Thursday, November 24, 2011

STV is a distant second choice

The final MMP alternative Kiwi voters will be offered on Saturday is Single Transferable Vote, or STV (the official video is above). It’s the only one of the alternatives that’s a proportional system, but it’s vastly inferior to MMP. It’s also inarguably the most complicated of all the systems, and difficult for most voters to fully understand.

Like Preferential Voting (PV), STV has voters rank candidates, but there are a lot more to contend with than in any of the other systems. Rather than having many single-member electorates, STV has fewer electorates, each of which would have between 3 and 7 MPs.

Voters would rank individual candidates in their order of preference, like in PV, and could choose them from among many parties. Or, they could vote for the ranking chosen (and published in advance) by their party. In Australian Senate elections, they call this voting “above-the-line”.

To be elected, a candidate needs to win a certain minimum number of votes, but unlike PV, this won’t be a majority. The threshold is called the “Drood quota” and is determined by taking the number of voters in the electorate and dividing that by the number of seats plus one. One is then added to the result and that number is the quota.

So, for example, take an imaginary electorate with 100 votes and three candidates. It would be 100 divided by 3+1 (four), which is 25. Add one to that, and the quota is 26—the number of votes a candidate must win to be elected. Eyes glazed over yet? Any candidate who had 26 votes as first preference would be elected. If not, or if there are more candidates to elect, they eliminate the lowest polling candidate and that candidate’s votes are redistributed to the candidate ranked second by each voter of the removed candidate. This continues until all the available seats are filled by candidates who reach the quota.

I did say it was complicated!

In places where STV is used, the number of seats a party ultimately wins in Parliament are usually similar to their share of first preference votes, that is, the people who rank them number one, which is why this is a proportional system. However, this is not guaranteed, and it tends to encourage dominance by the larger parties, which is also a weakness of PV. Also, it’s not necessary for any candidate to have majority support, or even for them to be anywhere near majority support.

In its favour, the multi-member electorates means specific geographic regions have several advocates, which can be good for regional representation. However, under our version of MMP, parties usually try and balance their party lists not just geographically, but also including many other factors. So, MMP party caucuses end up more representative of the country as a whole, and in far more ways than by geography alone. People who value regional representation more highly than representativeness overall would prefer STV. Those who want a Parliament that looks like the people who elected it would prefer MMP.

I truly believe that the greatest drawback to STV is its complexity. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and I only now understand how it works, after studying it intensely as I considered my vote in the referendum. Because of my educational background, I’m probably more inclined to want to study the system and to have the patience to learn how it works. If after 15 years many Kiwi voters still claim that they still don’t know how the much simpler MMP works, how likely is it that they’ll understand STV?

For me, the best system is one that’s democratic, proportional, representative, fair and easy to use and understand. MMP ticks all those boxes, STV only a few. So if, under pain of death, I was forced to choose an alternative to MMP, it would be STV, but it such a distant second choice as to not really be a choice at all.

I’m voting to Keep MMP.

For official information on the referendum, go to www.referendum.org.nz
For information from the campaign to Keep MMP, go to www.keepmmp.org.nz

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

My stars! I'm a poli sci major too, but that's so convoluted it'd never be able to explain it. And it'd never work in the US, where multiple officers for a seat only happen at the local level, certainly not for Congress or most (or all) state legislatures.