MMP to be reviewed in NZ–if it gets a majority

New Zealand’s Electoral Referendum Bill now calls for a review of the current Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system, if it wins a majority at the referendum next year, NZ Herald reports.

If a majority vote to change MMP, the current system would be pitted against the most popular of various alternatives that will also be on the ballot at the referendum.

Labour and the Greens have pledged to fight to have MMP reviewed regardless of the referendum result, which would mean that a referendum in 2014 would pit a potentially improved MMP – rather than the present system – against an alternative.

Of course, Labour and Greens are the opposition parties, so apparently they are going to lose that battle.

Topics of review, should MMP be retained, would include the threshold. Currently it is 5% of the party-list vote or one district win. In the last election, the New Zealand First party won 4.1% of the list votes but no seats, while the Act Party won 3.7% of the list votes and 5 seats, thanks to winning in the district of Epsom.

Also to be reviewed would be the question of whether a member who is defeated in a district race should be able to win via the party list, as is currently the case–not only in NZ, but in almost all mixed-member systems. (This is an issue we have discussed at F&V before; I argue that allowing such dual candidacy is a logically necessary feature of the system, but there are ways to make it less troublesome for those who find it to be a problem.)

I have to correct the NZ Herald a bit. It notes that one of the alternative systems to be considered is a “Supplementary Member” system, which would have a 90/30 split of members elected from the two tiers: districts with first-past-the-post and PR via party lists. “This would be less proportional than MMP, which has a 70/50 split,” the article says. Indeed, but the more fundamental reason for reduced proportionality is that the list seats would not be compensatory, as they are in MMP. The Supplementary Member is MMM, or mixed-member majoritarian (also known as a “parallel” system), which is less proportional–far less–then MMP, even for a constant ratio of plurality and PR seats.

The article also notes that there will be campaign spending limits on the referendum.

ADDENDUM: Wilf notes in a comment an important detail left out by the Herald. The review will include a consideration of open (or perhaps ‘flexible’) lists. That’s a pretty big change to result potentially from a “YES” vote on the current system!

43 thoughts on “MMP to be reviewed in NZ–if it gets a majority

  1. Did you find this via Facebook, too?

    (And thanks for answering my question about the “supplementary system”–I was a bit baffled by that nomenclature).

  2. If devising a list-PR system, I would raise the threshold higher (to about 10%) but at the same time make it more lenient.

    That is, rather than simply discarding a votes for a list below the threshold, these would be counted but reduced in weight – by squaring the number of these votes, and then dividing them by the threshold (in absolute votes).

    Simply put, a party with 9,000,000 actual votes out of 100,000,000 cast would be treated as if it had polled 8,100,000 votes. A party with 6,000,000 votes would be deemed to have polled 3,600,000; a party with 4,000,000 would be treated as polling 1,600,000; and a party with 1,000,000 would be treated as if it had polled 100,000 (and thus unlikely to win any seats).

    Parties over 10% would have their votes counted at full value.

    Of course, reducing an actual 6% of the votes to a deemed 3.6% would probably win more than 3.6% of the seats, because (assuming that’s the only under-10% list) it would have 36/964 of the final votes (closer to 3.73%). But there would still be some reduction.

    A sliding-scale threshold seems to me preferable to an absolute (votes in the bin) threshold that is either absolute or subject to variations in local district contests. (Parties would keep seats won in districts but these would not entitle them to waive the threshold as in Germany and NZ).

    Incidentally, since both the Scottish and the New Zealand Parliaments use MMP with by-elections to fill vacancies in the district seats (unlike the original Bundestag model), can we label this the “Dunedin version” of MMP?

  3. Credit where credit is due. I should have mentioned that I saw the link to the NZH article on Facebook, where I am a “friend” of MMP.

  4. Of course, Labour and Greens are the opposition parties, so apparently they are going to lose that battle.

    Except 1) I’m fairly sure that there is nothing in the coalition agreements that would prevent the ACT or Maori parties voting against National on this point (although Maori’s is one reason why the Maori Seats aren’t part of the review) 2) there will be an election in 2011, so it is possible they will win the war (or campaign?).

