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First-past-the-post dictates one tick

by 29 Aug 2016Berger for the board, Local board, STV, Youth voting0 comments

Tessa Berger billboard, Schedewys Hill

Take Care with that Tick: Thanks to government dereliction, local body ignorance and royal commission incompetence, supporters of an individual candidate such as Tessa Berger will shoot themselves in the foot if they tick more than one candidate for the Rodney Local Board. In a halfway intelligent system, such as preference voting, voters could rank candidates by preference—easy as 1 2 3. image Caitlin Owston-Doyle

Voters, reasonably, seek to get their money’s worth. But thanks to obdurate royal commissionersin fairness, also to other governments and Auckland councils before and since, Auckland Council remains stuck in the bad old days of first-past-the-post, and voters are about to be short-changed.

This is manifestly evident in the crowded, 18-strong race for the Auckland mayoralty, where a vote for thinking-person’s-candidate expelled Green Party member David Hay, or for 22-year-old Chlöe Swarbrick, is a vote that won’t count towards determining the outcome, of the uneven race between National’s Vic Crone and Labour’s Phil Goff. Little wonder Hay’s first policy announcement, properly, was a call for the council to adopt stvthe single-transferable-vote system.

At the last election, the then soon-to-be-disgraced Len Brown was re-elected by a mere 16.5% of registered voters. This was the inevitable consequence of first-past-the-post, compounded by an abysmal 35% turnout, a large field and a mayoral performance that failed to assuage the perception that amalgamation had been one monstrously costly mistake. Preference voting ensures, in a single-vacancy contest such as for mayor, that the winner, ultimately, is preferred by more than half of those voting. And that was probably the case in 2013, despite the surprisingly strong support for a previously little-known restaurateur with a dangerous amount of self-belief.

A less obvious snafu, closer to home, is the seven-person competition for the three-vacancy Warkworth Subdivision of the Rodney Local Board. Supporters of the need for much younger representatives to be elected will enthusiastically give their first tick to Tessa Berger, but if they go on to get their money’s worth by ticking another couple of candidates, they could well spoil the chances for their favourite. Regrettably, first-past-the-post forces thinking voters to vote strategically, and discipline themselves to support only one candidate.

Commissioners Bazley, Salmon, and Shand collectively lacked the wit to recommend a system that is patently more effective at electing the most preferred candidate or candidates:

The Commission makes no recommendation on this, because it was not persuaded that the adoption of [the single-transferable-vote system] would assist in solving Auckland’s problems.

This was their way of saying:

The Commission makes no recommendation on this, because, what with the zillion other considerations we are trying to get our tiny minds around, by yesterday, we can’t be doing with trivialities such as fatal flaws in our basic democratic processes.

Presentation demonstrating STV in action

How Well it Works: The single-transferable-vote system is fiendishly difficult to describe, but sublimely easy to use, as illustrated in this slick animation by the Department of Internal Affairs. The number of local body politicians who fail to comprehend quite how undemocratic the current system is, is shameful, but what is truly deplorable is that the government, when it introduced preference voting in 2001, left it to individual councils to do the right thing; consequently, only 8 of 78 have. image Department of Internal Affairs

With participation levels in local-body elections already dismal, the commissioners should have made every effort to ensure that the imposition of a single monolithic council where there had previously been eightincluding the Auckland Regional Council did not result in deepening the citizenry’s perception of impotence. And, without government intervention, Aucklanders would have been even more egregiously short-changed, the commission recommending only 7 local boardsThe commission actually used the term ‘local councils’, but we are splitting hairs here—they were to enjoy only limited powers and funding., instead of the 21 they received—or 22, if the Local Government Commission responds positively to Mahurangi Action’s application for a Tamahunga Local Board.

If civilisation survives anthropogenic global warming, and, based on climate inaction to date, indications are that it is choosing to fail this existential test, then it will be because the people chose greater democratisation over greater exploitation of the planet’s finite capacity to absorb what the free market could throw at it. Aotearoa has the makings of the world’s best, that is, the world’s fairest democratic system. The essential foundation was its potentially ultimate in proportional representation: mixed member proportional. The system was designed to prevent a repeat of the populist highjacking of democracy so artfully executed by Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party. But within mixed member proportional, it is still business-as-usual first-past-the-post. If a voter ticks a party that fails to reach the threshold to elect one member, that vote is wasted. And while that might not seem a significant problem, it works savagely against the establishment of a new party, for instance one that, unlike the Green Party, is serious about slashing greenhouse gas emissions, and realistic about what that will involve.

Daniele Archibugi at the Future of Science and Technology conference, Portugal, 2007

It’s an Undemocratic World: Without a world parliament that can stand up to the might of the fossil-fuel oligarchies, individual democracies are all but defenceless to the scourge of global warming. In the face of this existential threat, the current United Nations is about as effective as the League of Nation was in preventing World War II, or, for that matter, as effective as the United Nations in preventing or ending the 54 armed conflicts that are ongoing, five of which have raged from since then, or earlier. Daniele Archibugi visualises the World Parliamentary Assembly, 2023. image European Commission

The more obvious flaw in mixed member proportional, however, is that electorate representatives are elected by first-past-the-post, which means that it is desperately difficult for parties other than Labour and National to win electorate seats. But an even more significant defect lurks. Most voters fail to appreciate that their electorate vote, except in a very few atypical electorates, doesn’t affect the election outcome; the number of seats their favoured party wins. All too often, voters regard their second tick—their party vote—as a second preference. So, for example, a Labour Party supporter will vote for the Labour candidate, but give their party vote to the Greens, and vice versa. Relying on voter education is unrealistic, when the defect can so readily remedied, by allowing voters to rank the candidates rather than ticking the one that they fancy stands a chance, and it is obtuse in the extreme that the likes of the Electoral Commission in 2012 failed to address this deficiency. That the government rejected even the lily-livered commission’s recommendations simply underlines that, if it was going to fail, it should have failed bravely, rather than cravenly.

Few New Zealanders appreciate that the distinction of perfecting preference voting, by successfully computerising the single-transferable-vote system goes to Wellingtonian Stephen Todd, working, initially at least, on his tod. It is a travesty that Wellingtoncentral government has left it to individual councils to implement preference voting, or not—a trick that is currently being used in respect to Easter Sunday trading, whereby an issue is relitigated ad nauseam council by council at great expense, rather than Parliament doing what it is paid for. Aotearoa should, long since, be playing to its strengths—it is, after all, the world’s first fully democratic self-governing country, having enfranchised women in 1893—and be exporting highly refined electoral systems and services, including online, to the rest of the world. Make a bob while helping to safeguard civilisation, and as many species as possible.

Meantime, thanks to the abdication of responsibility by the government, of the 70 local bodies that long since should have dumped first-past-the-post, and of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, voters, unless they want to risk spoiling the chances of their most-preferred candidate, must resist the urge to tick more than one box. This is colossally unfair, and the Mahurangi Magazine wishes no disadvantage on the seven candidates opposing Tessa Berger, particularly those incumbents who have stoutly supported the Mahurangi Action Plan and the Mahurangi Regatta.

But to support Tessa Berger, first-past-the-post dictates: Tick only Tessa.