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Government confirms changes to DHB elections

17 December 2003 Media Statement

Government confirms changes to DHB election process

Health Minister Annette King today announced that the Government has approved a new way of electing District Health Board members in 2004, allowing voters to select representatives for the entire board rather than just their local ward under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system.

"The changes from First-Past-the-Post to STV, plus merging current constituencies, give voters more power through more choice and a chance to have greater impact on the makeup of the whole board," says Ms King.

Merging current constituencies will create "at-large" elections, meaning that all voters in a district will be able to vote for all seven elected board members, as opposed to just voting for a limited number of board members as ward representatives which has been the case in the past.

Ms King says DHBs and local government organisations received more than 130 submissions on the issue.

“These submissions have led to changes to the candidate profile statements provided to the public. The Ministry will recommend to electoral officers that candidates be identified on these statements by their place of residence. This allows voters, for example, to rank rural candidates, who they may feel will represent the best interests of rural communities, higher than city candidates.

"Many of the submissions showed a limited understanding about how the STV system will work, but the Ministry, along with other interested parties, will
be running information campaigns in the lead-up to the local authority and DHB elections in October 2004."

This system gives voters more choice and effectively more power to determine the total makeup of the boards and better reflects the regional nature of
health service provision.

Ms King says STV elections held at-large will mean that boards have a better chance of more accurately reflecting the make-up of the wider community and groups within the community.

Frequently Asked Questions

A. District Health Board (DHB) Elections

1. How many board members does a DHB have? Up to 11 members sit on each DHB board. Seven are elected every three years at the time of local body elections, and up to four can be appointed by the Health Minister.

2. Who are elected DHB board members accountable to? The board is accountable to the Minister for achieving the expectations of the Minister and the Government. Elected members are expected to have a clear understanding of issues of importance and views of people in their district as a whole, but they remain directly accountable to the Minister for the DHB’s performance.

3. Can a candidate stand for more than one board? No. They cannot stand for either more than one DHB or more than one constituency within the same DHB.

4. What will the order of candidates be on the voting document? DHBs are able to decide what order candidate names appear on the voting document. Names can be listed alphabetically by surname, in ‘pseudo-random’ order (where names are ‘drawn out of a hat’ and the resulting order is used on every voting document) or in random order (where the order is differenton every voting document).

5. What happens if not enough people stand? If there are fewer candidates than vacancies at the close of nominations, those candidates are deemed to be elected unopposed and an actual election is not necessary. The Minister is entitled to appoint suitable people to the leftover positions, and those people are treated as though they are elected members for the purposes of the laws governing DHB boards.

6. Who acts as the DHB’s electoral officer? DHBs may choose their own electoral officer, but that person must also be electoral officer for one of the territorial authorities (city or district councils) within the DHB’s boundary.

7. When will election results be announced? Under the STV electoral method, a result cannot be calculated until all votes (including special votes) have been received. This is because each vote’s preferences could affect the way that surplus votes are transferred. As a result, results are expected to take slightly longer than usual to announce, but the extra time required is not expected to be substantial.

8. Can candidates unsuccessful at the election still be appointed as board members? Yes. When making appointments to boards, the Minister considers the mix of skills and backgrounds of the elected members to the boards, identifies the gaps, and endeavours to fill these with people known to have the required attributes and backgrounds. Those people may include candidates who stood for election but were not elected to the board.


B. Single Transferable Voting (STV)

1. Why is STV being used? STV is believed to be a fairer method of electing candidates at local body elections. Popular candidates only keep the number of votes they need to be elected, with any surplus votes being shared around the other candidates according to voters’ preferences. STV is also expected to increase Maori and minority group representation on local bodies.

2. How do you vote under STV? Instead of putting a tick beside candidates’ names, voters put a number showing their preference for the candidate. For example, if a voter liked Candidate A best, they would put a ‘1’ beside Candidate A’s name. If the voter liked Candidate B next, they would put a ‘2’ beside Candidate B’s name, and so on.

3. Do voters have to rank all the candidates on the voting document? No. Voters can rank as many candidates as they wish. STV votes will be valid as long as a ‘1’ is clearly marked beside one candidate’s name. Each subsequent preference will count so long as it follows in an unbroken sequence.

4. How are votes counted under STV? Keeping track of voter preferences is quite complicated in STV elections. A computer program is used to track the preferences each candidate receives, and to perform all calculations necessary for a result. This program was developed by the Department of Internal Affairs, has been independently audited and has been certified as producing an accurate result by the Secretary for Local Government.

5. When do voters’ second, third, fourth (and so on) preferences come into play? Voters’ preferences are used in two situations. If a candidate receives more votes than he or she needs to gain a place on the board, the surplus votes are transferred to other candidates in order of preference. Secondly, if no candidate has enough votes to be elected to the board, the lowest placed candidate ‘drops out’ and his or her votes are redistributed to help elect other candidates.

6. How are the surplus votes transferred? Is the way this is done fair? Votes are transferred according to the order of preferences on each voting document. For example, if one candidate has more votes than they need to be elected, then the excess votes are redistributed to voters’ second-most preferred candidates, and so on. Likewise, candidates who have so little support that they are unable to be elected also have their votes transferred, to help other candidates get elected. To ensure that this is done fairly, a ‘keep value’ is assigned to each candidate. The keep value lets the candidate keep the portion of votes they need to be elected, but allows any surplus to be distributed proportionately amongst the other candidates.


C. Constituency Arrangements for DHB Elections

1. What is a constituency? What does ‘at-large’ mean? DHBs are currently divided into constituencies, which work like council ‘wards’ by electing people from specific communities to boards. Under an at-large system, each DHB’s current constituencies would be merged to form district-wide elections. Under this arrangement, all voters would vote for all seven elected board member positions. DHBs and local government representative bodies are currently being consulted on constituency arrangements for DHB elections under STV.