    I like ‘Dunedin version’! There was a by-election this week, by chance.

    Also reported back last week was The Electoral (Finance and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill.

  5. The Herald article omits one point: the bill states that the matters that the Electoral Commission must review will include “a party’s ability to determine the order of candidates on its party list and the inability of voters to rank list candidates in order of preference.” That is, open lists.

    The 2001 review found “Survey information shows significant majority support for the principle of open lists, the idea that closed party lists deprive voters of choice has wide currency.” But all parties except the small United Party disregarded public opinion.

  6. I used to be fairly strongly in favor of MMP, but now I prefer STV or even open list PR. I happen to still like the system, but based more on its undeniable success where implemented.

    But my objection is basically aesthetic. MMP involves putting into the legislature not just people who have run for an lost a district election, but people who have not been elected at all in any meaningful sense. With a list PR system, you might get a multi-member district with about twenty MPs, the voters elect the twenty MPs, they know who is on the list in advance and know that each 4% of the vote or so the list gets bumps another candidate on the list into office. If the list is closed, they know in advance exactly who will get elected with x number of votes for the list, if its open this not the case but a number of the successful candidates will have been directly elected as individuals, even if their party machines have tried to bury them on the list.

    With MMP, the voters elect some people via single member districts. Then the party leaders appoint additional members of the legislature so that each party’s proportion of seats in the legislature matches its proportion of the vote. So the more votes a party gets, the more seats it gets. But looking at the candidates as individuals, this relationship is broken. Additional votes for a party in the district races will hurt an individual candidate’s chances of getting in as an additional member, their incentive is for the party to get a high number of votes but manage to not win many districts. The prospect of the voters not knowing beforehand who the appointed members will be -as in Germany- or knowing this but having a candidate in their district who is high enough up on the list that he or she will be elected regardless only adds additional insult.

    For a MMP type system, a party should run a separate slate of candidates for the single member districts, and for large multi-member districts. Each candidate for a single member district seat would be paired with a candidate for the multi-member seat and vice versa. Then if a candidate wins a seat for a single member district, a number of votes equal to the total amassed by his or her closest opponent would not be counted for the multi-member seat. The paired multi-member candidate would pick up any votes gained by the single-member candidate but not needed, either all of him if he lost, or the surplus over the minimum needed to win if he won. Few votes get wasted, and for both all candidates, the more votes their party gets the higher their chances of election. But this system would hurt minor parties, the sort that can’t clear 10% of the vote, unless the multi-member districts were made large enough.

  7. Errol, good points. But what is Act’s position on MMP? I thought they were in favor of its abolition (although that does not make a lot of sense for such a small party). Would they vote to allow an “improved” MMP to be considered in the referendum?

  8. MSS, ACT’s 2008 election policy was “Hold referendum of MMP voting system”, with no more detail. I don’t know what their position on this point is. They will however be really annoyed with National over re-introducing 3rd-party spend limits.

  9. ACT’s position is actually fairly consistent with their politics. Neoliberals adore FPTP because FPTP governments have artificial legislative majorities that enable them to oppose economic shock therapy without the inconvenience of cultivating an actual majority for their program. Errol can correct me, but I seem to recall that one of the reasons for the adoption of MMP in NZ was a string of FPTP governments, from both sides of the aisle, that imposed a drastic neoliberal program on the country.

  10. Alan, that is correct: Labour 1984-90, and National from 1990, had manufactured majorities that they used to implement a dramatic turnaround of the economic model (selectively, to favor their own 43% or so of the electorate).

  11. Ed’s post is quite wrong about Germany. The lists are nominated and ranked at state-wide party conventions (for federal elections), by secret ballot, well before the elections. Not appointed afterwards. The electorate knows in advance that the top so many on the list, depending on the vote percent, will be elected, subject only to the fact that some candidates with lower list positions may win local seats and displace higher-ranked list candidates.

