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Newman On-Line: The Troublesome Ordeal That Is STV

"Newman Online" Weekly commentary by Dr Muriel Newman MP

Newman On-Line: The Troublesome Ordeal That Is STV

This week, Newman On-Line looks at the debacle created by Labour’s promotion of STV voting for local body and District health Board elections.

It has now been almost two weeks since local body and District Health Board elections were held, yet well over 20 of the results are still not available. In the biggest election debacle in New Zealand history, the Labour Government’s experiment with STV voting has proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

The problem has now been traced to a Government agency software glitch. Datamail, a NZ Post data processing subsidiary, was hired by Christchurch-based Electionz.com to process some 900,000 STV votes for seven councils and 18 DHBs. While the Minister of Local Government has given repeated assurances that the mess will be sorted out soon, it now appears that final results will not be available until the weekend.

Without a doubt, the complex STV voting system takes longer to count and is more expensive. But it is important to remember that other election service providers were able to finalise their STV vote in a timely manner. It is only those districts that have used the Government’s agency that are experiencing problems and delays.

A further, more serious, concern to emerge regarding the STV voting results is the excessive level of spoilt votes.

In Auckland city, for example, less that one percent of the 128,568 First-Past-the-Post votes for the Mayor were spoilt. But under the STV system, of the 127,538 Auckland DHB votes that were cast, 31,229 were spoilt. That is a massive 24 percent.

In Whangarei, around two percent of the FPP mayoralty votes were spoilt, compared to 14 percent of the STV health board votes.

This pattern will undoubtedly be replicated around the country – the simpler FPP voting system results in fewer wasted votes, while the more complex STV system results in more. This outcome puts paid to the much lauded claims that, under STV, “every vote counts”.

The hallmark of any successful voting system is simplicity. The reality is that STV is not only far too complex but, in abolishing ward or area representation, favours minority groups, giving them an influence that can be out of all proportion to their size.

That is the reason, of course, that the Green Party has always been such a strong advocate of STV – it increases their chance of winning seats. It has been reported that this is also the reason that Labour imposed STV for health board elections – as a payback for Green Party political support.

For the record, STV was one of the options offered to voters at the 1993 referendum that delivered MMP. Despite 82.6 percent of voters rejecting STV, the Labour Government has pushed it onto us anyway.

The Minister of Local Government has been quick to criticise the low voter returns – just 44.8 percent of voters sent in their postal ballot – and his response to date has been simplistic.

It is clear from the voting statistics that a number of factors determine voting turnout: in areas where there have been no hot issues, lifeless contests, a listless media, and a relatively low level of home ownership, voter turnout is likely to be low.

Government calls for compulsory voting don’t hold water, and should be seen for what they really are – a thinly veiled disguise to increase the votes of the Left, since homeowners are less likely to vote for Labour than tenants.

Similarly, calls to replace postal voting with the election-day ballot box are senseless. The Government should accept responsibility for making the vote so confusing that many voters undoubtedly gave up in disgust. In some areas, up to five different ballots were contained in the one envelope – mayor, council, community board, regional council and health board – using a mix of FPP and STV voting systems. It is little wonder that people gave up – or put their voting papers to one side until they had time to go through it more carefully, only to find that they missed the closing-date.

Any move by the Government to complicate voting – rather than making in more simplistic – would be a step backward. Voting must be simple and convenient, or else we will see this debacle played out over and over again.

PS...Recently I have been very concerned over developments with the Charities Bill currently before Parliament, which has led me to set up the website http://www.charitiesbill.co.nz to keep people informed. It includes an on-line petition, please feel free to send this on to anyone affected that you think might be interested.

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