Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Election '11 - Counterfactual #2

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  • Bren,

    How exactly would open lists work? They sound (in theory) to me to be the best way of "electing the unelected" - however I've never actually read anywhere how they'd actually work - which makes it hard to support. I'm going to write down how it works in my head and if anyone can point out the huge mistakes I've made I would most appreciate it.

    1) Parties come with up with a ranked list like they do now.
    2) When we go into the booth, along with the normal ballot you also get a ballot that includes all of the party lists (ranked in the party's preferred order). You go to whoever received your party vote and rank their candidates. You can rank them all or you can just rank some of them. If you leave it blank then it's assumed that you support that list and it goes in as if you sorted each and every person one to whatever. If you fill any other party lists then it's ignored. Because that is stupid.
    3) Then we just use STV to work out who gets in and gets out. It should surely work the same as multi-member electorates or district health boards right? Say the Greens get 10 seats then out of the sixty-odd people they put on the list, the top ten candidates make it.
    4) Since this will take forever (in relative terms) - the results of open party lists won't be made available until after election night. Possibly when the official results are announced?

    Honestly, I think people will largely just support the default party lists and we won't see much movement from those.

    New Zealand • Since Dec 2011 • 1 posts Report

  • JLM, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Having the general public chose party lists is getting dangerously close to an American style primary system – personally I think that it should be up to the parties to decide how to choose their lists – a party with a system (or a country with a system) that elects 3 potential ministers of Education but no one who can be minister of Finance is probably doing it wrong.


    I remember going to a talk years ago when it was suggested that the public vote for how the health budget was allocated. It sounded appealing until it was pointed out that most of the budget would be spent on minor surgery and virtually nothing on mental health.

    Um, wait a minute...

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 241 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to JLM,

    that does sound strikingly familiar

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Geoff Pritchard, in reply to Bren,

    Open lists sound great in principle, but I've yet to come across a concrete proposal that seems workable.

    Allowing voters to rank their preferred party's list candidates in order has a big problem: most won't bother. (There is a lot of experience to this effect, from preferential-voting systems around the world.) If those non-votes are just ignored, you end up with a party list decided by a tiny minority of the party's voters. If the non-voters are assumed to be acquiescing to the party's preferred list order, then that order is pretty much the one that prevails. Either way, there's no real improvement over closed lists.

    Alternatively, the list order can be based in some way on the electorate vote (e.g. the best-runners-up rule). The problem here is that it's far too easy for the parties to manipulate individual electorates to achieve their desired result. ("Vote for my party, but please, please don't vote for me" - sound familiar?)

    Auckland • Since Jun 2009 • 9 posts Report

  • Angus Robertson,

    An open list might also have a negative effect on turnout.

    Voter turnout falling - make the process more complicated.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    most won't bother

    That's a feature. If you don't care, then you vote for a party and accept their choice of list. You had the option to express and opinion and didn't take it.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Brent Jackson, in reply to Geoff Pritchard,

    Hans Versluys wrote :

    It will do away with the need of an electorate vote as your list nominee gets to be your MP

    No. I think you still need your electorate vote to choose your local MP.

    Heather Gaye wrote :

    I’d feel pretty weird saying I should be able to vote for a specific individual to represent my party preference – after all, that’s partly what the National campaign was based on – that people would ignore politics in favour of a personality. I want to pick a party because I like their policies,...

    Good point. However, about 40% of voters already ignore policy and just vote on personality anyway. I don't think this will make matters worse. Party leaders and celebrities already have a huge advantage with name recognition.

    Sacha wrote :

    Others have pointed out not many voters are likely to be arsed doing that.

    I think this is an advantage. Those who feel strongly about list candidates, and bother to make the effort, get to have a say in the result. If a voter doesn't care enough to bother writing a number instead of a tick, then they obviously don't mind who on the list gets in.

    Tuo Lei wrote :

    A profoundly deaf MP would make a substantial step forward in the political representation of my family and I think that’s a good thing. I am deeply skeptical that this would be possible in a system where she would have to run and do well in a general electorate.

    This is a real advantage of my suggestion. List MPs can take on particular advocacy roles for particular (non-geographical) groups of voters, and those voters can then vote for that list MP.

    Andrew R2 wrote :

    If you don’t like how a party develops its party list or who is on the party list then don’t vote for that party.

    We already have an extremely limited selection of parties to vote for. If you were to not vote for a party because there is someone on their list you didn't want in parliament, I think your list of possible parties to vote for would rapidly approach zero. I think very few people choose their party vote based on the make up of the party lists.

    Paul Campbell wrote :

    AFAIK the parties keep their memberships pretty close, you could probably join them all

    I think most parties require you to not be a member of another party when you join.

    Bren wrote:

    Honestly, I think people will largely just support the default party lists and we won’t see much movement from those.

    I agree. STV for the entire list is impractical. It's a matter of coming up with a way for voters to express their views, that is not drowned out by apathy.

    Geoff Pritchard wrote :

    If those non-votes are just ignored, you end up with a party list decided by a tiny minority of the party’s voters. ... there’s no real improvement over closed lists.

