Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


Council elections: FPP Q&A

After my (re-)post about ensuring your vote counts under the single transferable vote voting systems, I had the concern that people might think I was telling them how they should vote. My post was not intended to tell people what strategy they should use when voting (I'll be ranking everyone because I see no downside to it in this election, but there are perfectly good reasons not to).

I don't get to decide what is important for you when you vote. That's on you.

I do not accept that there are wasted votes. I do not believe that people who vote for the Green Party candidate in a marginal race are to blame if a Labour candidate loses. I do not believe that a party vote for the Maori Party is wasted despite the fact they are unlikely to get a list MP. And I don't believe that a vote for a minor party with no hope of reaching 5% or winning an electorate is wasted either. I would like people to vote with the knowledge that these are the consequences of their vote, but if they weigh them up and vote that way anyway, well, that's democracy in action.

Yes, if Peter Dunne hadn't been elected in Ohariu in 2011, National wouldn't have had the numbers to partially privatise state assets. But I also have no doubt that the vast majority of people who voted for Green Part candidate Gareth Hughes in that electorate did so knowing that if Peter Dunne won the electorate, he'd back National, and that they were perfectly happy that they could have used their vote differently to make that less likely. Although I cannot really imagine what the 20 Ohariu voters who gave United Future their party vote, but Charles Chauvel their candidate vote, were hoping for, they certainly don't owe me an explanation.

You do not have an obligation to vote tactically. For your own reasons, you can choose to vote in whatever way you want. In an STV election, you do not have vote for everyone, and I will fault no-one who chooses to rank only some candidates and who because of this doesn't help decide an election that comes down to two people they have left unranked.

My post on STV was aimed at ensuring that people know the consequences of their choices. Leaving some people unranked because you simply do not want to rank them is fine, leaving some people unranked because you think that helps the people you have ranked is a mistake (it does not help them in any way).

I think most people understand the basics of STV (vote your favoured candidate with a 1, your next with a 2, etc.), but not everyone is sure how to make the most of their vote (what if there's someone I really don't want to win?), and my post was aimed at providing some of that information.

I live in Wellington. The four races I get to vote in during this local election season will all be conducted under STV, but everyone voting outside Greater Wellington will also be able to vote in First Past the Post elections, and I had the thought today that perhaps, not everyone knows how to make the most of their votes under that system, so the following Q&A follows:


So you’re voting in an FPP election, and you want know how to best use your vote? Well … here goes.

What is FPP?

FPP is First Past the Post. It is an election system where you vote using ticks.  It can be used to elect one candidate – like a mayor – or to elect multiple candidates in a single ward.

What elections use FPP?

All regional council elections except Wellington use FPP. Most council elections use FPP (the councils in the Wellington area, and in Dunedin, Marlborough and Palmerston North use STV). All DHB elections use STV.

How do you vote in an FPP election?

In the form of FPP used in New Zealand local body elections, you vote with ticks. The candidates with the most votes win.

How many votes do I get?

You get one vote for each vacancy. In a mayoral election conducted under FPP, this means you put a tick next to the name of one candidate. In a council ward electing 3 candidates, you can vote for up to three candidates. If your ward election 5 candidates, you get five ticks

Do I have to use all of my votes?

No. Your vote is still valid even if you don't use all of your votes. In a councel ward electing five candidates, you can put ticks next to 1, or 2, or 3, or 4 or 5 of the candidates, and your vote will count.

What are the ways my vote might become invalid in an FPP election?

If you don't vote for anyone, or if you vote for too many people (e.g. two candidates in a mayoral election) your vote can't be counted. I have no idea whether, if you number three candidates 1, 2 and 3 in a council race electing three candidates, whether your vote will count, so don't risk it!

But is it a good idea to use all of my votes in a multi-councillor election?

Maybe. It depends on what is important to you in casting your vote.

There is one candidate I really really want elected in my local council ward, what should I do?

If you want to increase the chances of one candidate against all of the others and are willing to sacrifice the opportunity to help select other councillors, then voting for only that candidate is your best bet.

