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On Balance, the Best Voting System for New Zealand Is SM

28 October 2011

On Balance, the Best Voting System for New Zealand Is SM

Maxim Institute releases two papers on the voting system—one that recommends SM as the best system, and one that looks at how MMP could be improved.

“There is no perfect voting system. Deciding which system is best for New Zealand involves making trade-offs among a whole range of criteria—local and interest group representation, legitimacy, accountability and stability of government being just a few of those criteria. After evaluating all the systems on offer at this year’s voting systems referendum, we believe the system that strikes the best balance is SM (Supplementary Member),” says Steve Thomas, Researcher at Maxim Institute. “We also believe that if MMP is kept it could be improved in several ways.”

“There are two broad types of voting systems: majoritarian systems and proportional systems. SM, like MMP, mixes elements of both majoritarian and proportional voting systems. But where MMP is designed to be more proportional, SM is the opposite—it generally produces majoritarian outcomes,” says Thomas. “Mixed systems are a good option for New Zealand, as they allow people to vote for both a candidate and a party to represent them, but we think that SM is the better option.”

“Majoritarian systems sometimes get a bad name, with a perception that proportional systems produce ‘fairer’ outcomes. This argument sounds intuitively right, but it does not actually stack up. Majoritarian systems, like SM, can produce a ‘fair’ outcome because the result is representative of which parties most people voted for in their electorates—it all depends on what is meant by ‘fair.’”

“We also think that SM would be beneficial for representation. There would be 90 electorate MPs if SM were used in New Zealand, so it would be weighted more towards electorate representation than MMP is. We think that electorate representation is important for providing a direct relational connection between parliament and local communities. Parties and list MPs can only provide for this kind of representation indirectly. The 30 list MPs that there would be under SM would still enable various non-geographic communities, such as ethnic, minority and interest groups, to be represented in parliament.”

“Under SM, it would also be more likely that single-party majority governments would form. This would provide for stable government and bring clarity of focus to government policy, as the major parties would not have to make policy concessions to the minor parties in return for their support. The reduced influence of the minor parties would decrease the instances of interest group politics unduly influencing parliament and the government’s agenda. Obviously this has other negative trade-offs but we believe that, on balance, this is the best way to go.”

“Proportional representation is not the only factor that should be considered in choosing a voting system. When all factors, like legitimacy; effectiveness and stability of government; representation; accountability; and the need for opposition and oversight are taken into account, we believe that SM strikes the best balance.”

“We also acknowledge that there are a lot of ways that MMP could be improved to adjust for some of the drawbacks that have been experienced with the system. Our second paper outlines what some of those changes could be, so that voters are aware of what MMP might look like if it is kept and improved.”

The two papers are available here.

ENDS

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