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Random thoughts on MMP

Written By: - Date published: 4:14 pm, November 6th, 2012 - 36 comments
Categories: democratic participation, electoral systems, MMP, Politics, referendum - Tags:

While the news is full of the Pike River debacle (yet another failure of National’s self-regulatory fantasies) and the blogs are full of derision on John Key’s idiotic statements and ‘clarifications’, I’m more interested in the MMP review. Colin James has expressed my response to Judith Collin’s politicialising of the MMP review in a short post.

The Minister of Justice says she will seek consensus from the political parties about what aspects of the Electoral Commission’s MMP reform proposals to implement.

And it is the wrong process.

Elections do not belong to MPs. Elections belong to the people. MPs should be very wary of appropriating what belongs to others.

The democratically correct course for Judith Collins would be to get legislation drafted to implement the commission’s proposals as they stand.

As Colin points out quite succinctly, politicians have a vested interest in making the electoral system advantageous to themselves. This can be clearly heard in the bleating from both Act and United Future, both of whom can be described these days as parties that have failed to do anything in the political landscape over the last few years apart from being bribed as individual sockpuppets of National.

It was exactly this type of stupid politicking by politicians intent on gerrymandering their ‘natural’ constituencies that caused the distortions in the original introduction of MMP that this review is trying to fix. Having a repeat of the same political stupidities by short-term objectives as happened in 1993-6 is unacceptable.

It is pretty clear that the Electoral Commission got it exactly right. Sure there are things that people would have liked to have gone further. But the recommendations accurately reflect the general consensus of the discussions that I’ve seen argued on this blog over the last 5 years. Most politically aware people wouldn’t like everything in this set of patches. But almost all of the noisy audience here will feel comfortable with enough of it to prefer it to doing a brief whitewash – which is what I expect National to politick itself to (as they did back in the 90’s).

Better here to develop an independent body (with more skill and depth and breadth of representation than the Electoral Commission) to review, write and administer electoral law. Of course, the law would still need Parliament’s approval. But MPs might be more circumspect about something that belongs to the people, not to them.

And that is really the point. Politics is too important to let the politicians controlling their own destinies

36 comments on “Random thoughts on MMP”

  1. Steve Wrathall 1

    “stupid politicking by politicians intent on gerrymandering their ‘natural’ constituencies”

    Do I take it that you therefore oppose the racial gerrymander that is the Maori seats, and its recurring over-representation of the Maori Party beyond its party vote share?

    • lprent 1.1

      I see you are cherry-picking for your own interests. Are you also advocating

      1. Removing the electoral seats entirely because they distort representation through differences in voter turnouts between areas?

      2. Removing the preferential electorate seats for the south island – which is a far larger distortiion than Maori seats?

      3. Forcing people to vote and jailing them if they do not. This would certainly remove the current distortions of representation due to turnout differences. Of course it could be quite expensive in prison costs.

      Because I don’t in all three nor Maori seats. There is a reason for having each of these in the electoral system. Having local MP’s is extremely useful as anyone who has ever had anything to do with local politics will tell you. It means that the voice is heard.

      Travelling in the sparse and largely deserted countryside of the South Island you realise that there is a point to giving the South Islanders preferential treatment because otherwise the electorates would be so damn big that they’d be meaningless as representation.

      Forcing people to vote is just counter productive because it’d disguise the corpse of the body politic in much the same way that the razzmataz of the elections in the US disguise that democracy where only 50% or less of the voters turn out.

      When I see some serious changes in the Maori prison populations, then I’ll consider that there is equality of opportunity in NZ. In the meantime having Maori choose to vote on the Maori roll in each census is a pretty good indicator if they need to have separate representation. It confers no real change of voting ‘weight’ (unlike the South Island seats), but it does concentrate representation of the most systematically disadvantaged large population group in NZ – which is useful.

      But by all means, try to get a referendum up on your cherry-picked obsession. I’ll work against it. That is democracy.

      • How are the SI electoral seats a distortion?

        • Colonial Viper

          because of distance I suspect lprent is saying. These aren’t electorates that you can drive across in 15 minutes; how do you effectively represent people who are a hundred kilometres away or more and can’t get to your electorate office.

          • lprent

            Bit more basic – but that is why not reducing the SI seats is important. You really have to have spent time volunteering in electorate offices before you know how important they are. They are the last resort since they bumped the electorate sizes from 25k voters preMMP to hitting over 50k these days.

        • lprent

          On average for most of the last century the fixed numbers of seats for the SI, with 3 yearly elections, a 5 year census, and a northern drift resulted in fewer voters in SI seats than Auckland seats. Worse now of course.

          The last census was march 2006, last seat allocation was 2007. Next census 2013 if we are lucky, and next electorate boundaries maybe before the next election (I am betting not BTW).

