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Why Supplementary Member sucks

Written By: - Date published: 7:08 pm, September 9th, 2009 - 64 comments
Categories: MMP - Tags: , ,

National and the business elite led by former Telecom chairman Peter Shirtcliffe (who led the pro-FPP campaign back in the 1990s) want to replace MMP with a voting system called Supplementary Member. SM is kind of a halfway house between FPP and MMP. Rather than the total number of seats a party has in Parliament being determined by its share of the party vote as in MMP only the list seats are proportional in SM. This does not lead to a proportional Parliament. It basically guarantees a huge majority for a party that wins both a lot of electorates and a large share of the party vote.

Now, before you righties get all excited, consider what that would have meant in 1999. Here, I’ve worked out what would have happened if the 1999 and 2008 election results had been under SM, with the same number of list and the electorate seats won by the same parties:

SM scenarios

Yeah, righties, 2008 would have been more fun eh? 65 seats for National, plus four for ACT. Imagine the agenda they could push through with those numbers. But consider what the Left would have been able to achieve after 1999 if Labour had 63 seats and the Alliance and Greens were chipping in another nine. Rigging the system doesn’t look so fun now, eh?

SM fails to achieve the aim of the majoritarians who want to get rid of MMP because they don’t think minority voices should be heard in Parliament or think that (somehow) MMP lets a 5% party can hold the country to ransom. If the last election result had occurred under SM, all the parties currently in Parliament would still be there, albeit some of them half the size. SM still has the ‘confusing’ elements of MMP, like two votes and lists.

At the same time it fails to satisfy the basic fairness test of a good electoral system. The guiding principle of a democratic electoral system must be that your vote has an equal weight in the make-up of Parliament as anyone else’s – if you support a party that 35% of people support that party should have 35% of the seats, if you support a party with 10% support it should have 10% of the seats. Nothing else is fair. SM isn’t a proportional system. It favours major parties and small parties whose support is concentrated in a few seats.

Supplementary Member sucks. It’s MMP for me.

64 comments on “Why Supplementary Member sucks ”

  1. toad 1

    But I’d still like a supplementary member. I must have used the one I was born with too much when I was younger, because it doesn’t work as well as it used to any more.

    Oh, and back to the electoral system, SM is really just the anti-democratic FPP system in disguise. It is not proportional and not representative. Supplementary member sucks.

  2. burt 2


    Cut down the amount of green you consume, it will do wonders for the standing member.

    On the electoral system – I agree this is bollox. I’m no fan of MMP but I think it is better than FPP (which I think is a complete crock devised at a time when it was the only practicle option due to administrative constraints of that time). If we change anything then we should be making the system more based on PR and less on geographic boundaries.

    • burt 2.1


      Just to save you making a comment, where I say “PR” I’m meaning proportional representation not public relations.

    • toad 2.2

      Actually, burt, I haven’t done dak since the mid 80’s. Let’s not get into stereotypes here,

      And good that you think FPP is a crock of shit. SM is just a facade for FPP, because it still lets governments form without the mandate of a majority of electoral support. What electoral system do you favour burt?

    • burt 2.3


      STV seems like a better system to me, but I’ll confess I’m no expert. I’ve seen a few different proportional systems in use in a few different countries and one thing that hits me between the eyes every time is; When amendments are made to functional systems, or hybrid systems are devised, to cater for local considerations the resultant system is usually a crock as well. Voting systems are by their nature scientific and trying to change them is a job for scientists/engineers/statisticians not politicians.

      I’d remove the electorate vote because I genuinely think that it was derived to cater for the administrative capabilities of the time it was invented. That being related to no easy methods of national communication, administrative difficulties in counting votes on a large scale etc. IE: 600 odd years ago most people had no idea what Joe Bloggs politician from more than 100 miles away stood for – not so today. The issue in this for some people would be the removal of the Maori seats however in a “real” proportional system I can’t see why that would be a concern (cue wild allegations of being racist)

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    Rigging the system doesn’t look so fun now, eh?

    Gerrymandering: Something National pulled off quite well under the previous FPP system.

    • burt 3.1

      Actually something both major parties pulled off quite well at different times.

