Monday, October 14, 2013

Richard Prebble: Insight into Politics - Voting systems matter

Recent events, the German, the Australian and last week’s local body elections, remind us how the voting system can change the result. Our media reports that Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats have had a stunning win.  It was a remarkable result. The Conservatives are the largest party and have increased their vote and under First Past the Post they would have a huge majority.  But Germany has MMP.  The Christian Democrats are just short of 50% of the seats. While the Social Democrats (Labour) and the Greens had an awful election result with the Left Party (the former Communist party) they have a majority in the Bundestag and could form the government. 

The Social Democrats have promised not to go into coalition with the Left Party.  How long before that promise is forgotten?

How could Angela Merkel win the best result for the Christian Democrats since 1990 and yet may lose government?  She campaigned for both votes which drove her coalition partner the Free Democrats (An ACT type party) out of parliament.  It is easy to see John Key and National winning the next election only to find without a partner they lose power. 

Tony Abbott and the Liberals won the Australian election in a landslide, right?

Ricky Muir stood for the Senate as the “Australian Motorist Party”.  He issued no press statements so no one knows what he thinks about anything or if he has ever thought about anything except motor cars.  Despite being the motor car candidate the Greens included him on their preferences.  As Mr Muir had never said anything no party had anything against him so nearly every party included the motorist party on their how to vote card.   With a primary vote of one percent Ricky Muir has been elected to the Australian Senate.  This mystery man together with the “Clive Palmer Party” – lead by an eccentric billionaire who thinks Wendi Murdock is a Chinese government spy holds the balance of power.  (Palmer makes Winston seem quite rational).  Palmer’s first demand is more funding for his party or he will vote against every Liberal government measure including those he promised to support. . 

If Palmer carries out his threats, who did win the Australian election.

The low turnout in our local body elections will produce the usual calls for compulsory voting.  Australia shows you can force the donkeys to vote but the result is donkeys holding the balance of power.

Did I do the right thing?  I got my 18 year old who has gone out flatting to get on the Electoral Roll.  She tells me that none of the other flat mates bothered. Hers was the only vote from the house. Good on her you think.  Then she told me “I recognised none of the candidates.  I voted for Trevor Maxwell because he is good at Kapa Haka”.

The decision of her flat mates not to bother to enrol or vote seems totally rational.  If you do not know who to vote for is it not more responsible not to vote? If you do not intend voting why put the ratepayers to the expense of enrolling you?

Of course our voting systems are better - or are they?  The Greens who campaigned for MMP demanded Hospital Board Elections be Single Transferable Vote.  (It is a voting system that appeals to the Greens as it guarantees the losers get to elect some candidates. According to the Greens elections are not to decide issues but to guarantee representation). 

It is not often I agree with John Minto – who says he lost the mayoralty because B is ahead of him in the alphabet.  Actually John in your case I think there might be another explanation for your low vote but with Single Transferable Vote where voters must number their voters 1, 2 down to 7 for the Hospital Board it appears where you are in the alphabet does matter. Successful candidates for the Auckland Hospital Board: Agnew, Mathias, Bassett, Chambers, Aitken, Northey and Armstrong.

When Auckland had a telephone book I realised half of the surnames began with the letters ABCD.  But even allowing for that bias having no one elected bellow N is suspicious. Apparently the disciplined C&R supporters voted the total ticket C&R ticket alphabetically. Tough luck for John McConnell or in my area Ron Scott. .

I have never been sure what the Electoral Commission does in between elections.  Perhaps they should have a look at whether Single Transferable Vote is a sensible way to elect Hospital Board members.

I realise I am hopelessly politically incorrect but I liked it when the candidate who got the most votes won.


Rick Gilliver said...

Sorry Richard, no debate. You really make a lot of sense. Nice to see that you have matured...

Anonymous said...

So when you were in power did you vote for MMP. Since its introduction NZ politics has been a mess, minor party's are the tail wagging the dog and getting huge concessions from the major party's just to stay in power. MMP = weak government and some really dopey characters getting seats in parliament through the List system.
When we had first past the post at least we had strong governments not afraid to make decisions.

Anonymous said...

No debate Richard, you talk nonsense. Elections, above all, should be fair. What you suggest, flagrantly is not. And by the way, in national elections, we vote for parties, not canadidtes. Who they are, apart from the leader, hardly matter.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Richard - you make some excellent points. When you think about how basic the understanding and interest of most voters really is, first past the post is the only sensible voting system - all of the others are far too complex. And I agree that the call for compulsory voting is silly - only people who are interested enough to work out who to support should vote. As for STV - it should be banned!

Anonymous said...

So what is the solution to this voting dilemma? Should NZ go back to FPP to make things simpler? But the public rejected that in the referendum, so we are clearly stuck with it for the forseeable future. What about on-line voting? If it can be done conveniently and in a way that encourages engagement, will more people take an interest?