2. What are the benefits of constituencies? Constituencies guarantee that different geographical communities have representation on the board. Residents are more likely to feel that they have their own member on the board, who may be more accessible and willing to advance their concerns at the board table.

3. What are the benefits of at-large structures? Traditionally, Maori and minority groups have been under-represented at local body elections. This is because most constituencies only elect a very small number of members, thus making it difficult for Maori and minority groups to see their candidates elected. By using at-large structures, the threshold of support becomes a lot easier to achieve. This is because all candidates would only require 12.5 percent of the votes, from all the district’s voters, to be elected. Voters also have greater choice and flexibility under an at-large structure. Instead of being required to vote on the basis of geographic communities, voters are able to select the candidates who they think will do the best job as board members, irrespective of where those candidates live. Voters are also likely to have a larger range of candidates to choose from and therefore have a better opportunity to support candidates who are more likely to represent their particular concerns (be they based on gender, ethnicity, locality or any other factor).

4. How much support does a candidate need to be elected under the different arrangements? Under STV, candidates must receive a certain level of support before they can be elected to the board. The exact number of votes necessary will differ from region to region and on the number of people who actually vote. If constituencies were maintained, and if only one member was to be elected to a constituency, a candidate would need to receive just over 50 percent of the vote to be elected. If the constituency elected three members to the board, candidates would need just over 25 percent of the vote each to be elected. Under an at-large system in the DHB environment, candidates would need a little over 12.5 percent of the vote, from all of the district’s voters, to be elected.

5. Under at-large structures, what happens if no-one gets enough support to be elected? If no candidate has enough votes to reach the quota, the candidate who has received the lowest number of votes ‘drops out’. That person’s votes are then redistributed, in order of voter preference, to all the other candidates. This in turn helps the remaining candidates get closer to crossing the quota, and the process continues until all vacancies have been filled.

6. Won’t at-large elections mean that far too many people appear on the ballot? It is difficult to predict how many people will stand from election to election. While numbers standing under at-large structures are likely to be larger than under constituencies, voters would have a greater choice in deciding who the best people for the job are.

7. Why can’t some DHBs use at-large structures and others constituencies? It is important that all DHBs are on an equal governance footing, especially with the introduction of a new electoral system. To that end, it is preferable to have the same electoral arrangements apply to all DHBs. Although recognising that each DHB has different features, it is felt that principles of collective responsibility, and a district-wide focus on service delivery to meet health needs, require a nationally consistent approach on this issue.

8. Under at-large structures, would individuals need to be really well known everywhere in the district to get elected? No. The way STV works, candidates only need to cross the quota of votes required to be elected. Under at-large structures, candidates are free to determine the best way to do this, whether it be by targeting a specific group or community of voters, by working towards a high profile across the district, or by using region-wide community structures to promote candidates.

9. Will it be more expensive to run an election campaign in an at-large environment? As campaign spending limits are based on an electoral area’s population, candidates would generally be entitled to spend more under an at-large structure than they would if they stood in a smaller constituency. However, the amount a candidate is willing to spend on any election campaign is a matter for the candidate alone. Candidates are also able to use organisations and groups with regional profiles, such as iwi/hapu groups, Country Women’s Institutes, and so on, to raise their profiles across the district if they so desire.

10. Under an at-large structure, wouldn’t board members from larger towns or cities end up controlling the board? No. STV is a proportional voting system and is therefore more likely to deliver an election result proportionate to the district’s voting interests. Communities are not necessarily ‘shut out’ solely by virtue of removing guaranteed geographical representation on boards. For example, if one area represents 25 percent of voters, that area has the potential to deliver two members to the board (given that under at-large structures in the DHB environment, each candidate would need 12.5 percent support to be elected). In many DHBs, urban voters currently choose several board members while rural voters only get to select one or two. Under at-large structures, voters from rural areas get a greater say in electing all of the board’s members. At-large arrangements allow all votes to have an equal influence in determining the final makeup of the board. In addition, boards also have the ability to create their own specifically community-based committees, or appoint different community representatives to existing committees. The Minister is also able to ensure a good balance of community representation through the Ministerial appointments process.

11. Why change the voting system? A move to at-large structures would be more likely to realise the anticipated benefits of STV than if present constituency arrangements remain in place. The benefits of moving to an at-large environment include potential for improved Maori and minority group representation on boards, potential for greater choice and flexibility for voters, encouraging an environment of collective responsibility at the board table, and equalizing levels of representation across each district.

12. What does ‘at-large’ mean? Under an at-large structure, each DHB’s current constituencies would be merged to create one district-wide constituency. Through at-large structures under STV, DHB voters would be able to influence the final composition of the board a great deal more than under current arrangements, because their votes would contribute to electing all seven elected board members, not just one or two as in the majority of current constituencies.

13. What is the potential for improving Maori and minority group representation? The effect of constituencies on Maori and minority group representation was seen at the 2001 DHB elections. Only a very small number of Maori candidates were elected (even though close to 130 stood as candidates) and no candidates who described themselves as being of Pacific or Asian origins were elected to boards. If STV elections were held under current constituency arrangements, the low levels of elected Maori and minority representation on DHB boards would probably continue. This is because in a one-member constituency a candidate would require just over 50 percent of the votes to cross the STV quota and be elected. In a two-member constituency a candidate would need to get just over one-third of the votes in order to be elected. In 2001, constituencies effectively divided Maori and minority groups in many DHBs. These groups did not have sufficient ‘voter mass’ to achieve the higher numbers of votes typically required under FPP, which saw their candidates go unelected in many cases.

ENDS

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