          Given the rate of northern and auckland drift, not to mention the effects of the ChCh earthquake mean that there is a substantial imbalance between the 16 SI seats and the Auckland seats right now. I would expect that it will be well above the thousands per electorate that it was in 2007. I am expecting that if we went to election in 2014 without a secondary shift we’d be looking at differences of up to 10% like in the days of the infill housing in central auckland.

          It is alleviated by the list votes these days. But the population swing is larger and faster.

          • Graeme Edgeler

            1. You can’t base it on voters. Equality of size between seats is based on total population. Seats with younger populations overall can have many fewer voters.

            2. That this is the trajectory of the demography is taken into account when drawing particular boundaries.

            3. The only way to solve this is redistricting prior to every election. Even if there weren’t a fixed number of seats in the South Island, the same thing would happen between censuses.

            • lprent

              1. The electorates are based on voting populations, not total populations. From memory they look at the 16-20 15-19 demographic and skip the younger generations.

              2. Conservatively based on population ages, little immigration or emigration (because it is damn near impossible to estimate – look at it’s variants over the last 20 years), without exceptional events like Aucklands infill housing, the mid 90’s boost in immigration, or earthquakes.

              3. Yep. I wasn’t saying it was a major problem (except when we skip censuses). I was saying that the differential effect was stronger in SI seats than any Maori seat.

              Read back. I was saying that what appears to be a racist fool was cherry picking what he was objecting to. So I pointed out the equivalent situations that were as or more inequitable on a per voter impact basis to demonstrate why I thought he was cherrypicking…

              • <i>1. The electorates are based on voting populations, not total populations.</i>

                You get your own opinions. Not your own facts. You are mistaken.

                <i>Read back. I was saying that what appears to be a racist fool was cherry picking what he was objecting to. So I pointed out the equivalent situations that were as or more inequitable on a per voter impact basis to demonstrate why I thought he was cherrypicking…</i> 

                The concern expressed, and to which you replied, was about overhang, which has never been caused by any party which has ever won a South Island General Seat. 

                • McFlock

                  Just as an aside, s35(3) of the Electoral Act 1993 refers to “General Electoral population”. This seems to be voting population, not total pop?

                  But then the number of NI electorates are calculated on 16 SI electorates by electoral pop, so there doesn’t seem to be a South Advantage, either.

                  • McFlock

                    lol my bad – forgot to look up the s3 interpretation section:

                    General Electoral Population means total ordinarily resident population […] with the exception of the Maori electoral population”
                    So electorate size IS based on total pop. 

                    • lprent

                      Ah. Interesting – something I never knew.

                      Seems weird because because the primary point of electorates is for voting, and as far as I am aware they have always collected age information, so they had the data. Why would they set it up to calculate from non-voters?

                      Ummm… Have to keep remembering that political institutions are quite conservative in the traditional sense. Possibles….

                      1. Could be that they expect the voters to reresent the non-voters. This would have been a factor before the franchise was extended to women, ages down to 18, and people without property. It would be retained to cover the remaining non-voters

                      2. In the days prior to Hollerith (?sp) sorters and subsequent census computers, doing calculations outside of coarse aggregates would have been hard and quite laborious. But that seems less likely. You only have to look at the election day counts to see how you can use a manual system to perform quite complex calculations in detail.

                      Anyone have any historical detail about why electorates was based on whole populations?

                    • I don’t think it’s about the voters representing other voters, but about the MPs representing everyone.

                      The historical reason is less benificent, however. My understanding is that this, like much of our electoral law over the years, was a partisan power grab.

                      National-voting farming families tended to have more children, so drawing boundaries with reference to total population meant there would be more rural seats, and the National Party would do better.

                      Now, of course, it doesn’t work like that, and the major effect is a pretty substantial increase in the Maori seats over what there would be if only 18+ was used.

                • lprent

                  Always understood that it was on the VAP – but I can’t see anything definitive on a quick look through elections.org.nz

                  Is that what he was waffling about? I was shoving end of day merges back into svn when I wrote the reply so was doing it while short compiles were running – divided attention.

                  But that can happen for any party that wins more electorate seats than their party vote. United Future and Act maybe did last election (can’t be bothered looking their party votes) and if either Dunne or Banks hold their seats this election, then almost certainly will achieve the feat this time.

