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Submitted on 23/05/2012 - 7:55pm relating to the issues Basis for eligibility for list seats (thresholds), By-election candidates, Dual Candidacy, Order of candidates on the list, Proportion of electorate seats to list seats
Should the 5% threshold be kept or changed? Why? If you recommend change, what should it be and why?:
The threshold should be lowered. I consider it a democratic principle that votes should never be discounted unless absolutely necessary, and I believe that the 5% threshold breaks that principle - thousands of votes are, in effect, torn up for little good purpose. Personally, I believe that a threshold is unnecessary, and our experience to date is supportive of this: there have been parties with one, two, or three seats in Parliament, and no serious problems have arisen from them. In fact, our most disruptive experiences under MMP came from parties which cleared the 5% threshold. However, I accept that many people will support the retention of some manner of threshold. In this case, the question becomes: how low can the threshold be set without defeating the point of having it? I do not see any benefits provided by a 5% threshold that would not be provided just as well by a 4% threshold, or even a 2% threshold. I believe that the current threshold could be halved without undermining the rationale for its existence, but with significant benefits for the proportionality and representativeness of parliament.
Should the one electorate seat threshold be kept or changed? Why? If you recommend change, what should it be and why?:
While the rationale for the electorate seat threshold is valid, it has had the unintended side-effect of giving certain electorates greater influence over an election's results than other electorates, which is unfair. Simply abolishing it, however, would result in parliament becoming less proportional, since it would shut off one of the two routes by which parties may collect their fare share of seats (as earned at the ballot box). I would consider such a decrease in proportionality to be contrary to the principles endorsed by voters when they opted to retain MMP. As such, I would only advocate abolition of the electorate seat threshold if it were undertaken alongside a reduction in the 5% threshold.
Should list MPs continue to be able to stand as candidates in by-elections? If so, why?:
List MPs should be eligible to stand as candidates in by-elections because it increases the number and quality of candidates participating, which results in more (and more meaningful) choice for voters.
Should dual candidacy be kept? If so, why?:
Dual candidacy should be kept because it it increases the number and quality of candidates participating in electorate races, which results in more (and more meaningful) choice for voters. Abolishing dual candidacy would not, as some contend, result in candidates being forced to "face the electorate" - it would simply result in at-risk candidates (including virtually all high quality minor party candidates) not contesting electorates at all, retreating to the safety of the list. Even if a candidate has little chance of winning an electorate and/or is safe on the list anyway, their presence on the ballot gives voters a choice that they would not have if the candidate was list-only.
In an election, should voters be able to alter the order of candidates from the list order decided by political parties?:
It would be ideal if voters could influence (or outright determine) the order of candidates on the party list. Among other things, it would help address the perception that list MPs are beholden to parties and not voters. The main problem is the complexity of any implementation - any complicated system would be subject to complaints, especially if using it were mandatory.
If you recommend change, how should this be done?:
I believe that, ideally, voters should be able to choose between 1) accepting a list drawn up by the party they are voting for; or 2) directing their support to specific candidates on the list. The final list would be an amalgam of the party's list and voters' modifications, weighted according to the number of people who have chosen each option. Ballot papers listing all candidates would likely be problematic, so asking voters to write a name or number (as often done overseas) might be the best way to make this work.
Is this a problem, and what should be done to fix it?:
While probably not urgent, steps should be taken to ensure that there will always be enough list seats for MMP to work (since allowing MMP to break would be a de facto rejection of the referendum result). Ideally, the ratio of electorate seats to list seats should be fixed, even if this requires removing the South Island quota.