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Keith Rankin On MMP Referendum & Using The Second Vote

MMP Referendum: Using The Second Vote

Analysis - By Keith Rankin

Website www.electionresults.co.nz (run by iPredict) suggests that there is a 10 percent chance that a majority of voters will opt for change in this month's referendum on our voting system. So it's plausible that the result of the second question, about alternative voting systems, will be more than academic.

If half the votes are for MMP, then half the votes for alternative systems will be cast by supporters of MMP. As far as we can tell, opponents of MMP are split between SM and FPP as their preference. But what will supporters of MMP vote for? Their choices will determine which system will run off against MMP if a further referendum is required in 2014 (or as soon as 2012 if an early election is required).

The choice of an alternative system should be based on the outcomes rather than the mechanics of those systems. In this respect, I think the official information has the wrong emphasis.

I understand that MMP supporters like MMP because it is a multi-party proportional system that gives the same effective weight to votes cast in Mangere as to votes cast in traditional marginal electorates such as New Plymouth. And it gives equal weight to votes cast for contending smaller parties as it does to votes cast for National or Labour.

Of the four alternatives available, only one comes close to having these properties of MMP, namely STV. Thus, as an insurance policy, MMP supporters should choose STV as their second preference. If they do, then, in the event of a second referendum, MMP will run off against STV. Proportional representation in New Zealand would be secure.

My guess however, is that most MMP supporters will not vote for STV in the second question. I make this guess out of ignorance however, because I'm not aware of any market research that has posed the question of how MMP supporters will allocate their second vote. Equally astounding, I know of nobody other than myself who has raised the issue of MMP supporters taking out insurance in the form of STV.

One confusing element of the available information is that the SM alternative is presented by some as being much like MMP. While the mechanics of SM are indeed similar, the outcome of SM is much closer to that of the FPP system that was resoundingly defeated in the 1992 indicative referendum. In New Zealand it's unlikely that smaller parties claiming 25 percent of the vote would ever gain more than five percent of the seats under SM. SM, like FPP and PV, is a recipe for two-party politics.

Simon Power set up the sequence of referendums in such a way that it should be almost impossible for proportional representation to be replaced. The referendum itself uses FPP voting which means that, when four choices are on offer, 40 percent support should be enough to win. (Thus the FPP voting method in the referendum actually creates a bias in favour of STV.) If 80 percent of MMP supporters (who favour proportional representation) choose the only other proportional system as their alternative, then STV should prevail over FPP, SM and PV, because of the split in the anti-MMP vote.

MMP is most likely to prevail, however. If it does, the result of the second question will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Keith Rankin is a lecturer at the Dept of Accounting and Finance, Faculty of Creative Industries and Business, Unitec.

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