      • toad 3.1.1

        Ah (or Aaarhh!) – with supplementary member you get an extra one to pull off,

        But however much pulling you do, we all get Rogered in the end.

        • Marty G

          wow, you really can’t help yourself, eh toad 🙂 great to see you having fun though

          captcha: apparently …. yeah, apparently toad’s got members on the mind

      • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2

        Actually, I can’t remember labour doing that at all. I’ll have to look through the books. It’s what happens when the politicians are allowed to set the electorates.

      • mickysavage 3.1.3

        Sorry Burt name the election when Labour did this. It always used to lose the tight ones under FPP even when it gained more votes than National.

      • burt 3.1.4


        I wouldn’t expect a one-eyed Canterbury supporter to remember the Crusaders cheating either – The Blues on the other hand cheat every single game eh.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Wouldn’t know burt – I don’t watch rugby or any sport for that matter. What I am trying to do is remember my uni course which mentioned it and the books I’ve read about it.

          And I’m not a Labour supporter as I’ve said many times before.

      • burt 3.1.5


        I tell you what, you find an example where boundary changes have been made and allegations of gerrymandering were not made and (irrespective of which party changed or made the allegations) then we can have a reasonable debate about it. With perhaps one or two exceptions, every time the boundaries have changed somebody feels aggrieved. I’m sorry I can’t help you with your selective memory via convictions for gerrymandering of the Labour party. Furthermore history tells me that even if they were found to have been guilty of such they would have simply validated themselves and told us to move on – supported by people who put “their team winning” ahead of the rules.

        • Pascal's bookie

          So once again burt says something and is up to everyone but burt to justify his position.

        • burt

          Meanwhile PB has no issue with the same unsubstantiated comment made about National. But that’s different eh PB.

          • Draco T Bastard

            But it’s not unsubstantiated burt, it’s just going to take me awhile to go through the books.

        • mickysavage

          Good try Burt.

          The best evidence of a gerrymander is where a party gets less votes than its opposition but still wins the election.

          Name a time where Labour has succeeded in doing this or even tried to do this.

          Go on, I challenge you. Name a time. Otherwise your words are wasted and irrelevant.

        • burt

          Pascal’s bookie

          From my reading on the subject gerrymandering has never been proven by either camp. It has been alledged frequently by both camps. If I’m wrong and there are proven concrete examples then please list them. Otherwise stop resorting to ad hominem attacks because you don’t have a better argument.

          • Pascal's bookie

            What on earth are you talking about burt.?I never accused anyone of being a proven gerrymanderer. I don’t know what it would take to ‘prove’ gerrymandering, but I’d say social credit got shafted in the manawatu region in the 80’s.

            I was just saying that once again you are asking others to do your research for you. And that’s not ad hom.

        • burt


          I think you have failed to understand the nature of FPP. What you are describing is a result of having electorates and is one of the main reasons why I think the electorate system is crap. To suggest that because [xyz] party received less votes but won more electorates is only a result of gerrymandering makes the assumption that the electorate system can be perfect which is just naive in the extreme.

          • mickysavage

            Good try Burt

            You originally said

            “Actually something both major parties pulled off quite well at different times.”

            You then said

            “From my reading on the subject gerrymandering has never been proven by either camp.”

            So which is it?

          • burt

            oh micky your so sad…

            Both parties accuse the other of it every time boundaries change – is that too hard for you to understand ? Look I’ve asked Draco for proof and I’ve said I have no proof only recollection that every time the boundary changes somebody squeals.

            However clearly you have concrete examples where you just know National did it and clearly you know Labour never did or you wouldn’t be making such a cock of yourself showing you don’t understand the problems of the electorate based system.

            • mickysavage


              Well you first said they both did it and then you said that it had never been proved against either party. Do you see that these statements are inconsistent?

              The 1978 and 1981 election results were that Labour outvoted National but lost. I have never seen the reverse happen.

              A gerrymander is where you get less votes but win. National are therefore better at it than Labour.

              Prove me wrong if you like. Name me one occasion where Labour’s power was disproportinate to its vote.

            • Draco T Bastard

              A gerrymander is where you get less votes but win.

              That’s oversimplified. A gerrymander is when the political party in power sets the boundaries of the electorates so that there’s always more of their voters in the electorates than any one else’s essentially guaranteeing a win.