    The exceptions at the state level are Bavaria (half by open list in nine seven regions) and Baden-Wurttemberg (top-ups by no-list “best runners-up” in four regions).

    [Corrected 24 Nov. by MSS at Wilf’s request.]

  12. It will be interesting to see how all this develops. As for ACT’s position on MMP, I asked Rodney Hide (party leader) when I interviewed him in April. He doesn’t like MMP and would prefer FPP, but knows that a reversion is not likely and finds the other alternatives to MMP to be worse. They have got used to MMP (indeed, I think most parties probably feel this way). I don’t know what the party’s official position is.

    Wilf Day’s comments on Germany’s MMP look correct to me. I also agree with Matthew on dual candidacy in MMP systems and strongly oppose the ban on dual candidacy for Welsh Assembly elections (and wish the UK government would rescind it, but I suppose it isn’t even on the radar screen). I just interviewed a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament who said that the party is revisiting this issue for the next Scottish Parliament election and actually planning dual candidacy in some areas, ‘depending on local circumstances’. The party’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Labour and other parties are just finalising their candidate selections now.

    Tom Lundberg

  13. Tom Lundberg reminds me that the virtues of dual candidacy as seen in Germany are often misunderstood. F&V has a long thread on the point.

    The short version for Germany is this: residents of a constituency have an average of two competing local MPs, one elected “directly” and one “on the list” to use their normal terms. Some lucky places have three or more, some unlucky ones have only the one “direct” one, but two is the norm.

    They each have an office in the constituency they ran in, whichever way they were elected. A political scientist may say the MP elected “on the list” is a “shadow” local MP, but in practice both are simply MPs, and for constituency service you can go to the one you like best.

    The pervasiveness of these conventions can be seen when a very rare “list-only” MP gets elected; she promptly opens a local office in a constituency she has adopted, likely one that had been left with only a single MP. The New Zealand term “buddy MP for (constituency)” seems apt for this situation.

  14. Wilf’s point @13 is rather ironic given one reason many PR reformers (whether enthusiastic or reluctant) prefer MMP over STV is that it avoids the problems of multi-member electoral districts, with MPs competing…

    Enid Lakeman was right on this point, it seems: if we want PR, we can’t get away from multi-seat constituencies in some form (whether STV, list MPs, or “best losers”).

  15. The point Wilf is making is under MMP that localities can have two (or sometimes more) representatives who respond to constituency concerns without having intra-party competition, as is the case under STV.

  16. Readers wanting a good laugh (or a quiet sob of despair) should read Jim Anderton’s
    op-ed in the NZ Herald. Jim is the (retiring) MP for Wigram electorate and Progressive Party Leader. Apparently party votes follow changes in electorate results, even when the electorates concerned are marginal, and electioneering is focused in those electorates.

    op-ed in the NZ Herald

  17. MSS @16 – competition among MPs “representing” (in whatever sense) the same district can occur even when there is no provision for voters to prefer one over another on the ballot paper. Vide how many opponents of (a) closed-list PR and/or (b) MNTV allege that simply having multi-seat districts – even without intra-party electoral choice – would dilute the accountability enjoyed, if thatis the word, by having one MP for each constituency.

    (Even though MNTV doesn’t competely remove intra-party competititon, it does greatly reduce the incentive for it compared to just about any other multi-seat system that allows voting for individual candidates – STV, flexible- and open-list PR, Limited Vote, SNTV, Cumulative Vote. If voters cast (say) 7 separate votes to elect 7 seats, then unless the election is wholly or largely non-partisan, there’ll be a clean sweep for one or another side, and you and your team-mates will almost certainly either all be elected or all be defeated.)

    So if NZ has a situation where “the” duly elected (say) local Labour MP for
    Whangatangaruinoakawhana North-East is servicing constituents’ grievances, and the locally defeated (but elected on the list) National and Green candidates have also also each set up an office to service grievances from the same constituents, then we have a situation where it may not be 100% clear after five seconds’ skimming of the news as to who should take the credit for stopping the railroad station being closed, or getting more funding for the town hospital.

