NRT: In defence of dual candidacy

Written By: - Date published: 10:47 am, December 15th, 2011 - 22 comments
Categories: MMP - Tags:

Some people reckon that if you run as an electorate candidate and lose you shouldn’t be allowed to go in as a list MP. You’re ‘not wanted’. But that doesn’t make sense. Some electorate MPs won with 6,000-8,000 votes, while 19 list MPs won more votes than that in losing an electorate race. Besides, not all constituencies are geographic. NRT elaborates:


MMP is currently being reviewed, with an issues paper due out in February. In anticipation of that, I’m doing a series of posts on the review questions. This one will focus on the second question:

[Should] a person should be able to stand as a candidate both for an electorate seat and on a party list?

Being able to run as an electorate candidate and on the party list is known as dual candidacy. And there are two main gripes about it. The first is “zombie MPs”, incumbent candidates who are defeated in their electorate but return via the party list (examples this term include Paula Bennett, Clayton Cosgrove and Chris Auchinvole). The feeling here is that these MPs have been “given the boot” by their electorates, and so it is unfair in some way that they return “by the back door”. But this, like the electorates themselves, is a legacy of FPP and its parochial structure of representation. Under MMP, there are two ways for MPs to be elected: via an electorate, and via the party list. The former requires a local constituency, the latter a national one. Zombie MPs have lost the first, but they retain the second, which is a democratic mandate for their election. National Party voters across the country voted for Bennett and Auchinvole, which is why they’re in Parliament. And its entirely inappropriate for local hicks in Waitakere or West Coast-Tasman to exercise a parochial veto on that national-level support.

(People might also want to remember that there are different scales of loss. Was Paula Bennett, who lost by 11 votes, “given the boot” by the people of Waitakere? Was Brendon Burns, who fell 47 votes short, “kicked out” by the voters of Christchurch Central? In a tight electorate contest, there doesn’t seem much of a mandate for preventing someone from taking up a list seat).

But while everyone focuses on “zombie MPs”, they miss the real picture. Its not just defeated incumbents who can return via the list, but defeated challengers – people like David Parker, Hekia Parata, and Russel Norman. All of these candidates contested unwinnable electorates in an effort to build a constituency; all lost. Without dual candidacy, that would be that – meaning that you simply would not get such high-profile challenges. While this might work for the major parties (who have no shortage of candidates, and some sort of process by which candidates who try and fail in an unwinnable seat might eventually get a crack at a safer one), it would be absolutely disastrous for the smaller ones. Without dual candidacy, smaller parties could not risk any of their high-profile talent in electorate contests. At best, this would mean that small party voters could never vote in an electorate for anyone they actually wanted to win it; more likely, it would mean they largely abandoned electorate races to focus solely on the party vote. And that would be a tragedy for our democracy.

As a final note, I think the culture of list MPs adopting electorates, combined with the slow dying-off of old FPP generation, will see these concerns disappear. Many electorates now effectively have multiple MPs serving them, with voters making no distinction over who won or lost the electorate race and who came in on the list. As that becomes more ingrained, FPP-driven concerns about “zombies” should fade.

22 comments on “NRT: In defence of dual candidacy”

  1. Uturn 1

    Will this work?

    Compare party and electorate votes on each ballot paper. If a person ticks party and candidate and that candidate loses, then a percentage of supporters to candidate can be calculated; which relates to the amount of overall voters in that electorate, giving a basic “relevency of candidate/party” measurement. Since choosing a party vote is an admission of who you would most like to see in government, a tick on the day could be considered a temporary party membership.

    Candidate vote high/low, but no matching party vote: compare vote with number of voters in electorate for a percentage that relates to awarding a list position.

    High/low Party vote, but no matching candidate vote: no need to worry about awarding a list because electorate doesn’t care who is put forward to represent, or doesn’t want either.

    • Lanthanide 1.1

      Having just come out of a long meeting I’m a little frazzled to fully grasp what you’re saying.

      Could you come up with a worked example of how this system would work? It sounds interesting. Unfortunately when it comes to voting and elections KISS is paramount, so your scheme is probably too complex to implement in practice.

      • Uturn 1.1.1

        It’s one step more fair than saying “a certain percentage of the vote allows a list placing”. By going one step fairer (or more democratic) it allows measuring of minority parties within an electorate – much like a very small version of MMP (but with an exception).

        It works on this thinking:

        1) An electorate has a certain number of voters.

        2) Votes in an electorate are divided between parties/candidates.

        3) When a candidate vote accompanies a matching party vote, it is considered a percentage of support.

        4) A party that does not win an electorate under MMP may still hold a strong following and relevence in a particular area. This helps emerging parties gain a foothold in the overall system, growing their direction/brand = fostering democracy. If the percentage of candidate vote for a particular party in that electorate is above (for example) 75%, then it could be said that although they did not win, within the support base, they are still a good candidate.