            • felix

              oh micky your so sad

              Jeez burt, now all I can think of is

              oh mickey you’re so sad
              you’re so sad you blow my dad
              hey mickey!

              Thanks for that.

    • burt 3.2


      Sorry to do this;

      Prove it!

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1

        Sorry, looked through all my books and it’s not there so it will have to remain unsubstantiated 🙁

        We will have to say that the reason why National won so many elections from 1936 on was because of an inherent imbalance in the electoral voting system due to population voting patterns and stay away from actual allegations of impropriety.

      • burt 3.2.2


        Cheers for that. The way I see it proof of gerrymandering would result in a conviction for corruption and as Taito Field is the first ever ‘proof’ of corruption then it’s all he said/she said. Every time a boundary changes people squeal, so perhaps I choose my words poorly in my initial response to you initial call of gerrymandering. It would have better if I had said ‘Are you sure it’s only National ?’

        The electorate system has a lot to answer for. ‘Safe’ seats that yield large majorities for either party represent a large loss of votes in that anything more than a majority of 1 is a wasted vote. My understanding is that STV addresses this which is why I vastly prefer that system. The MMP list vote goes some way to address this however for some reason people seem to be more concerned about getting an extra MP or two in parliament because of an overhang than they are concerned about parliament being representative. Add to that the issue that the parties choose the list order rather than the results of the voter choice and MMP is (IMHO) largely paying lip service to proportional representation. Additionally anomalies are introduced in the form of political parties being able to make the parliamentary majority anyway they like irrespective of actual voter choice.

        Oh, and thanks for calling muppetsavage on his expedient definition of gerrymandering.

  4. Steve 4

    SM would definitely be a step back, but would still rather it than FPP. STV I don’t think will ever be used nationally due to perceived complexities. I’d like to see MMP tweaked so that electorates use PV with preferences allocated till someone gets 50%+1. Whatever the options are, there are some pretty big interests that want to see us back to the days of old and the public needs to be aware of their motives so it is not a case of turkeys voting for an early Christmas

    • Ari 4.1

      STV is still an electorate-based system, and it is barely better in single-winner elections. The thing STV is okay for is multi-winner elections where you’re picking four or five people at once.

      • toad 4.1.1

        Agreed, Ari. For STV to work well, you need to have large multi-member electorates – say 25 electorates electing 5 members each. The problem with that is that the South Island, while having 20 MPs, would have only 4 electorates.so many South Island voters could end up with all their elected representatives living a very large distance from them and being very disconnected from their issues. Perhaps not so much of a problem with today’s electronic technology, but still a problem.

  5. Mike Collins 5

    Completely agree – SM sucks. MMP is much better but could do with some tweaks – like lowering the threshold and getting rid of Maori seats.

  6. Gooner 6

    National and the business elite led by former Telecom chairman Peter Shirtcliffe (who led the pro-FPP campaign back in the 1990s) want to replace MMP with a voting system called Supplementary Member.

    Yet on the other hand you show a graph that says the Left had 72 votes under SM in ’99.

    You guys really are getting silly these days with all sorts of conspiracy theories and global doom. It’s quite sad.

    • Daveo 6.1

      How is any of that a conspiracy theory? Business has been quite clear about why it opposes MMP – because requiring majority support to get things done gets in the way of their hard right economic agenda.

      Read Fran O’Sullivan’s column, then watch Peter Shirtcliffe on the linked youtube video and tell me that’s not the case.

      • Gooner 6.1.1

        Daveo, who said anything about business opposing MMP? This is about business supposedly wanting a change to SM.

        Marty came up with a “theory” that the great Peter Shirtcliffe wants SM. In ’96 he wanted FPP, but apparently now he wants SM.

        I think you guys don’t know at all what he or business wants because you despise them and never handled them at all well in the 9 years you were in power. So how can you now know what they want?

        • Marty G

          It’s not a theory, check out Fran’s writing on the issue and Key’s statements.

          They want SM because it’s anti-pluralist, it would probably kill the minor parties or at least consign them to irrelevancy (notice that in both examples, a major party has a clear majority).

          And National thinks it can hold on to the electorates, thereby guaranteeing victory.