    As an STV shill I can live with this, but supporters of single-member electorates seem to think that this situation leads inexorably to a Weimar-style collapse of democracy in short order.

  18. Sorry, I should clarify that last:

    Closed-list PR does not allow intra-party choice and therefore prevents, by definition, intra-party competition at the ballot-box.

    MNTV (and multi-seat Approval) allow intra-party choice but discourage intra-party compeititon. It is possible for your party’s whole team of candidates to be elected, and since you cannot rank candidates you support under either Approval or MNTV, you cannot favour one or some candidates of your own party without actually voting against other candidates of your own party, ie, putting them on the same level as an enemy party.

    Moreover (unlike STV and open/ flexible List-PR), defeating a particular individual candidate from your party is likely to reduce the overall number of seats won by your party.

  19. I’m not sure why we are discussing MNTV in a NZ thread, but I have addressed before the following point Tom makes:

    If voters cast (say) 7 separate votes to elect 7 seats, then unless the election is wholly or largely non-partisan, there’ll be a clean sweep for one or another side, and you and your team-mates will almost certainly either all be elected or all be defeated.

    See past plantings on the Palestinian Authority election of 2006 (where despite high party loyalty, there were clear differences in vote totals by candidates of a party, resulting in some districts not having clean sweeps), Thailand 2007 (where personal voting, and thus intra-party competition, is high), and Kuwait 2003 (where there are no formal parties, but a moderately high level of “blockness”).

  20. Point taken. I may be too influenced by memories of Australia’s most prominent use of MNTV, the Senate before 1948.

    As to relevance, your honour, I plead (a) MNTV = competition among MPs representing same district = MMP. (b) the general tendency of F&V plantings to grow like vines across the landscape.

    Since MSS’s examples show that MNTV may well promote intra-party competition, more than I assumed (although I still find it hard to see why candidates have any incentive, where voters can tick at least as many candidates as there are seats, to actively campaign on “Vote for me and Teammate A but not Teammates B or C”), I am happy to exclude it since closed-List PR makes my point sufficiently instead (that post-election competition among MPs for constituency service may occur, as hoped/ feared [pick one], even when they are not directly competing against each other on the ballot).

    Using non-elected officials like judges illustrates the point as well. The argument is often made that, unless there is one and only one official with responsibility for a given district, voters will not know whom to blame for looking after that district. My recollection of the Royal Commission report and other NZ sources suggest this was a factor in NZ choosing MMP over STV. So I am bemused that NZ appears to have ended up with (haphazardly-apportioned, non-population-proportionate) de facto multi-representative districts after all.

  21. Did Australia use MNTV? I thought it used at that time a form of multi-seat majority preferential system. (Would that be “MTV”?)

    And, so do you Australians really use “honour” even though you write “Labor”? Now I am really confused…

  22. On MNTV (notwithstanding its off-topicness), I suspect the reason for intra-party competition comes from two factors: (1) candidates not from the strongest party have a strong incentive to emphasize their personal characteristics in order to get one of a voter’s M votes and break through, and (2) simple human laziness, in the sense that the higher the M, the less likely everyone will bother to cast all M, which therefore makes these alleged “block vote” systems actually more like limited vote systems in practice.

  23. Senate – MNTV 1903-1918 (the first federal election, 1901, was held under separate State laws, and Tasmania used STV-PR for its Senate delegation), then MPV (unfortunately “MTV” is taken) 1918-48. In both cases, it led to a 3-0 sweep for the largest party in upwards of 90% of contests, especially after 1910 when the party system became institutionalised.

    To be fair, Queensland still uses MNTV for a lot of local councils, especially in rural areas (although it’s disguised as preferences because you number candidates rather than using ticks, crosses, or filled circles… I suppose this does make it easier to detect over[-]votes) and Western Australia recently reverted to MNTV because the shire clerks found STV too difficult to understand. One hopes they find differential zone rating less difficult when they prepare assessment notices.

