In the democratic world there are many methods by which we get to obtain the parliamentary representation we desire. The most common of these is casually referred to as First Past the Post (FPP). This is a system by which the simple majority, or the largest minority, get to wield all of the power: fifty-one percent equates with one hundred percent and forty-nine percent equates with zero percent. In a simple binary decision, this is often seen as the only way. For example, shall we go to the movies, yes or no? However, when we want to select a parliament of, say, a hundred members, we have the opportunity to ensure that the make-up of that parliament reflects more accurately the broad array of desires of the people. Mixed Member Proportionate (MMP) is a voting system which takes diversity of opinion into consideration. It works on allocating two votes, one for whomever we would prefer as a regional (electoral) representative and the other for which party we would like to see govern the nation.
The problem with FPP voting is that often parties would get into power with fewer votes than their opponent. It most frequently stems from what is known as the ‘secondary vote’. Imagine that five clubs (A to E) all belong to a federation. Clubs A, B and C all have 100 members, while clubs D and E have 101 members. According to the rules of the federation, “At voting at any Federation meeting, each Club shall have one vote for every 100 members or part thereof.” This means that clubs A, B and C have only one vote, while D and E have two, even though their membership differs by only one person. A motion is put forward, “That in any Club with more than 100 members, those members need only pay 50 percent of their Federation fees.” Needless to say, the first three clubs are all opposed to this: it not only penalises them, it is also morally wrong. In the other two clubs the vote is even split: 50 members each also think that it is morally wrong, but 51 think, ‘To hell with morality, I like paying less money.’ Because 51 beats 50, they get both of the two federation votes. In total, there are between all clubs 400 members who are opposed to the motion and only 102 in favour of it, yet the 102 members hold four of the federation votes and the 400 hold only three of them (300 from the first three clubs and 100 who get nothing, because their vote has been ‘annulled’). The minority (20.3%) wins and the majority (79.7%) loses. To translate this into real-world data, we take, for example, five electorates (A to E), in which Labour has obtained 10,000, 11,000, 12,000, 15,000 and 16,000 votes. In the same electorates National has obtained 11,000, 12,000, 13,000, 11,000 and 13,000 votes. Labour has achieved 64,000 votes (52.9%), while National has 57,000 votes (47.1%), However, National has won three seats, with Labour gaining two. Because the individual votes were absorbed into a secondary number (the accumulation of won or lost seats), the democratic ‘one person, one vote’ ideal has been lost. In the United States, where they use the same ‘secondary vote’ in the form of the Electoral College Vote, it is possible for a person to be voted in as President with as little as seventeen percent of the vote. No democracy exists under such a system, because the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is eliminated the moment that they are accumulated together into a secondary vote.
Thus we find that MMP is better democracy. With MMP every vote counts and contributes to the final make-up of parliament. There are, however, problems, not with MMP itself, but with the way in which we have implemented it here.
A. The first of the problems lies with the fact that often an undesired candidate gets in by splitting the opposition, what we often refer to as “divide and conquer”, and this in fact occurs in all voting formats. If only 40 percent are in favour of candidate A, this means that 60 percent are not, and indeed that 60 percent may be actively opposed to them. But if that opposition is split 35-25, then the disliked candidate gets into power. The transferable vote (TV) eliminates this. By giving every voter, say, three votes of preference, numbered 1, 2 and 3, and supposing that there are, say, six candidates in an electorate, we take the least successful candidate and reallocate their votes according to their second choice. In other words, we are asking, ‘How would you have voted if this had only been a five-horse race?’ We then do the same with the second least favoured candidate, and so on, until we are down to two or until one candidate has more than fifty percent of the votes. In this way, we get to discover not who is the most favoured out of all minorities, but who is essentially the least disapproved.
We vote for about sixty regional electorate representatives. Then, in a second vote, we declare which party we would like to govern. An additional sixty “list” members are used to increase the number of representatives to figures which reflect the proportionate decision of the voting public. In other words, if 45 percent of people want National to govern, then they should have 45 percent of people in parliament. The trouble is that the “list” system has two problems: one is that no list member has to be specifically voted for (each party simply supplies a list of people they would like to fill in the blank positions), and that means that no list member has had to do any campaigning, and the other is that an extra sixty such members is cumbersome. There are solutions which remedy these problems.
B. The excessive numbers. Imagine that there are six major players (A to F) in an electorate. They obtained, respectively, 28, 27, 2, 2, 0 and 1 electorate seats. (The “2” and the “0” might be smaller but still popular parties, while the “1” might be an independent candidate: the “0” obviously got no candidate in power in any electorate.) However, when we asked for the second vote, which party do we want to govern the nation, we got 38, 40, 6, 5.5, 5.5 and 1 percent (with the remaining 4 percent for all other insignificant parties). In this country, we have a threshold of five percent, so the independent F, who got only one percent, keeps their one electoral seat but gains no further members. Since the unadjusted Independent (F) and the minute parties represent five percent of all votes, we are having to adjust the remaining 95 percent. Thus, we first divide the major players by 0.95, giving us 40, 42.1, 6.3, 5.8 and 5.8 percent. We consider the party with the highest number of electoral seats to be the yardstick (this ensures that no one loses any seats): this is A with 28 seats but only 40 percent of the vote. The ratio of 40 to 28 is 0.7. So if we multiply all of the five variable percentages by 0.7, we now get 28, 29, 4, 4 and 4. This means that B, C and D all get two extra members and E gets four members. This further means that in order to change the 60 electoral representatives into a ratio of members which reflects what the nation wants, we require only an additional ten people, rather than the current sixty, saving the country millions of dollars in back-bencher salaries.
C. We then do a second new thing with MMP. How do we go about selecting who will take these additional ‘ten’ places? Currently, no “list” member has to do any work to get into power, and this is wrong on so many levels. If a party deserves, say, two extra members to raise their electoral count to the appropriate seat count, it should go to the most successful loser. If a candidate lost in one electorate, but they lost by only, say, three percent (i.e. they got 97 percent of the winning candidate’s figure), then that displays that they are popular to an extent and they have done the leg-work: they have campaigned, they have knocked door to door, etc., but they were simply not the most popular in the electorate on the day. But they deserve the empty position more than someone who has done no work. Needless to say, the second eligible seat should then go to the second most successful loser.
D. Eliminating the undesirable. In any electorate, an incumbent representative who then loses by a margin of greater than five per cent should not be allowed to take the ‘most successful loser’ option (suggestion C, above). This is because as an incumbent, they have an obligation to do what is best for the electorate before themselves or their party. If they have subsequently been voted out, this means that the electorate is saying, ‘We do not want you in power’. The ‘five percent’ allows for variations on the day, for interferences like the weather or a popular rugby game. This is not a critical suggestion to my thesis: it is merely ‘fine tuning’. It may be ignored, leaving my suggestions A to C intact to be considered on their own.
Every system has its benefits and its flaws. In a country which upholds the process of allowing the smaller voice to be heard, MMP is by far the best choice. Minimise the problems and it will show itself to be universally the wisest option.