          It’s hardly conspiratorial to think that people look out for their interests and that the interests of the elite won’t always be, indeed often won’t be, the interests of the wider population

    • Tim Ellis 6.2

      Very prescient comments, Gooner, and let’s not forget that politicians from both Labour and National, including Ms Clark and Mr Goff, were opposed to MMP. They wanted to retain FPP. The move to MMP was as much a plague on both the Labour and National houses, supported by smaller parties than anything else.

    • Ari 6.3

      Perhaps we just think SM is bad even if it would have given the left a bigger majority. In fact, perhaps we think that’s part of WHY it’s bad. 😛

    • Clarke 6.4

      You guys really are getting silly these days with all sorts of conspiracy theories and global doom. It’s quite sad.

      One word – Muldoon. A National Party wingnut with no economic credentials and an authoritarian streak a mile wide, who spent nine long years in power attempting to turn the country into a banana republic, whilst remaining in power with just over 40% of the vote thanks to FPP.

      As is apparent from National’s current behaviour, there are still far too many people on the right who think that attaining the Treasury benches amounts to a democratically-elected dictatorship. Excuse us if we don’t want to make it easier for the wingnuts to repeat Muldoon’s excesses.

      • toad 6.4.1

        Actually, Clarke, it was worse than that. In each of the 1978 and 1981 elections Muldoon formed a government under FPP with less than 40% of the votes and with a lower number of votes than Labour.

  7. Tim Ellis 7

    Interesting points you’ve raised, Marty.

    One factor which we will never know in retrospect, but is significantly large in my view to destroy your argument about what “would have” happened in 1999 or for that matter 2008, is the equalising effect that voters have on the outcome.

    In 2008 National was polling for an outright majority. Voters didn’t like it. They didn’t want to give National so much power. Likewise Labour in 2002 was looking for an outright majority, and voters adjusted accordingly.

    You’re quite right that SM does give individual political parties more opportunity to have an outright majority. But if Labour had had an outright majority in 1999, why would they have gone into government with anybody else? Why wouldn’t they have gone on their own? The example of Ms Clark throughout her nine years in government shows that she only tried to get enough votes to get an absolute majority. She wasn’t interested in forming a broader coalition and the headaches if she could have avoided it.

    Mr Key, on the other hand, didn’t need the Maori Party in government to form a majority. Why did he bring them into Government? Because he was looking longer term to a time when he might need the Maori Party in the future. Because he didn’t want to have to rely just on the Act Party to form a government.

    I like the fact that SM ensures that small parties get a voice, but they do not become so powerful in government as to wag the dog, as happened in 1996 and 2005.

    • Ari 7.1


      Voters can’t adjust for an overall majority for major parties under SM, it’s simply too complicated. They need to know who would win which electorates, which is hellish to predict for more than one at a time, and you get ridiculous compound errors trying to do it.

      • Tim Ellis 7.1.1

        Can’t they, Ari? I think they can. It just gets harder to do, and there are more variables at play, but my memory of most elections under FPP was that the winner was reasonably well known leading up to the election. There have been close elections under FPP, and the really only close election we had under MMP was in 2005, where marginal shifts in voting behaviour could make a big difference.

        I don’ tknow how much consciousness a voter has of the wider group when they go into a polling booth, but I’m sure there have been studies on it.

        Back in the bad old days of FPP the battleground was only in marginal seats. Everybody knew where the safe seats were, and the shift of six or seven seats either way determined the government. Mos tof the media focus was on those few seats and individual voters in those seats could determine the shift of the government. I beleive that under SM the same thing would happen.

    • Clarke 7.2

      I like the fact that SM ensures that small parties get a voice, but they do not become so powerful in government as to wag the dog, as happened in 1996 and 2005.

      I think what you meant to say, Tim, was that you’re happy to disenfranchise the 8% or so of voters who would be completely unrepresented under Supplementary Member. A spot of intellectual honesty would go a long way if you intend to argue for this unbalanced system.

      I like the fact that SM ensures that small parties get a voice, but they do not become so powerful in government as to wag the dog, as happened in 1996 and 2005.

      Again, the actual words you’re looking for are “I prefer to see elections rigged rather than won.”