        5) A large mainstream party may not have any local candidate relevence, if that party is a strictly internally controlled party i.e. party whips telling who to vote for what, or it is a reform party whose policy is non negotiable on ideological grounds. In which case, if the candidate loses, who sits at parliament is a party matter, but the person who is “thrown out” cannot be placed. An attempt to game this could be attempted, but it gets so complicated in calculations and probability that the electorate has the statistical advantage = better democracy.

        The comment about one day membership is a legal twist to make parties interested in the process of democracy on the whole. For one day, every three years, a party could measure it’s support nationally – much like a census.

        In order to cover the emergence of hundreds of teeny tiny local parties, this change to list creation would work in with the alteration to MMP of “must get X% of vote before winning awarded a seat in parliament, not just win an electorate”. X = whatever is most agreeable democratic cross party level. That way, while encouraging voter engagement and a sense of “being heard”, outfits like McGillicuddy Serious wouldn’t get any strange ideas of world domination.

        Working the list creation like this is very close to an FPP mentality, but it is important that this thinking does not spill over into MMP as a whole. It has to be accepted as a limited tool and not a universally better system.

        The system would have to be legislated, though there is no reason why more democratic parties could not adopt it freely; apart from the obvious infighting/faction issue.

        I haven’t given any thought to how this would effect “strategic voting” effectively gaming the system, as we saw in Epsom this time round. But at face value it would make things so difficult to explain to voters who barely have the energy to vote that people would just have to vote for who they actually wanted. Which would be nice – putting the onus back on parties to campaign on policy. *wink, wink*

        Lots of words to explain, but much simpler in practice. If it changes the immediate result of the election, it is through a shift in mindset – so a voter is drawn into the overall party process – rather than fudging the actual number of votes as larger electoral systems do. It reduces the “strategic” effect.

    • Ari 1.2

      Uturn: What you’re thinking of closely resembles an open list system, where we ditch electorates, and voters get to vote for rankings within parties as well as choosing a party to support. So for instance Labour voters might get to rate each or any MP nominated by the party to stand out of a hundred, and their positions on the list would be determined by their average rating.

      This allows people to choose a local MP within their party, or simply support MPs with values similar to their own.

      Implementing such a system while retaining electorates is redundant and overcomplicated, but I think on its own it would make for a fairer system, and it would address issues with overhang seats- they simply wouldn’t exist.

  2. Very good points, with which I agree (now, there’s a coincidence 🙂 ).

    I think the opposition to dual candidacy comes from confused thinking. My sense is that most people who push against dual candidacy are actually opposed to ‘incompetent’, ‘party hack’ candidates (controlled by a centralised party leadership) getting into parliament.

    But that concern is not addressed at all by opposing dual candidacy. The only way it could be addressed is through regulation of how lists are constructed by parties.

    I remember, as will many others, a fine bevvy of incompetent party hacks getting into parliament under FPP. Many of them were also not particularly accountable to their electorates (who presumably just resigned themselves to having an incompetent, party hack MP and traded that off against the fact that they wanted a particular party to govern New Zealand).

    • Ari 2.1

      I think it’s largely a reaction to not feeling that the voters have any control over the election of List MPs. Even requiring that party members get to vote to determine the party list would be a huge improvement to MMP, and might go some way to addressing the feeling that voters don’t get to chuck out MPs they don’t like, or reward ones they do.

  3. queenstfarmer 3

    Good points. It can get tricky. Perhaps a rule that if an incumbent “loses” an electorate by more than X percent, they cannot get in on the list? So if an incumbent becomes significantly unpopular, or significantly less popular than a successful challenger, they don’t get zombied back in via the list.

    I don’t know how often this would have happened based on past results applying certain hypothetical thresholds, and maybe it would be more of a matter of principle than practical – so voters know there is at least some possibility to give an unwanted representative the boot.

  4. Tigger 4

    Ah yes, another idea that would benefit heterosexual, white men. Who cares what you lose by, if a party chooses you for the list and they get enough vote, you are in. Lists are public. Don’t like a list, don’t vote that party.

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    I/S has described well some possible errors of viewing dual candidacy through an FPP lense; “in by the backdoor” is tory slander, but also somewhat understandable where elections are a contest of individuals rather than ideas and policy.

    What about a gradual retirement of electorates. List only elections would allow parties to concentrate on policy, with MPs later getting allocated areas of responsibility that might require significant attention by them to particular regions or suburbs. There is patronage and wasted resources particularly in the rural belt with individual MPs trying to ‘service’ large geographical areas, and urban MPs large communities. Probably a decision for some years out.