    Re Australianglish spelling – generally the same as British, except for (a) “Labor” (adopted at a time, 110 years ago, when Websterian spelling reform had some brief traction in the Empire, possibly due to GB Shaw’s influence… eg, the UK also has a “Naturalization [sic] Act” from that era) and (b) the most egregiously non-phonetic Anglicisms (“jail” not “gaol”, “skeptical” not “sceptical”). I assume my American sixth co[u]sins are probaly “Rond.”

  24. > “simple human laziness, in the sense that the higher the M, the less likely everyone will bother to cast all M”

    Interestingly, this is less of an issue in Australia since in all cases of MNTV I know about, a ballot is invalid if the voter has voted for fewer than the maximum number of candidates. In other words, “plumping/ bulleting” is not allowed. Weirdly consistent with full preferential voting (“number all candidates”, I suppose).

  25. > “Neoliberals adore FPTP…”

    Incongruous, but that is true. They don’t seem to analogise from the individual’s right to an effective choice (ie, without throwing away your application fee if you don’t opt for one of the two largest right away) among five or six different telcos or retirement funds to the individual’s right to an effective choice among fix or six different political parties. Nor does their fear of unlimited power in the hands of one party controlling both legislature and executive extend to supporting measures that make such one-party control less likely. Strange. One would almost think that Hayek and Thatcher didn’t really believe all that “individual choice” rhetoric and simply wanted to get trade unions out of the way. Perhaps I’m being far too cynical.

  26. I think it is the evil TINA who is to blame for the neoliberal obsession with FPTP. It is hard to argue there is no alternative in a parliament where many parties are represented and no party has an absolute majority. It is equally hard to invoke an overriding magnate in a balanced parliament. A comparative study of the policy process under, say, Thatcher and Merkel might be instructive.

    It is also much more difficult to report government formation under PR for journalists obsessed with building big-S Story. The Australian media convinced themselves the last federal election was still ‘undecided’ long after every seat in each house had been declared because they did not know who would form the government and they could not construct an ‘engaging’ narrative with an Aristotelian beginning, middle and end.

  27. > “although I still find it hard to see why candidates have any incentive, where voters can tick at least as many candidates as there are seats, to actively campaign on “Vote for me and Teammate A but not Teammates B or C”)” [TR @20]

    > “candidates not from the strongest party have a strong incentive to emphasize their personal characteristics in order to get one of a voter’s M votes and break through” [MSS @22]

    In other words, ““Vote for me even if you can’t bear to vote for my Teammates A, B or C” may well be a rational strategy. You are asking enemy party supporters to include you alone, rather than asking your own side’s supporters to exclude candidates other than you. Glass half full, but it makes sense (you mustn’t smoke while you’re praying , but you may pray while you’re smoking).

  28. “but supporters of single-member electorates seem to think that this situation (competing MPs) leads inexorably to a Weimar-style collapse of democracy in short order.” Well, no. I want to be able to go to a regional MP of my choosing (presumably of my party), but also have a local MP, so that I have a guarantee that a local player is in the game. Otherwise, with a purely regional model like STV, all five of my MPs may cheerfully put “the regional interest” first, and do nothing about the threatened closure of my local railway station or harbour or whatever it is, because of the lovely new regional facility that will replace it. If I have two competing local MPs, one in government and one in opposition, all the better.

  29. What is the actual incentive for a regional MP to put the regional interest first? Is there any actual evidence of regional MPs doing this under STV or the various list systems? For that matter is there any actual evidence of electors making simultaneous approaches to more than one MP?

    The access to competing MPs argument can succeed if, and only if, having access to more than 1 MP is good but having access to more than 2 MPs is bad.

  30. Alan, good questions. From ongoing research (sorry, have to wait for the actual evidence…)

    >What is the actual incentive for a regional MP to put the regional interest first?

    Parties can create the incentive for their members, based on nomination strategies, inter-electoral post allocation, etc. That is, if it’s in the party’s collective incentive to respond to local/regional interests (e.g. because voters expect it), then the parties will find a way to make it in the individual members’ interests.

