UnitedFuture Submission on MMP reform
9 April 2012
We propose reducing the threshold to qualify for Party List seats from 5% to 3%.
The threshold of electoral support to qualify for party representation varies widely amongst countries using Proportional Representation in their elections, from –
- No threshold (e.g. Netherlands where threshold is effectively 0.67% = 1 seat)
- 2% (e.g. Denmark)
- 3% (e.g. Spain)
- 4% (e.g. Slovenia)
- 5% (e.g. Belgium)
- 7% (e.g. Russia since 2005, previously 5%)
- 10% (e.g. Turkey, within each province)
Thresholds of specific electoral percentages are often modified by special rules applying to ethnic minorities, provincial representation, or other internal subdivisions like islands..
Smaller countries commonly allow relatively small minorities to be represented, because they tend to have a much higher degree of tolerance for distinct communities within their country. Countries with sharply divided ethnic, linguistic, regional and/or religious communities tend to use higher thresholds, because they have deliberately designed their electoral systems to favour broad coalitions over smaller parties that represent a single distinctive community.
Any threshold has the effect of encouraging supporters of smaller parties (polling near or below the threshold) to vote for their second or third preference to avoid wasting their vote. Democracy in electoral representation is raised by setting a threshold as low as practicable.
We support that a party which wins an Electorate seat qualifies for Party List seats.
In Germany, three electorate seats are required to qualify for list seats, except for indigenous ethnic minority parties. The German lower house has about five times as many seats as in New Zealand, so three seats represent about 0.5% of the total, versus 0.8% in New Zealand.
The difficulty that any Third Party has in winning electorate contests is much underestimated. Third parties have won only 9% (39/417) of electorate contests (including by-elections) since the introduction of MMP, although winning 25% (186/731) of total (list and electorate) seats, based on their share of the total vote. In over half of the 39 electorate contests where Third Party candidates have won, these candidates had previously been elected as MPs for one the two major parties. Few if any of these MPs will continue to contest elections past 2020.
Predominantly Maori parties are most likely to be disadvantaged by removing this provision, because of the difficulty they will have in reaching the threshold of 5% of total votes.
2. LIST MPs STANDING IN BY-ELECTIONS
We support allowing List MPs to stand in By-Elections, as at present.
List MPs will always include electorate candidates who were narrowly defeated, and are therefore amongst the most likely candidates for by-elections. Denying List MPs the right to stand as electorate candidates in by-elections cannot be justified.
3. CANDIDATES BOTH FOR AN ELECTORATE AND A PARTY LIST
4. DECIDING THE ORDER OF CANDIDATES ON PARTY LISTS
We propose that all Party List candidates must stand for an Electorate as well as for the List, and that the order in which Party List candidates are elected be decided by voters.
We propose that Party List candidates must also be Electorate candidates, and that Party List candidates are elected in order of the percentage of Party List votes gained in their Electorate.
The most unpopular feature of the New Zealand MMP system is that Party List candidates are elected according to their rank on the Party List, determined by internal party processes. The Party List ranking process differs for each party according to its constitution and rules, but is always obscure to ordinary voters because these processes are a variable mixture of internal party voting, individual party rules, and influences from senior party office-holders.
The most effective democratic option is to give voters control over the ranking of party lists. If every Party List candidate is also an electorate candidate, and their ranking is determined by the percentage of the valid Party List vote gained in the electorate in which they stand, then the voters (not the party) will determine the order of election of Party List candidates.
Each party can choose to run its preferred List Candidates in electorates where past results suggest that party polls well, even if they do not win seats. However the parties will need to place greater weight on the likely assessment by voters of candidate’s potential contribution to parliament, because the voters will make the final judgement on the relative merits of List Candidates. Voters have proven willing to elect candidates from diverse minorities where nominated by a party that voters routinely support. Most New Zealand voters regard diversity in a team as evidence of balanced strength, and too much uniformity as a sign of weakness.
The percentage of Party List vote is proposed (not the number of votes), because the number of voters varies significantly by the type of electorate (although populations are about equal). Central cities have more adults and less children, while rural areas are the reverse. Wealthier electorates usually have higher turnouts, while Maori electorates tend to both lower turnouts and more children. These biases are eliminated by using the percentage of the Party List vote.
5. A PARTY WINS MORE SEATS THAN ITS PARTY VOTE ENTITLEMENT
We support the existing system whereby 120 seats are distributed proportionately, and parties retain any extra electorate seats won above their proportionate share of votes.
The alternatives to retaining “overhang” seats are either –
(a) to deprive one party of the proportionate share of seats to which it is entitled, or
(b) to disqualify a candidate who has won an electorate contest for their seat
Retaining “overhang” seats in excess of 120 is far better than either alternative.
6. THE RATIO OF ELECTORATE SEATS TO PARTY LIST SEATS
We propose a higher ratio of Electorate to List Seats, by using Preferential Voting.
The critical factor affecting the ratio of Electorate to Party List Seats is the method of electing Electorate MPs. First-Past-the-Post (FPP) elections award a disproportionate number of seats to the leading party, especially when it has a large lead over the next party. Consequently a relatively large pool of List Seats is required to restore overall proportionality for Total Seats.
When one major party has lost significant support to third parties, the resulting shares of Electorate MPs has been very far from proportional. Second preferences would tend to favour the major party formerly supported, reducing the disproportionality in Electorate seats.
We propose that Electorate MPs are elected by Optional Preferential Voting, so that the overall results of the Electorate contests is less disproportionate than is delivered by FPP.
This change would allow the Electorate/List ratio of seats to move from the present 70/50 towards about 90/30, which has the additional benefit of reducing the size of electorates. Optional rather than compulsory preferential voting is recommended, so that no votes are rendered invalid due to lack of lower preferences. Although votes may no longer count once preferences have been exhausted, that also sends a message to the Electorate Candidates.
7. OTHER ISSUES - A List MP leaving a Parliamentary Party vacates the seat
We propose that if a List MP either voluntarily leaves or is expelled from the parliamentary party through which the MP was elected, that list seat of that MP shall be declared vacant. A majority of the MPs elected for that party at the previous General Election (but including instead any MPs elected at subsequent by-elections or replacement List MPs appointed for that party) shall certify to the Speaker that the List MP is no longer a member of that Party
8. OTHER ISSUES - Register Political Parties based on votes at the previous election
We propose that any party polling over 5,000 votes (or quarter of 1% of valid party votes) is automatically registered for the next general election, provided the Electoral Commission is satisfied that it is substantially the same party. Otherwise a party needs the signatures of 500 enrolled electors, no more than 100 from any one electorate, in order to be registered. This would replace the difficult-to-define provision based on listing 500 financial members