      • Tim Ellis 7.2.1

        Clarke, MMP “disenfranchised” everybody who voted for the Christians in 1996 and NZ First in 2008, among the many other times when voters for small parties that didn’t bump past the threshhold, so let’s not pretend MMP is a pure system that provides a voice to everybody. I didn’t say I was happy to disenfranchise anybody, any more than you just said you’re happy to disenfranchise smaller parties that don’t make it back into Parliament. If you want to use ad hominem debating tactics like that then fine, but have some consistency of argument while you are doing it.

        Nice of you to put words in my mouth, though, just in case I didn’t know what I meant. While I’m at it, what you really meant to say was that I meant to say that I work in National Party research, that I’m Roger Douglas half brother, and that I’m the spawn of the devil. Thanks for playing.

        • Marty G

          A voting system should attempt to minimise the wasted vote and be proportional as much as possible – MMP does this better than SM can… and MMP could do it better if the threshold were lowered.

          Now, explain to me how a 5% or 10% party can hold the other 95% or 90% to ransom. It can’t. The wagging the tail thing is a myth. What it really says is ‘major party in government can’t get a majority for its policies, so lets rig the system instead’

        • toad

          Tim, you are talking crap

          It wasn’t MMP that disenfranchised the voters who voted for Christian parties in 2008 – it was the fact that those parties didn’t get enough votes.

          The Kiwi Party got 0.54% of the vote and the Family party 0.35%. Even if the 5% threshold were abolished (and I believe it should be) those parties would not have been represented following the 2008 election because they simply didn’t attract sufficient votes.

          • BK Drinkwater


            If the 5% threshold were abolished, the Kiwi Party would have had 1 MP in 2008. It’s the magic of Sainte-Laguë.

            • Pascal's bookie

              That is some kind of magic. I wonder if the Kiwi Party’s member would approve?

              I’m all in favour of letting the nuts in to parliament if they can get the votes. It might stop the other parties dogwhistling them at least.

        • Clarke

          Clarke, MMP “disenfranchised’ everybody who voted for the Christians in 1996 and NZ First in 2008, among the many other times when voters for small parties that didn’t bump past the threshhold

          Yes, it’s a given of our current 5% MMP threshold that the people who voted for those parties have no direct representation. But your argument seems to be that we should aggravate the situation by making the electoral system even more unbalanced.

          I think it’s interesting that the Right is simply walking away from the basic inequity in a Supplementary Member system, and arguing for – as ZB puts it further down the thread – “strong government rather than good government.” An unfortunate authoritarian leaning, methinks.

          … that I’m Roger Douglas half brother, and that I’m the spawn of the devil

          Not what I said or what I intended – I was merely trying to point out what I saw as the logical inconsistencies of your statements. My genuine apologies if I phrased it badly and offended, I certainly wasn’t setting out to do so.

    • Tim

      “The example of Ms Clark throughout her nine years in government shows that she only tried to get enough votes to get an absolute majority. She wasn’t interested in forming a broader coalition and the headaches if she could have avoided it.

      Mr Key, on the other hand, didn’t need the Maori Party in government to form a majority. Why did he bring them into Government? Because he was looking longer term to a time when he might need the Maori Party in the future. Because he didn’t want to have to rely just on the Act Party to form a government.”

      Not true.

      You imply Key is more inclusive. He is not. He is following the example set by Helen.

      How about 2005? Coalition with Progressives, NZ First, United Future and support of sorts with the Greens even though it was not required.

      Good attempted rewrite of history.

      • Tim Ellis 7.3.1

        I’m sorry if you think I rewrote history micky, and of course I’m aware that the Labour Party included New Zealand First and the United Party to form a government. Labour excluded the Greens and the Maori Party however, and I think you’re the one playing games with the past if you describe otherwise.

        • mickysavage


          Why do you wingnuts think that if you lie often enough people will think it is true?

          You say

          “Labour excluded the Greens”

          What is the Labour led Government Cooperation agreement with the Greens then? The link follows.


          Of particular note it says

          “The Green Party agrees to provide stability to a Labour/Progressive coalition government by co-operating on agreed policy and budget initiatives and not opposing confidence or supply for the term of this Parliament.”