    >Is there any actual evidence of regional MPs doing this under STV or the various list systems?

    Under list systems, the answer seems to be yes, under certain conditions (again looking at party-organizational choices, as well as regional vote patterns). Less so the higher the magnitude of the district. I can’t say about STV, because I am not currently looking at any STV systems.

    >For that matter is there any actual evidence of electors making simultaneous approaches to more than one MP?

    That would be really fascinating to check out, and I am not aware of anyone having researched this question.

  31. MSS

    For Wilf’s argument to succeed on your evidence the parties would need to have their regional MPs vote act on regional interest and their local MPs act on local interests. I am not sure many parties maintain a Chinese wall between regional and local MPs in that way.

  32. On the Australian mainland, with “closed-list” STV for the upper houses where these exist (which includes all Australians at the federal level), the parties – particularly Labor – “use” their Senators to “represent” single-member districts not held by that party. While not an exact map to MMP, this assigning of “duty Senators” and MLCs to (several) electoral districts has some similarities. This is perhaps why I am skeptical about MMP as a solution.

    Even in Queensland, which (along with Nebraska, the Canadian Provinces and most Indian States) has one of the few remaining unicameral single-seat-only legislatures in the English-speaking world, pinning responsibility for local constituency work on “the” local MLA can often be tricky. Especially – but not only – if s/he represents the State Opposition, a State Cabinet Minister will want to be there at any cuttings of ribbons and handing-over of giant cheques. If federal moneys are involved, the federal government will want to send a Minister, or at least an MHR or Senator, along for the photo opportunities as well. (The stimulus payments to schools stipulated that a plaque had to acknowledge the federal Education Minister’s contribution.) The local Mayor and Councillor(s) will usually turn up on the day also. And that’s just for constituency service within one district. If the project crosses several districts (eg, a highway), accountability is further muddied.

    As a teacher of constitutional law I often find that “lay people” – even people very involved in local community work, business, etc – are very hazy about who exactly is responsible for what. MPs themselves can tell you that their electoral office staff spend a lot of time telling disgruntled constituents “Sorry, that’s a State matter, and I’m a federal MP” or “Unfortunately, while you’re in my electorate, your child’s school crossing is not.” It is not as though MPs themselves have direct executive power over their own bailiwicks (unlike, eg, provincial governors in Papua New Guinaa and formerly Russia, who also sit ex officio in the national legislature).

    I remain skeptical that (a) an MP elected from a region by “open-list STV” is going to kiss off a few thousand votes in the Southwest End because s/he can’t be bothered tending to their complaints about the traffic lights on Main and Central, (b) an MP representing a single-seat district based around the Southwest End is going to work very hard to hold it, if the seat is safe for his/her party.

    Local representation is a good thing, but under STV it comes about from centred sets rather than bounded sets.

  33. You asked if anyone had researched the question “is there any actual evidence of electors making simultaneous approaches to more than one MP?”

    Massicotte (2004) quotes a 1985 study of Germany by Tony Burkett “voters tend to communicate just as well with constituency members as with list members, the MP’s party allegiance being for the voter the main factor that determines the priority of contact. List members receive as much mail from their constituents as do constituency members.” Eckhard Jesse says: “The view that the West German system produces two ‘classes’ of representatives is based on an illusion. That apparent division is of no importance — especially not for the general public: voters do not usually know whether a Bundestag member was directly or indirectly elected.” Geoffrey Roberts writes “since most list candidates have contested constituencies — and perhaps hope to do so again — they, too, will ‘nurse’ constituencies and undertake engagements there.” This makes sense since “In practice, the result is that Parliament is essentially composed of members elected in constituencies and members defeated in constituencies but elected from lists. The overwhelming majority of members have run in constituencies. The main path to Parliament is to be first chosen by the rank and file of a constituency. A favourable position on the list is thus almost a certainty.” For this reason, a German MP elected on the list “will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a “directly” elected member. Though not mentioned in parliamentary handbooks, the phenomenon is recognized in official literature for the public and some parliamentary websites even explicitly indicate the constituency in which each list member works.”

