Again, two horses in voting race

We must live in one of the most open and functional democracies in the world — why else would people want to ditch a system that should make councils more representative?

This is happening in Dunedin, where a group of politically engaged and civic-minded people wants the city council to dump its proportional representation system.

They say the Single Transferable Vote system is confusing and has done little to nothing to arrest the trend away from voting in local elections.

The clue to the First Past the Post Working Group’s aim is in its title. It wants the council to return to a plurality voting system some say served voters well in the past.

City voters must delve into the past to understand how well FPP voting translated their vote into seats in the council chamber. The last FPP election was in 2001, outside the lifetime of those eligible to vote for the first time at the next election. It re-elected Mayor Sukhi Turner, who provided the 4000th signature on the petition that sent STV to a referendum.

At the time, and many times since, STV has been lauded as a majoritarian system that more effectively translates votes into who actually gets elected. It is argued the single-vote ranking system ensures the winning mayor has a majority, and that it can increase diversity when diverse candidates stand for election.

It is also claimed STV can help increase voter turnout insofar as the ranking system is thought to encourage voters to believe their vote will make a difference.

The last point is among those challenged by those who want a return to FPP and, on the face of it, it is hard to say STV provided the silver bullet answer to poor voter turnout. The last time more than half of eligible voters voted in the city council elections was in 2010. Since the slump to 43.1% in 2013, the vote grew to 45.6% in 2019.

This is nothing to crow about. Something is wrong when so few of the people who pay the council’s bills bother voting for the people who keep an eye on how their money is spent.

However, the turnout is better than in Porirua and Wellington, which use STV. It is also better than every city council area, except Nelson, that uses FPP.

The national average metropolitan turnout was a truly awful 38.2% in 2019, down from 39.3% in 2016. Dunedin’s turnout grew 0.4 percentage points.

University of Otago academic Janine Hayward says turnout decline is happening worldwide and there is little difference in decline between FPP and STV elections in New Zealand.

But the Dunedin working group says the numbers should to be better in a city whose people have been traditionally better engaged in local politics than their other, big city counterparts.

Chairman Pablo Dennison reckons it is time to offer a choice ‘‘because many voters are now struggling to comprehend the system’’. But as the group’s referendum petition circulates the city, we must also ask why many voters are now, apparently, struggling to comprehend a system that has been in place for so long.

What has happened since 2010, when turnout was 53%? Has STV led to a slow creep from voting, or do consistently low metropolitan voting averages nationally suggest more, deeply rooted issues are at play? Youth voting trends, the use of postal rather than online voting, the need for more diversity, disengagement from key issues and even not knowing anything about local government have all been promoted as obstacles to improving voter turnout over successive election cycles. Tellingly, they continue to be pitched today.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins last week acknowledged it was the group’s right to seek a poll on how the council is elected, and said he did not want the cost of running a poll — estimated at $220,000 — to be used as a reason to oppose it.

He said you cannot put a price on democracy. This is true, but the petition should prompt discussion as to whether the council has put a sufficient price on ensuring the system works.

Education, more and better community dialogue and visibility, proactive advertising — who knows what the answers are, given they have not been found over the past decade. But, perhaps the $220,000 would be best spent improving the odds that people will vote, before turning the future of the entire voting system into a two-horse — first-past-the-post — race.



View all

There is no reason to vote using the STV. It allows 1 vote to be used over and over. The people never agreed to STV yet that's what we are stuck with. I fully understand how STV works. It turns an election into a lottery and dilutes democracy by disinfranchizing voters who value the quality of their vote. The last election allowed voters to waste their votes on non viable candidates. Hawkins won on the 13 reiterate of vote allocation? My vote for Vandervis was used once while others votes were reused 13 times. That's not democracy. STV disanfranchized voters like myself and made our votes less valuable. STV allows voters to waste their votes on the lunitic fringe because worse case scenario the vote goes to Hawkins before Vandervis. I'm not wasting my time voting in Dunedin. The system is rigged and the city is in terrible hands. I'd rather see the city crash and burn than vote for anybody currently on the DCC back in again. It's all a big joke! None of the councillors or the mayor are qualify for the jobs they hold. STV ensures the least qualified will remain in office. Changes like this are designed to screw the people. Better candidates are the solution not STV.

And there you have it, the people can see through this for what it is, that's why there is a call for change, why then is the so called "independent voice of the south" so much in support of these fools, that are in council?

STV seems like live gerrymandering. We end up with minorities controlling our society, neutralising the popular vote, sewing discord. Turning people away from politics. We have opened ourselves up to blatant political corruption. It should be scrapped as a mistake.

The fact that the council voted to keep STV confirms to me it is a fatally flawed system. The make-up of the DCC proves it.

STV is a total con. It produces unrepresentative councils that don't represent the majority decision. So, we get a mayor that most don't want and look at the damage that is doing.

The back FPP crowd are just wanting their choice Lee Vandervis to be the mayor. I don't think the outcome would be any different. If you look at the first round of iterations for STV, only 22% of the people who voted in Dunedin wanted Lee as the mayor. Therefore 78% of the people didn't. I would doubt the result would be much different under FPP, as people would have voted for Aaron as the "lesser of two evils". All STV does is allow the remote possibility that we may elect someone more people can tolerate. To Red Pill, your vote counted 13 times... Its just that it was always for Lee. Likewise those who voted for Aaron in the first round had the same position. As candidates drop out, it is the only time that any transfer of vote occurs to ensure no wastage.

Those who want FPP, even if they get it will not get what they are really seeking anyway...

How many people voted for Aaron in the first round then my friend? im picking less and look who we got? long winded and playing with stats, a child would see through your argument.

The majority of the population don't want a person representing them who has a tendency to upset people. FPP would have been the same result. Time for the doom and gloom crew to move on and get on with life.

The Vandervis cheerleaders are still going on about loosing and will be doing the same after the next election. Same same, business as usual, at least it gives them something to do.

They have STV in Australian national elections.

This is how the Aussies end up with fringe groups like motorist clubs, meditation societies and suchlike holding the balance of power in their Senate.

'Nuff said.

View all

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter