Why DCC elections are in an exclusive club

Janine Hayward.
Janine Hayward.
The poll for the Dunedin City Council is among the fairest local elections in New Zealand, writes Associate Prof Janine Hayward.

As we cast our votes in the Otago local government elections, we should do so with a particular sense of pride.

No electoral system is perfect, but two features of the Otago elections this year make them, in democratic terms, among the fairest local elections in New Zealand.

First, with the exception of the Otago Regional Council, the Dunedin-based elections once again use STV - the single transferable vote.

The Dunedin City Council is one of only seven local authorities to use STV in 2013; all others will use first-past-the-post (FPP).

STV is called a ''proportional'' electoral system because it is designed to ensure the results of an STV election reflect the wishes of the broad community of voters.

So, as a voter in an STV election, you can be confident that your vote stands a very good chance of helping to elect a candidate you like.

For example, in the Dunedin Central ward, where eleven councillors will be elected, almost 92% (or 11 out of 12) of the votes cast will help to elect a candidate.

As a proportional voting system, STV also increases the chances that the councils and boards we elect will reflect the diversity in our communities (assuming that the candidates themselves are diverse).

We also know that STV elections in New Zealand have tended to have higher voter turnout than FPP elections, and that STV elections encourage a wider range of people to consider standing for councils and boards.

This is also good for our democracy; the more people turn out to vote in local elections, the more confident we can be that our representatives have a mandate to act on our behalf.

A second aspect that distinguishes Dunedin City Council elections from those in other local democracies this year is the decision to use random name order on our voting papers, including the Otago Regional Council's FPP voting paper.

This means that the order of the names on your voting paper will not be the same as the order of names on anyone else's voting paper.

This is also important in terms of fairness, because there is international evidence that the names that appear at the top of the voting paper are advantaged when all the papers look the same.

A very small percentage of voters, whether they mean to or not, tend to vote for the first names on the list.

The advantage this gives to those at the top of the list is sometimes very small, and sometimes more significant.

So random name order ensures that our elections are also fairer for the candidates, who can be confident that no candidates in the election have gained any advantage by their name always appearing at the top of the voting paper.

If some voters in our election, even inadvertently, vote for the names at the top of the list, this advantage will be shared by all the candidates on our random-name-order voting papers.

This combination of STV and random name order puts Dunedin in an exclusive club for this year's local government elections; of the six other local authorities using STV only a few of these are also using random name order.

No doubt, other local authorities will eventually also introduce these changes to their elections, but in the meantime, we should celebrate our pioneering spirit and get out and vote.

• Dr Hayward is an associate professor in the politics department at the University of Otago.

 

 


STV (single transferable vote) - quick refresher

 

To vote using STV, put a ''1'' next to the person you most want to see elected. Then rank the other candidates you like in the order you prefer them, sequentially: 1, then 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. Don't leave any numbers out of your sequence and don't repeat any numbers in your sequence. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you wish. You do not need to rank all the candidates.

The secret to understanding how STV works is to remember what it stands for - the single transferable vote.

Under STV you get a single vote in each election, even when you are voting in a multi-member constituency like the Dunedin Central Ward. But that single vote can be transferred when the votes are counted, according to the ranking you provide on your voting paper. By ranking candidates in your preferred order - 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on - you are saying which other candidates you prefer if your number ''1'' choice does not have enough support to be elected or, if your number choice does not need all the votes they received to be elected. This reduces the chances that your single vote will be wasted and increases the chances your single vote will help to elect a candidate you like.

For more information about STV and how it works, see http://www.stv.govt.nz/stv/voting.htm


 

 

As we cast our votes in the Otago local government elections, we should do so with a particular sense of pride.

No electoral system is perfect, but two features of the Otago elections this year make them, in democratic terms, among the fairest local elections in New Zealand.

First, with the exception of the Otago Regional Council, the Dunedin-based elections once again use STV - the single transferable vote.

The Dunedin City Council is one of only seven local authorities to use STV in 2013; all others will use first-past-the-post (FPP).

STV is called a ''proportional'' electoral system because it is designed to ensure the results of an STV election reflect the wishes of the broad community of voters.

So, as a voter in an STV election, you can be confident that your vote stands a very good chance of helping to elect a candidate you like.

For example, in the Dunedin Central ward, where eleven councillors will be elected, almost 92% (or 11 out of 12) of the votes cast will help to elect a candidate.

As a proportional voting system, STV also increases the chances that the councils and boards we elect will reflect the diversity in our communities (assuming that the candidates themselves are diverse).

We also know that STV elections in New Zealand have tended to have higher voter turnout than FPP elections, and that STV elections encourage a wider range of people to consider standing for councils and boards.

This is also good for our democracy; the more people turn out to vote in local elections, the more confident we can be that our representatives have a mandate to act on our behalf.

A second aspect that distinguishes Dunedin City Council elections from those in other local democracies this year is the decision to use random name order on our voting papers, including the Otago Regional Council's FPP voting paper.

This means that the order of the names on your voting paper will not be the same as the order of names on anyone else's voting paper.

This is also important in terms of fairness, because there is international evidence that the names that appear at the top of the voting paper are advantaged when all the papers look the same.

A very small percentage of voters, whether they mean to or not, tend to vote for the first names on the list.

The advantage this gives to those at the top of the list is sometimes very small, and sometimes more significant.

So random name order ensures that our elections are also fairer for the candidates, who can be confident that no candidates in the election have gained any advantage by their name always appearing at the top of the voting paper.

If some voters in our election, even inadvertently, vote for the names at the top of the list, this advantage will be shared by all the candidates on our random-name-order voting papers.

This combination of STV and random name order puts Dunedin in an exclusive club for this year's local government elections; of the six other local authorities using STV only a few of these are also using random name order.

No doubt, other local authorities will eventually also introduce these changes to their elections, but in the meantime, we should celebrate our pioneering spirit and get out and vote.

• Dr Hayward is an associate professor in the politics department at the University of Otago.

 

 


STV (single transferable vote) - quick refresher

 

To vote using STV, put a ''1'' next to the person you most want to see elected. Then rank the other candidates you like in the order you prefer them, sequentially: 1, then 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. Don't leave any numbers out of your sequence and don't repeat any numbers in your sequence. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you wish. You do not need to rank all the candidates.

The secret to understanding how STV works is to remember what it stands for - the single transferable vote.

Under STV you get a single vote in each election, even when you are voting in a multi-member constituency like the Dunedin Central Ward. But that single vote can be transferred when the votes are counted, according to the ranking you provide on your voting paper. By ranking candidates in your preferred order - 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on - you are saying which other candidates you prefer if your number ''1'' choice does not have enough support to be elected or, if your number choice does not need all the votes they received to be elected. This reduces the chances that your single vote will be wasted and increases the chances your single vote will help to elect a candidate you like.

For more information about STV and how it works, see http://www.stv.govt.nz/stv/voting.htm


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