It’s that local democracy time of year again, and thanks to initial efforts at local body voting reforms, even more councils1 are adopting Single Transferrable Vote for wards, have it for District Health Boards, and use Instant Runoff Vote (which we weirdly also call STV in New Zealand- it’s basically STV where only one person can win) for Mayor.
Without going into full voting system nerd mode, (I can do this if requested, and tell you all about further local government voting reforms that would be better) STV is a good improvement on FPP, and a quasi-proportional system where you can still elect individual candidates. It’s not ideal, but if we used it for General Elections, it’d be about half as much of an improvement over First Past the Post as a reasonably proportional system like our implementation of MMP would be. While I normally talk about electoral issues in terms of making them more proportional and accessible to the public, I want to actually do a brief PSA in the voting period on how to vote effectively in STV.
In New Zealand, we rightly recognize that sometimes voting in these local elections are exhausting and you don’t want to do the research to rank all candidates. It’s permissible to partially order an STV vote for this reason, as it makes it harder to cast an invalid vote.
That said, it’s not optimal to do so. If you have time and energy to figure out your relative preferences for all candidates, ranking them all, (or you know, leaving out the last one, because that’s functionally the same thing) can actually swing the election your way a bit more. Yes, I mean you should even rank candidates that you know are “lesser evils,” the only time you should not rank a candidate is if you can’t make up your mind based on the information you can find easily. If you can’t do that, that’s fine, do your best. But if you want more from your vote, I think it’s important people have information on how to vote effectively.
Why should we rank “lesser evil candidates?”
Well, it’s in the name- your vote transfers under STV, but contrary to some people’s understanding, it doesn’t actually transfer in whole all the time if you’ve picked any popular candidates, and in fact in any STV election with more than 2 candidates, it’s rare (and increasingly so as we add more candidates) for a voter’s entire vote to count for one candidate, and mostly only happens if you happen to have the winner of the last round as your first preference.
Looking at a particular ward for example, voters who picked the first winner in Wellington’s Lambton Ward from 2016, Iona Pannett, as their first preference actually only used 62.4% of their vote (also known as a candidate’s “keep value”) to get her elected. Because she was more than a thousand votes over the necessary quota to be elected, the remaining 37.6% of their vote went on to count towards their next preference, if they had a next preference listed. If those voters “bullet-voted” with just a first preference, though, they lose the remaining 37.6% of their vote and it simply doesn’t transfer, lowering the quota instead and leaving subsequent decisions to other voters.
If you’re an informed voter, you should want that residual vote left over from each candidate’s “keep value,” no matter who it will apply to, until it’s all used up. To guarantee you get it all, list all the candidates you reasonably can in order of best to worst. If you don’t have the energy to figure it all out for everyone, that’s okay, vote with an incomplete list. But don’t deliberately leave compromise candidates or lesser evils off the lower part of your list.
Dunedin City Council
Kaipara District Council
Kapiti Coast District Council
Marlborough District Council
New Plymouth District Council (1st time)
Porirua City Council
Ruapehu District Council (1st time)
Tauranga City Council (1st time)
Wellington City Council
Greater Wellington Regional Council
Palmerston North City Council