          So throw a few words back at me and persuade me how this is excluding the Greens.

          • Tim Ellis

            Interesting perspective, micky. Your revisionism might be shared by some in the Labour Party, but I doubt if you ask many commentators or many Green Party people whether the Greens thought they received much from 2005, that many of them would agree with you.

            How about this: “The Greens have helped Labour govern with their vote on matters of supply and confidence since 1999, but have always been shut out of ministerial jobs.”

            Or: “Some commentators have noted that despite having the Greens’ support after the 2005 election, Labour left the party out of a formal governing coalition, instead assigning ministerial responsibilities to New Zealand First’s Winston Peters and UnitedFuture’s Peter Dunne.”

            Or how about a speech from Jeanette Fitzsimons, where she said: “There used to be a view that the Green vote would inexorably climb at each election until we became government, so election 05 was a reality check. It was character building stuff losing 3 MPs, shut out of government in favour of parties with which Labour had much less in common…”

            Or how about the valedictory speech from Nandor Tanczos, where he referred to Labour fobbing the Greens off?

            Or how about this, from Stuff: “The party threw in with Labour before the 2005 election and was devastated to be shut out of Government as Labour cobbled together deals with NZ First and United Future – both of which ruled out working with the Greens.”

            Or this, from the Herald: “The Greens adopted the same policy in 2005, only to be shut out of government as Labour put together deals with New Zealand First and United Future – parties that, paradoxically, were supported by National-leaning voters. Their only consolation was a few policy gains based on their agreement to abstain on confidence and supply.”

            National has a cooperation agreement with the Greens as well. By your measure does this mean that the Greens are supporting the National Government?

  8. Clarke 8

    National and the business elite led by former Telecom chairman Peter Shirtcliffe (who led the pro-FPP campaign back in the 1990s) want to replace MMP with a voting system called Supplementary Member.

    Shirtcliffe should be honest about his intentions this time around – his billboards should read “one dollar, one vote!”, which is clearly what he’s aiming to achieve.

    • Mike Collins 8.1

      I don’t agree with systems that aren’t proportional such as FPP and SM, however you need to be careful about what you assume regarding the intentions of those who do support such systems.

      I don’t doubt for a minute the sincererity of people such as Shirtcliffe. He has consistently been of the view that strong government (via decision making capacity) is important for the country. If you have this view it is logical to support FPP or SM or something of that nature.

      I support MMP because for me democracy is about giving voice and allowing a contest of ideas. That to me is much more important than electing a government that can ram things through.

      I would however appreciate if people’s motivations weren’t always questioned simply because one disagrees with the views others may hold. It is not at all clear to me that what Shirtcliffe is trying to achieve is “one dollar, one vote”. I think your imagination may be a little overactive Clarke. Be sure to check for monsters (or Shirtcliffe) under your bed before you go to sleep tonight. 😉

      • Zaphod Beeblebrox 8.1.1

        Strong government and good government- huge difference.

        National have admitted that its good to take everybody’s good ideas and incorporate them into policy. They adopted the Greens’ Home Insulation policy, the Maori Party’s Foreshore policy and are desperate to deal with Labour over the ETS.

        If they had an outright majority there is no way their supporters would even let Key think about supporting these things. He’d be wedged in by Nats archaic ideology.

        Sounds like a good advert for MMP as far as I can see.

      • Clarke 8.1.2

        It is not at all clear to me that what Shirtcliffe is trying to achieve is “one dollar, one vote’.

        Remember, Shirtcliffe also helped fund the campaign against the EFA as he apparently didn’t see any benefit in making the sources of election funding transparent. And it’s hard to deny the impact of lobbying money New Zealand when the Road Transport Forum are busy donating $95,000 to political parties, and the country’s transport policies are turning on a dime – no pun intended – as a result.

        But perhaps you’re right – maybe Shirtcliffe is genuinely motivated and thinks that a stronger, less representative government that takes money secretly is genuinely better for New Zealand. I mean, it’s certainly worked out that way in Afghanistan …

  9. Swampy 9

    Whatever you can say about MMP will never change the fact that the Greens Party lied about it to the people of New Zealand.

  10. RedLogix 10

    Brian Rudman has an excellent piece in the Herald.

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