    I'm not sure it'd be a tiny minority, but a minority, yes. There would be some improvement. One of the biggest gains would be the fact that each MP can state that they do have a mandate to represent voters. They haven't just been carried into parliament by their party loyalty placing them high on the list.

    The biggest downside to some form of open list, is that candidates from the same party could spend time and effort trying to get themselves elected instead of working for the good of the party. That is to say, resources are spent on intra-party campaigning that could better be spent on inter-party campaigning.

    Is there some other easy way to have open lists ? The Wikipedia article here makes good reading, and explains where open lists are already used. I quite like the elegance of the way that the arbitrary list works, but in practise I think parties would just fix their list, saying that they know best, and to make it easier for the voters.

    The Wikipedia article does suggest an extra wrinkle though : a quota. A certain count (or percentage) is required for the list preference votes to have an effect. This would stop a "tiny minority" from deciding the list make up. Of course, if the quota is set too high, then the whole operation is pretty much negated, as the party list order will dominate.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 620 posts Report

  • alwyn,

    I suspect that if the "best losers" made up the list MPs we wouldn't have had David Parker as an on/off candidate for the Labour party leadership.
    He certainly wouldn't have made it to Parliament after the election. I think he may even have lost his deposit which isn't very commmon for National or Labour candidates.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2011 • 3 posts Report

  • Kyle Matthews,

    That’s a feature. If you don’t care, then you vote for a party and accept their choice of list. You had the option to express and opinion and didn’t take it.

    My feeling is that not many voters will bother to rank the party list, so it will stay largely the same as it would have otherwise.

    And I don't believe that you should encourage people to engage in democratic processes which don't change reality. Democracy works best when there is feedback, rather than your involvement having no impact at all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell,

    And as I said above voters do already have a way to have a say about who's on a party's list - join the party and vote there (the law does say that lists must be chosen 'democratically' right?)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    where democracy means whatever Brownlee and Joyce think it does.. :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Ian Tinkler,

    Graeme, I really don't like it at all. In some places both main parties put up rubbish candidates with little merit and they both get in (as the lower polling candidate gets a high vote). In other the Greens and another party put up very strong candidate the vote is split 4 ways and only the winner gets in as the other candidates have a proportionally lower vote than their party members elsewhere.

    I personally prefer the regional system of MMP that Scotland and Wales use. Yes it is marginally less proportional however it has the advantage of smaller lists. List small enough that voters could have the time to identify the candidates.

    I looked into this using some rough splits ranging from 4 regions (or 14-16 seats) to many regions of (3-6 seats) the result were similar to the actual results (the main exception was that parties that did not make the 5% threshold and got in by winning a seat did worse). The 2008 election was also closer (mostly because it allowed NZ First to win seats and ACT would have been reduced to 2 or 3)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2010 • 16 posts Report

  • Michael Homer, in reply to Geoff Pritchard,

    Open lists sound great in principle, but I’ve yet to come across a concrete proposal that seems workable.

    I am a fan of the Dutch system - print the whole list, one vote for an individual who can be elected in their own right, and distribute the excess votes down the list for proportionality. If people want to take the list the party chose they can just tick the name at the top and be done, or they can pick someone particular who represents them best. They've used that system for quite a while now and seem to find it workable.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 85 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Michael Homer,

    Thanks for that - it looks like a workable system. I'd note that they use a list-only system - and the Netherlands has four times our population and quite marked regional differences.

    I wonder why we didn't at least get the choice of a pure list system on our ballot paper?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I wonder why we didn’t at least get the choice of a pure list system on our ballot paper?

    The 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral Commission didn't think one was worth of in-depth consideration. And the government this time wanted to use the same systems we were offered in 1992 so that they wouldn't be seen as trying to tilt the table by ruling things out, or bringing new things in.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report

  • Zeke H,

    Interesting issue, but this seems like the worst possible solution.

    Voting for the electorate candidate who is going to come a distant third might be a nice gesture, but has the same effect as abstaining. Most minor party supporters still have a preference between the two main electorate contenders, which is why they use their electorate votes "strategically" (personally I think calling this "strategic" voting is overstating it; “pragmatic” or “effective” voting would be better terms). Given that electorate contests are generally a two-horse race, it makes sense to back whichever of the real contenders you prefer (or dislike the least) rather than your ideal first preference third-place candidate (indicating your true party preference is what the party vote is for).

    Incidentally, I think the approach Kevin Hague took here is pragmatic and entirely appropriate (and not because I am a rabid Labour supporter, but because it is an example of voting sensibly):

    The suggested "best loser" system would change these incentives, and likely mean that areas with strong Green support end up being represented by National MPs, and that any areas with strong ACT or Conservative support end up being represented by Labour MPs (hardly appropriate representation, surely?). The system would also heavily favour minor party candidates running in safe seats (for either of the main parties), where the electorate vote is less important. On that basis, I would strongly oppose such a system, at least in the absence of preferential voting.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2011 • 1 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I feel Banks and Dunne just gave a convincing argument for thresholds, and even for the abolition of electorates.

    21000 / 12000 votes respectively, and they get made Ministers. I wonder if Tau Henare and Maurice Williamson might feel that starting their own micro-parties (again in the first case) might give them a better chance of getting their asses into a ministerial limo.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

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