                  • As McFlock notes, the definition is total population, as contained in section 3(1) of the Electoral Act. Indeed, that definition is considered so important, it’s one of the reserved (i.e. entrenched) sections in section 268.
                    Is that what he was waffling about?
                    Okay, I’m beginning to think you’re trolling me. I wondered if you were with the voting age “correction”, but can the statement: “recurring over-representation of the Maori Party beyond its party vote share?” be about anything other than Maori Party caused overhang :-)
                    But that can happen for any party that wins more electorate seats than their party vote. United Future and Act maybe did last election (can’t be bothered looking their party votes) and if either Dunne or Banks hold their seats this election, then almost certainly will achieve the feat this time.
                    Only the Maori Party has ever caused an overhang. Dunne, Banks and Anderton never have.
                    Interestingly, these two things are inter-related. While it is true that any electorate could cause an overhang, overhang is much more likely to be caused by a candidate who wins a Maori electorate. This is because Maori electorates have much smaller voting populations, in part because of enrolment, but mostly because of the relative youth of the Maori population. Many many more Maori – who are counted when determining the number of seats and the boundaries, are under-18, so cannot vote – this means that the number of votes needed to elect an MP in a Maori seat is a lot lower than the number needed in a general seat, which greatly increases the chance that parties that do well in the Maori seats not earning enough party votes to “earn” their seats.

                    • lprent

                      No, I wasn’t trying to rev anything up. Just that blogging is a minor fraction of what I do and it doesn’t always get the brainpower it sometimes deserves.

                      Work sucks up a lot of brain power. Right now optimizing rotational 2d vector graphics on a small processor without GPU support leaves me somewhat exhausted at days end. So I tend to shift to mechanical work at the work days end and as well do a moderation sweep. I try to limit what I talk about until after dinner but don’t always succeed.

                      So do you know the rationale that the electorates were allocated on total population rather than voting age population? Still seems quite odd.

                      But in any case it still means that the votes in the Maori electorates are the same (these days when there are more than the minimum 4 maori electorates) because they are allocated on the same basis as the general population but on the population who took the maori voting option in the census.

                      The enrollment is an issue across all electorates – not just the Maori electorates. You can see it between age groups in particular under 25’s and probable immigration history. There are a number of other factors that would show if you wanted to look for other correlations.

                      Umm. Effectively with S3 you could say that the non-voters including the non-enrolled are being represented by the voters. Of course that would lead to simple justifications for restricting the franchise.

                      But it does also make the common practice amongst some voters of deliberately not enrolling or voting as a protest rather meaningless – they are presumed legally to be represented by voting peers. 😈 (and yes – that para was meant as a stir)

                    • Yes, election boundaries are fair, in that they are all calculated on the same basis, but if we were to move to 18+, the number of Maori seats would drop substantially (given their number, a drop of 1 or 2 would be susbstantial).
                      Enrolment is a problem across for youth across all electorates, but because a greater proportion of Maori are young, the problems manifest themselves more acutely in Maori electorates.

                    • lprent []

                      The three charts at the bottom of my post last year http://thestandard.org.nz/the-new-zealand-age-of-aging-in-charts/ show the different age pyramids pretty clearly from the 2006 census.

                      I haven’t ever looked at the enrollment vs VAP in Maori electorates. But where I have looked at it in other electorates the correlations are not so simple in other age groups either. When you test it against other factors in the census data like occupational groups, mesh blocks, etc you tend to find very uneven distributions.

                    • Bunji

                      There’s a battle in the UK at the moment as the Tories aim to shift the electorate populations from people of voting age to registered voters.

                      At the moment Labour electorates in inner-cities tend to have a lot fewer voters because the population has lots of 18+ unregistered. The justification is that the voters represent the non-voters…

                      The Tory electorates have much higher enrolment. They also plan to enforce +/- 10% like we do as currently Communities of Interest override, resulting in the Isle of Wight having more than 1.5x the normal electorate size and various scottish island grouping electorates being much much smaller (but much harder for an MP to cover…).

                      And they’ll reduce the number of MPs to 600 to make it popular :)

                      But it ain’t going nowhere because they’re in coalition and they can’t get their unruly backbenchers to line up behind making the House of Lords democratic like their LibDem allies want…

                      (but i’ve got horribly off-topic – just was adding to the point about voters representing non-voters…)

      • Steve Wrathall 1.1.2

        What “preferential electorate seats?” The SI seats have the same population per seat as other electorates:

        “Under legislation, there is always 16 South Island general electorates. The population quota for each South Island general electorates is calculated by dividing the population of the South Island by 16.

        Because all electorates are required to be of similar size, the number of Māori electorates and North Island electorates are calculated by dividing the relevant electoral populations by the South Island quota.” http://www.elections.org.nz/elections/electorates/reviewing-electorates.html

    • Descendant Of Smith 1.2

      Umm Maori Party and Maori seats are two completely different things.

      And yep I’d change the number of Maori seats so that they were equal to the non-Maori seats.

      Can’t have a partnership with indigenous people when the partnership is skewed so far in one direction as it is at present.

      Remember when the treaty was signed and partnership enshrined in law there were 60,000 Maori in this country and they produced most of the wealth and owned most of the land. There were about 6,000 non-Maori.

      On that basis they should have even more seats but I’m sure a 50/50 split would suffice in modern times.

