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Keith Rankin: The Case For STV In Auckland

The Case For STV In Light Of Auckland's Local Body Election Results

By Keith Rankin
10 October 2004

An analysis of Auckland's election results shows that increased use of STV voting will enhance the city's democracy. On its most substantial test, STV for the District Health Board yielded a markedly more democratic result than would have happened under FPP.

For the DHB, the most important requirement is that the elected members on the Board represent a broad range of electors' interests. This is what happened with three members elected from the centre-right Citizens & Ratepayers Now ticket, three from the centre-left City Vision Health ticket, plus one Independent.

It is clear from the provisional results that, under the former FPP system, at least six and probably all seven DHB members would have come from the conservative faction. That is, under FPP the dominant minority faction (representing 41% of the votes cast) would have completely shut out the less dominant minority faction.

STV critics will no doubt point out that the three successful Citizens & Ratepayers Now candidates all had names beginning with letters from A to C. Conservative voters (but not City Vision voters) clearly tended to number their favoured ticket in alphabetical order (an example of alphabetism!). Yes, there are a number of ways we can tidy-up STV election ballots in the future to give all candidates on a particular ticket an equitable chance of being elected.

Perhaps more a important indicator of the need for STV was the disastrously skewed Community Board results. Indeed, under FPP we will almost always get highly skewed, unrepresentative results on these Boards. Auckland City has nine Community Boards.

Five of these boards - Western Bays, Tamaki, Maungakiekie, Great Barrier, Eden-Albert – all returned a clean sweep for one ticket. This is the local equivalent of a parliament without Opposition MPs. Roskill and Avondale have just one lonely member to represent the many voters who did not vote for the winning ticket.

These Boards are totally unrepresentative of the diversity in the communities that they serve. In my own area (Eden-Albert), Citizens & Ratepayers Now, with 40% of the vote gained precisely 0% of the seats on the Board. If we do not adopt STV voting for Community Boards, we may as well abolish them.

In the City Council elections, the fact that many of the candidates are better known, and the ward system prevent one ticket from monopolising the seats. Nevertheless, the FPP system magnifies the swing. For Auckland City Council, the swing is to the left this year; in 2001 it was to the right. In 2007 it will almost certainly be back to the right.

These magnified swings do generate instability, creating casualties like Councillor Greg McKeown, who clearly lost because he was on the centre-right ticket and not because of personal unpopularity. (McKeown was even endorsed by Bob Harvey, Waitakere's left-leaning mayor.)

STV would give small majorities within each ward to the most favoured ticket, so long as each ward elects an odd number of councillors (eg 3 or 5 councillors per ward). In a 3-member ward, normally 2 councillors would be from the more successful ticket, and one from the less successful ticket. In a swing election (as this one was), then one of those 3 places would typically switch. Competent sitting councillors would rarely lose their places.

For Mayoral elections, which have just one successful candidate, STV becomes Australian-style preferential voting. In Auckland City, Dick Hubbard was a clear winner, so would have won under any system. However, it is unlikely that John Banks could have ever become Mayor under a preferential vote. He won in 2001 on account of the FPP curse, the split vote.

This time it is Manukau Mayor, Sir Barry Curtis, who has benefited from vote-splitting. On provisional results, Curtis has "won" with just 27% of the vote (compared to the 36% received by the defeated John Banks in Auckland). He owes his survival solely to the vagaries of FPP voting. He is now a "lame-duck" mayor.

The pattern of the popular vote in Auckland, from the mayoralties and regional council down to the community boards, while not anti-motorway in general, is distinctly anti- Eastern motorway.

The electorate seems to be saying: (i) quickly finish SH20 to provide a viable alternative access route to Auckland's north and west; (ii) forget grandiose "triple by-pass" schemes such as the Eastern motorway and a new harbour bridge/tunnel to Auckland's CBD; (iii) build on the existing rail and ferry infrastructure to give Auckland at least a "second world" public transport system.

Auckland has voted for change. Extending the STV coverage will ensure that Auckland has the stable yet sensitive democracy that it needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Finally, a note of thanks to Dale Ofsoske for his team's efficiency in conducting the vote count. In Auckland, 95% of all FPP votes were published on the Internet by 1:30pm. And preliminary results for the country's largest STV election – the Auckland District Health Board – were on the net by 10pm, well ahead of most other STV polls throughout the country.


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