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The city’s single transferable vote voting system increases the number of female councillors, boosts competition, and provides a guarantee the mayor elected has a majority mandate to govern, a Dunedin academic says.
Dunedin city councillors will today vote on whether to change from the single transferable vote (STV) system, used since 2004, to a first past the post (FPP) system; stick with STV; or hold a poll seeking the public’s input.
Janine Hayward, of the University of Otago department of politics, is researching the difference the STV system makes for local elections.
Unable to attend today’s council meeting to speak in the public forum, she supplied councillors and the Otago Daily Times with her research.
STV was usually described as a proportional electoral system because it tended to minimise the number of votes that did not help elect a candidate, Prof Hayward said.
"STV election results are, therefore, likely to better reflect the preferences of large communities of interest and avoid the over-representation of some groups which can occur under FPP."
Those were the qualities STV advocates emphasised when the option was first introduced in 2004.
Underlining today’s discussion is a petition circulating in the city promoted by the First Past the Post Working Group, which is seeking at least 5% of those who were enrolled to vote at the 2019 Dunedin election, or 4674 voters, to demand a vote on the issue.
Chairman Pablo Dennison said he expected the council to "simply" stay with the status quo.
"Dunedin ratepayers and residents ... have voted under single transferable vote for the last six elections and, quite frankly, because many voters are now struggling to comprehend the system we believe it is time to give people a choice as to how they vote every few election cycles."
Prof Hayward said a decline in voter turnout was happening worldwide and the research on which she was collaborating indicated there was little difference in turnout decline between FPP and STV elections in New Zealand.
There was also evidence voters were confident using either system.
"This also makes sense; numeracy rates are extremely high in New Zealand and the only systematic survey of voters using STV found that voters understood the system and felt confident using it."
In 2016, three FPP mayors were elected in New Zealand with under a third of the votes cast.
In 2019 the number increased to six.
The defeat rate for mayors also tended to be slightly higher under STV than FPP and more candidates tended to stand for mayoralty under STV.
In some elections, a STV system could boost women’s representation by up to 10%, she said.
Jack Cowie and Peter Barron will talk on the topic during the council’s public forum today.
Mr Barron, a former member of the Southern District Health Board, which uses the STV system, said he hoped the matter was not taken to a poll.
The council has estimated a poll will cost $220,000.
He believed by-and-large Dunedin residents did not want to change back to a FPP system that was "fundamentally flawed" in all elections except those that were a "two-horse race", he said.
In STV systems, rather than voting for one candidate, voters use their one vote to rank consecutively their preferences, voting for as many, or as few, candidates as they like.