at least one more electorate and therefore at least one fewer list seat.

We now have 70 electorates (63 general and seven Maori) and 50 lists seats.

That is because the number of South Island seats is set at 16. After every census the Mainland’s population is divided by 16 to give the number of people in each electorate. The North Island is divided into electorates with that population, plus or minus 5%.

The North Island population grows faster than the South’s so each time the boundaries change the North gets at least one more electorate and the list reduces by a corresponding number.

An increase in the number of Maori seats also eats into list seats.

Whatever system the country opts for in the forthcoming referendum we’ll still have 120 MPs (or more if there’s an overhang).

But if we stick with MMP and no change to the South Island quota the number of electorates will increase and the number of list seats will fall bringing a small drop in proportionality each time.

It will take ages, but if the quota remains we’ll get to a stage where National and Labour have so many electorates there could be big overhangs and the few list seats will go only to the wee parties.

If we opt for Supplementary Member in the referendum we’ll have a similar problem of electorate increases decreasing the number of list seats.

The obvious solution is to reduce the South Island quota but then electorates would have to cover even bigger areas than they do now and the bigger ones are already far too big.

The other alternative, to increase the number of MPs, is unlikely to win support of voters.

MMP not necessarily better for Maori


Alternatives to MMP will not necessarily  reduce the ability of Maori to get into parliament:

Since its introduction in 1996 MMP has meant “More Maori in Parliament”. It is the best system, of those on offer, for Maori representation in the New Zealand parliament, says Maori politics lecturer Dr Maria Bargh.

On the contrary, in an excellent post fact-checking the referendum Graeme Edgeler writes:

Under MMP there are currently 7 Maori seats. A change to first past the post, or preferential voting, or single transfer vote systems would see an increase in the number of Maori seats to at least 12, and probably 13 seats. A change to the supplementary member system would see an increase at least 9 and possibly 10 Maori seats.

Any voting system which has more electorates will result in more Maori seats. Regardless of the system Maori will also have as much a chance as anyone else of seeking a general electorate seat.

Maori seats aren’t up for debate by the Electoral Commission should a majority of people vote to change from MMP but that doesn’t guarantee they will remain.

Abolishing them has been National party policy for a couple of elections but dropping that was one of the concessions the party made in coalition negotiations with the Maori Party.

I have no idea what National’s policy on the seats will be for the coming election but it’s a sure bet that Act will campaign on getting rid of them.

If National is able to form the next government and Act has a role as a coalition or support partner and the Maori Party doesn’t, the Maori seats will almost certainly go.

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?

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