Scrap undemocratic thresholds!

New Zealand has voted in a new government, and this outcome would not be altered by variations on the current 5% MMP threshold, but…

The 5% threshold is nothing more than a disgraceful Labour & National gerrymander designed to inhibit the number & size of the minor parties that get elected, and consequently keep the 2 big parties entrenched (alternately) in power. A truly shameful and undemocratic farce. No Right Turn and Graeme Edgeler have both blogged on this already (update: and so has National party activist David Farrar at Kiwiblog and a more rational post by Green party member Ari at g.blog).

Tiddler parties find it relatively easy to get the 500 voters they need signed up as party members, so they can register their party and have it appear on the list of parties (so they can get a share of the party vote). But the hurdle is then enormous to get enough party votes to cross the ‘5%  of the party vote’ threshold to actually get MP’s allocated to their party (roughly 110,000 votes). So ‘conservative Christian’ Kiwi Party and ‘single-issue’ Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party parties register, but with only 11,659 and 7,589 votes respectively, they have no chance of passing the 5% threshold.

There is a backdoor way of avoiding the 5% threshold – get 1 or more electorate MP’s elected, and any amount of party vote your party has is counted. For example, Jim Anderton keeps winning Wigram electorate, so his 0.93% of the party vote is counted (though it is not high enough to get him a second list MP).

But what would the NZ election outcome look like if there was no 5% threshold? Depending on round-off, NZ First would have gained 5 list MP’s, and the Kiwi Party and The Bill & Ben Party would have got 1 list MP each, at the expense of 1 ACT, 2 Labour and 4 National list MP’s. Of course, if the voting public knew they had no threshold, the chances of the ‘joke’ Bill & Ben Party getting that many votes is far lower.

With 120 MP’s (unless there is an overhang, caused by a party winning more electorate seats than their proportion of the party vote would have given them), there is a ‘natural’ threshold of 0.83% of the party vote – every time a party wins 0.83% of the party vote, they get another list MP.

So having no threshold means a party either wins electorate seats or gets chunks of 0.83% of the party vote to get each list MP. This then gets complicated by the problem of what to do with the tiny proportions of party vote that aren’t enough to get that party another list MP. That is, if a party gets 2.7% of the party vote, that entitles them to 3 list MP’s (3 x 0.83% = 2.5%) but leaves 0.2% of the vote ‘wasted’ – not enough to get another MP.

So the Chief Electoral Officer junks the party votes that don’t earn another MP, or don’t give enough votes for a party to get even 1 list MP (assuming that party didn’t win an electorate seat). They then recalculate the party vote share based on this new, slightly smaller ‘pie’ of 120 MP’s, and allocate enough list MP’s to add with each parties electorate MP’s to get their total ‘slice of the pie’.

Removing the threshold altogether does run the risk of ‘extreme’ or ‘joke’ parties winn ing a list MP, but that is democracy – if people vote that party in, they should get the representative of their choice. And the prospect of joke MP’s is lower when people know there is a lower threshold. But even if such ‘extreme’ or ‘joke’ parties get an MP, they would have little impact. Peter Dunne & Jim Anderton have next to no impact on laws, with just 1 MP each.

But a large part of that is because party vote is rounded up or down to make whole list MP’s (instead of 1/4 a list MP, say). Truncating party vote means parties have to actually earn every vote to make up 0.83% of the party vote to get each list MP. Meaning the Kiwi Party, with 0.56% of the party vote would not get any MP’s, instead of having their 0.56% rounded up to 0.83% and get 1 list MP (and have Taito Phillip Field’s NZ Pacific Party – on 0.33% of the party vote – get rounded down to nothing).

Time to junk the 5% threshold – it is undemocratic, totalatarian nonsense. Of course, scrapping the 5% threshold just makes MMP more democratic – there is a whole other debate on why a party-based electoral system like MMP is nowhere near as democratic as it should be… (think MP’s ignoring overwhelming public opinion on issues that they hope will go away before the next election).

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