Unlike STV, where lower rankings only matter once the people you have ranked higher have already been elected, or cannot possibly be elected, every vote under FPP is a positive act that counts toward someone, voting for someone you kind of like as one of your choices can harm the chances of someone you really like.

This also applies if you really like more than one candidate. You can vote just for your favoured candidate, without using all of your 

I don't think my favoured candidate in the mayoral race has much chance, is it worth giving them my vote?

It can be, but be aware that it may mean that another candidate whom you don't like will have a better chance of being elected.

Under STV there is likely to be no consequence to giving your first preference to someone you really like who has little chance, because you will be able to use your later preferences to decide between the "serious" candidates.

However, under FPP, someone can be elected despite being opposed by the majority of voters. If this concerns you, because you fear that someone may be elected because the votes of the people who dislike them will be split among a range of other candidates, you may want to consider voting for your second or third choice, if you think that person has a better chance of being elected. They might not be your first choice, but if you feel that there is someone who would be happy to have as your mayor, and you think they have a better chance of winning, it can be a good idea to vote for them, even if they're not your favoured option.

So what if there’s someone I really really don’t want elected?

Well, first of all, don't vote for them.

If your main motivation in a first past the post election is to ensure that a particular candidate doesn't get in you have to be a little tricky.

Unlike STV, where ranking everyone above them (in any order you choose) makes the "Anyone But ..." strategy easy, under FPP, you have to know a bit about the likely result.

In general elections, this is usually pretty easy. People who support ACT will often choose to vote for a National candidate to make sure a Labour candidate won't be elected, and people who support the Greens may choose a Labour candidate, to give them the best chance of defeating the National candidate. First past the post elections tend to operate this way, moving toward a result where a lot of people vote against their preferred candidates, to ensure something they consider would be bad, won't happen.

It's harder to do this in local elections, because the options aren't as clear cut, but it is possible.

In local elections, if there's someone you really don't want to be elected, the strategy is to cast all of your votes, for other candidates other than the candidate(s) you strongly oppose. In a mayoral election, this means casting a vote for the one candidate who will likely get the most support out of the others. In a multi-member council ward, this means casting the maximum number of votes (e.g 5 in a 5-councillor ward) for candidates you think will be most likely to beat your nemesis, but without voting for any candidate you are confident will be elected anyway.

That sounds complicated!

Who said FPP was easy to understand? It all depends on what is important to you. For most people, voting is probably a simple matter of putting a tick next to the candidates you like (but not too many!), and not caring about the tactics of it all.

Unlike STV, FPP provides a substantial encouragement not to cast a vote for someone you like if you think they have little chance of winning, so as to avoid the prospect of someone you strongly dislike being elected. This srong negativity in FPP, almost requiring tactical voting at the general elections, is one reason I oppose FPP, but you have no obligation to vote tactically if you don't want to. And, personally, I probably wouldn't.

I'm not voting in a first past the post election this time around, but I do at general elections (the electorate races are run under FPP), and I don't think I've ever voted for solely tactical reasons. Then again, I don't think I've ever been confronted with a candidate who had a good chance of winning, but whom I despised. I'd vote tactically in the right circumstances, but I'm not sure they're that likely to arise.

Don’t forget to vote!

Voting is by postal ballot, and papers have now been sent out, so you should have yours by now. If you don't, it's possible you are not enrolled. It is not too late to enrol to vote in the local body elections, and to cast a special vote.

You should enrol to vote. You can do this online. Or you can get an enrolment form from a Post Shop. Or you can call 0800 36 76 56.

If you haven't received your voting papers, and think you need to cast a special vote, contact your local council.

If you want your vote to count, it has to be with your local returning officer by midday on Saturday October 12. If you’re posting them back, try to get them in the post on or before October 9, to make sure there’s enough time. If you’re getting near the date, it might be safer to drop them off in person at the council, or somewhere like a public library. Your council website – and voting papers – should have all the information you need to do this.

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