How MMP works, in case you’ve forgotten

Here’s a quick refresher on how to vote using mixed member proportional (MMP) voting and how your votes are translated into MPs in Parliament.

MMP is a proportional representation system because it is designed to ensure that the votes a party receives reflects the seats it wins in Parliament. With MMP you get two votes (ticks): one tick for your preferred electorate candidate and one tick for the party you want to form the next government.

Both votes are important in different ways. The electorate vote decides who will speak for your electorate in Parliament. The party vote determines the share of seats each political party gets in Parliament. Whether you vote in a general or a Maori electorate, everyone chooses from the same list of parties on the ballot.

If a party wins 35% of the party vote, that party is entitled to 35% of the 120 seats in Parliament. Voters sometimes choose to split their ticket and support two different parties with their candidate and electorate vote.

There are two thresholds that parties have to cross to receive their share of seats in Parliament. These are called the 5% threshold and the one electorate seat threshold. If a party does not win any electorate seats, it must win more than 5% of the party vote to be eligible for a share of seats in Parliament. However, if a party wins one electorate seat, the 5% threshold does not apply and the party is eligible for its share of seats in Parliament even if that has less than 5% of the party vote.

Overall, MMP does a good job of trans

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files

lating votes into seats because it is a proportional representation system; that is what it is designed to do. The two thresholds, however, can distort the proportionality of an election outcome. And that can make voters anxious about how to make sure their party vote is not wasted.

Imagine the following election result. One political party wins one electorate seat and 2.5% of the party vote. It gets three seats in Parliament: the electorate MP and two MPs from the party list. At the same time, another political party wins 4.9% of the party vote (so does not reach the 5% threshold) and does not win an electorate seat. That political party does not receive any seats in Parliament.

This outcome distorts the proportionality of the election result: a party with 4.9% of the party vote does not get any seats in Parliament, while a party that received a smaller share of the party vote does get representation in Parliament. This has happened in past elections, and it has caused debate about the two thresholds. The Electoral Commission recommended changes to the thresholds when it conducted an independent review of MMP in 2012. Parliament, however, has not taken any steps to implement or debate these recommendations.

These thresholds can also be vexing for voters trying to decide how to make sure their party vote is not wasted. Speculation about whether or not parties will reach the 5% threshold can cause voters to focus attention on opinion polls that may or may not be a reliable indication of how political parties will fare at the election.

When thinking about how to cast your party vote, it is also important to remember that this helps to bring MPs into Parliament from the party list. Take time to check the party list (available at to make sure that you want to help elect those MPs, just as you might do in choosing your electorate candidate.

Events this year make it difficult to predict voter turnout for this election. However you choose to use your two ticks, encourage family, friends, whanau, colleagues and others in your community to use their ticks too. Happy voting!







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