  6. Lanthanide 6

    Actually I think disallowing dual candidacy could be good. I would throw in an exception for party leader and deputy, or two co-leaders, to be allowed to stand in electorate seats and also on the list. Everyone else is one or the other.

    This would give electorates a lot more power. If you were going to stand in an electorate, you’d have to be damn sure you’d win it because you wouldn’t get the list safety net. It also means that if you were elected to parliament as an electorate MP, you’d damn well better represent your electorate to the best of your ability and serve your community, because if you intend to stand in that electorate again and the people don’t like you, you won’t be getting back in.

    It also allows the party to renew itself via the list a lot more easily. Instead of old-timers who eventually lose their seat getting back in on the list, they’d be gone for good and replaced by someone else.

    At the moment the electorate vote doesn’t really hold much power at all, most of the time. It usually doesn’t affect the make up of parliament. Getting rid of dual-candidacy would make the electorate vote a lot more relevant. Probably if we did do this, then also extending preferential voting to the electorate would be a good idea. You get 1st and 2nd preference (no further), making it much more possible to vote for a small party candidate as your 1st preference and the big party as your 2nd.

    • Carol 6.1

      This would count against small parties that hae a limited number of people. I don’t think the problem is with the system, but with the way some parties choose list candidates. The Greens’ membership does it, which seems a good system to me.

      • Ari 6.1.1

        To be fair, there are some other rules about the Greens’ list the modify the order, for instance it’s generally required to alternate between genders, and I’m not 100% on this, but I believe the co-leaders are guaranteed first and second position.

  7. randal 7

    who the hell are some people?
    you mean the idiots who think they know what they are talking about when they have never lifted a brain cell to try and understand how the whole system works.
    wait!
    the nutbar tories who think their thoughts are facts.

  8. insider 8

    Lists are owned by parties, electorates by voters – it’s up to parties who they put on their lists. It’s a fundamental part of MMP. If you don’t like their lists don’t give them your party vote. Let’s not try and complicate MMP by trying to turn it into a faux STV.

    • lprent 8.1

      Not sure who you’re talking to, but it appears we agree on something.

    • Colonial Viper 8.2

      In that case each party should select its lists openly and democratically amongst members, not by a back room process.

      • insider 8.2.1

        I don’t think that should be forced on them. It’s not compulsory to be a member. If you don’t like it don’t join, or start your own. Otherwise you’ll get stupid debates from outsiders and insiders over procedure, eg the recent one where David Farrar said Winston was not elected legally. Parties should do what parties want.

        The practicalities of representative democracy are that at some point you have to draw a line in the sand and say ‘this person has my proxy’. I tend to be trusting that most people are well motivated and I’m too lazy to want to be consulted on absolutely everything, so my line is quite distant from me.

        • Ari 8.2.1.1

          Why not require them to base their list off a vote of members? Why should party executives get complete control of their lists?

          All we need to do is require them to hold SOME sort of vote among their members, and require them to make public the results of that vote. That gives parties complete control, but ALSO requires that they justify any differences between the vote and their list to members and voters. No coercion other than the force of public opinion. 🙂

  9. Rosina 9

    I think all canditates should stand in an electorate and face up to potential voters. We are moving away from direct reprentasion. We still have 2 votes so the party vote stands as is. The lists are made on election night using the election data base and sorting by Party, Name and % of votes. That would allow voters to have their preferred party but vote or not vote for a canditate according to their merits. They would go up or down the list according to voter preference and not party selection.

    • Carol 9.1

      But a Labour candidate in a National electorate would score a low percentage of votes, and vice versa, even if they were well liked nationally. (pretty much as I/S has argued above)

      I don’t think the party list rankings should be linked to electorates.

      The electorate vote is very locally based. The party vote is nation-wide. We know what each party’s list is when we vote. The problem is that in some parties the MPs rank the list. The list rankings should be opened to wider input from party members.

  10. Georgy 10

    Which all goes to show that the present system is probably okay and doesn’t really need altering, except that the process parties go through to form a list should be more open and democratic, as has been referred to with the Greens process.

  11. Armchair Critic 11

    Let people stand in electorates and on lists, anything else is too complex. If you think there is dead wood on the list there are two obvious things to do:
    1. Don’t give your party vote to that party, and/or
    2. Join the party and tell the hierarchy to change the list.
    The main change I would like to see to MMP is to the threshold, which I think should be the lesser of:
    -the percentage of the party vote obtained by the smallest party to win an electorate seat (unless this party also gets less than 0.83%, i.e. 1/120), or
    -4%, if no party that wins an electorate seat gets less than 4% of the party vote.
    This would have returned NZF in 2008 (because they got more of the party vote than UF, who won a seat) and the Conservatives in 2011 (again, because they got more of the party vote than UF). It would change the behaviour of the larger parties, who may be less tempted to accommodate smaller parties, and also the behaviour of voters.

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