      It wouldn’t be a matter then of chasing the Maori vote – it would be a matter of sitting down with them and having proper constructive dialogue.

    • Jenny 1.3

      An ignorant response to a historic and persistent and racist gerrymander of the original Maori electorate seats from Steve Wrathall.

      When our electoral system was first set up there was a problem for the colonial government. Maori electorates would have dominated our parliament. To actively avert this, Maori were limited to a maximum number of seats well below their representation in the population.

      Giving Pakeha a recurring over representation beyond their vote share.

      This racist gerrymander persisted for a good portion of the last century and achieved what it was meant to – crush Maori political power, and effectively politically marginalise Maori influence in parliament. Having achieved that end, and now that the Maori seats have turned into their opposite, preserving at least, a vestige of that mandate originally and unfairly denied. To abolish the Maori seats now, is to complete the original racist electoral gerrymander.

    • Steve; you seem awfully threatened by 7 Maori Seats out of 120 (122 with overhangs).

      Will you be satisfied with total assimilation?

  2. karol 2

    The Labour Party is planning to draft a Bill:

    “Labour’s bill will deal with the most important recommendations made by the Commission.  It will abolish the one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats and lower the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%.  It will also require the Electoral Commission to conduct a review after three general elections.
    “This should not be a party-political issue.  I will be writing to the Prime Minister offering to work with the Government to see these changes put in place.
    “But I am not prepared to sit back and wait and see if National will act on the Electoral Commission’s recommendations.  That’s why Labour will take the lead and put them in front of Parliament in the hope they can be implemented in time for the next election.
    “We are asking other political parties to help us progress the Electoral Commission’s recommendations.  We would also be more than happy for National to pick up our member’s bill and take it forward as Government legislation,” says David Shearer.

    This sounds kind of in the direction of what Colin James is saying, but a cross-party team developing a Bill is not an independent body.

  3. vto 3

    I agree.

    We the public should draft the bill and our representatives should pass it and do as we require of them. Of course such an idea will come as a complete shock to the self-important wankers like Collins and Dunne who have lost all sense of their role.

    • Rob 3.1

      Dunne a wanker?
      You are being a bit too kind and generous.
      The sooner he tips over along with his friend Banks the better.

  4. Anne 4

    The Commission’s report is indeed a reflection of the voters’ preferences as put forward in the many submissions.

    I’m delighted David Shearer and Labour are going to take the intiative and lobby other parties to support the recommendations.

    Don’t let us down this time Labour.

  5. gobsmacked 5

    There *is* a case for implementing the Electoral Commission proposals “as is”.

    But … beware of unforeseen consequences.

    If the single-electorate rule is abolished, there will be no more new parties formed by party hoppers. This might seem like a good result (morally, all party-hoppers should resign from Parliament) but it does increase the power of the established parties. Just look back over the past two decades.

    Left-leaning voters will have to choose between Labour and the Greens. Yes, people will say “Mana” or “Alliance” or “Hypothetical New Left”, but in reality (away from bloggy wishful thinking), getting 4% of the vote is a massive task. It won’t happen from outside Parliament, unless the gov’t is so horrendous that thousands are on the streets, on the barricades. (The Maori Party had a huge hikoi and a burning issue, and they fell well short in 2005).

    This doesn’t just affect the Left, of course – the Right could be reduced to one party. Parliament might have only three or four, once Winston retires.

    So I’d argue for 3% or even 2. If that means a party of fruit loops gets over the threshold … well, just look at who we’ve already had.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Minimum 3 MP caucus = 2.5% of the vote.

      That’s a decent minimum level. Once 1 in 40 citizens believe that a party represents their political views, why not give them a formal say in Wellington.

      Looking forwards to having a few Jedi Party MPs in the House.

      • There are only two decent thresholds:

        – 0.89%, or the amount to win a list seat outright. This threshold has the advantage of allowing list-based microparties to distribute their vote throughout the country and win into parliament, giving them a chance to grow if they perform well.

        – ≈1%, or more specifically, any percentage of the party vote that allows a second list seat. This restricts one-man-bands from Parliament if they don’t win an electorate, but allows party-hoppers and small parties a decent chance to get started.

        Anything else is set up to ban legitimate small parties from office in a mendacious and anti-democratic appeal to mob rule and unpopularity.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      (The Maori Party had a huge hikoi and a burning issue, and they fell well short in 2005).

      That’s because they are a race based party and as such the majority of people weren’t going to vote for them.

      If that means a party of fruit loops gets over the threshold … well, just look at who we’ve already had.

      Yep, the idea that the threshold is there to keep radical parties out is shown to be false by the fact that we have radical parties in government. One of them happens to be a major party.

      • Rob 5.2.1

        Fruit Loops!!
        I hope you are counting Dunne, Banks, and their enlightend friend Key in the group.

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