    “For example, the 1998 federal election saw a major constituency shift. Victorious in 221 constituencies in 1994, the CDU/CSU won only 112 in 1998. Meanwhile, the SPD went from 103 to 212 direct seats. No fewer than 124 members changed category: 73 incumbent list members (all from the SPD, except 2) became constituency members, whereas 51 incumbent constituency members (all from the CDU/CSU) held their seats thanks to party lists.”

    Massicotte notes Thomas Lundberg’s conclusion that in Scotland’s local MSPs complain of “regional members tending to compete unfairly with the duly elected constituency member, and some constituency members having trouble accepting that another member has set up shop in “their” constituency. Still, several of the latter admit that the voter wins from this rivalry.” Lundberg concludes that “to ensure this system is as successful as in Germany, the Scottish and Welsh Labour Party members will have to accept the increased competition resulting from the constitutional reforms brought in by their own party.”

  34. Alan, I may have conflated (in #30) regional and local, as distinct from national, in your query.

    What I meant to say was that even MPs elected from a broader district may have an incentive to respond to smaller sub-district interests, if their party sets up an internal structure that rewards them for doing so.

    In an MMP system, that incentive is logically stronger, because those elected from the list also may have run in a local constituency, and even if they did not, the presence of such constituencies clearly demarcates a smaller area in which votes are courted and cast.

    I think Wilf’s comment at #33 buttresses this point.

  35. And yet, in both Tasmania and Ireland regional MPs repeatedly claim that the electoral system forces them into excessive constituency work. The electorate where I live has a Nationals MP at both state and federal levels. The major parties tend to try to cover those ares of the state where they do not hold lower house seats with members of the upper house.

    As Antony Green notes of Tasmanian MPs:

    With clearly defined electorates and a century of practice with Hare-Clark, Tasmanian voters show clear evidence of knowing how the system works. Successful candidates are usually well known in their local area, usually through local government, business or union activity, though there is also a tradition of famous sporting sons doing well. Electors choose to vote for candidates above parties, and many elections have seen a high turnover of party candidates even thought the number of seats won by a party is unchanged. It is as common for MPs to be defeated by candidates of the same party as by a candidates of an opposing party.

    My local MPs and I do not have a lot in common when it comes to political issues. Fortunately I vote for 22 state legislators and 13 federal legislators, so when I do contact a legislator it tends to be an MLC or senator from the party I vote for. If access to 2 MPs is good, I cannot see how access to 22 or 13 MPs can be worse.

  36. But how many people ever contact a legislator at the national level?

    And different geographic interests can exist both in larger multi-member districts and in smaller single-member districts. In areas with low population densities, even a single-member district can be quite large, and encompass several different towns and villages, each with their own train station, harbour etc. An MP for Orkney and Shetland – what will he put first, the interests of Kirkwall and Lerwick, or of some smaller island?

  37. Norwegian Guy said:
    “But how many people ever contact a legislator at the national level?” and I think thats the elephant in the room. This business where voters are supposed to have a direct pipeline to their MP is a crock, except where a) they are already politically connected, or rich, or both or b) the MP decides to make their case his “see, I am too working and not just taking the opportunity to send emails on my Blackberry from the floor of the legislature”.

  38. As to voters going to several of their MPs, Jenkins, at para. 101, gives anecdotal evidence from the Commission’s visit to Dublin:

    “101. It was also suggested that the constituent with a grievance does not so much go to the TD of his choice as go in turn to all three or four or five of them, according to the size of the constituency in which he or she lives, thereby wasting a good deal of the time of ministers, civil servants, TDs, and indeed of the constituents themselves.”

  39. Alan says “If access to 2 MPs is good, I cannot see how access to 22 or 13 MPs can be worse.” As long as that number includes a local player, I agree.

    But 22 list or regional MPs, in my part of Canada, would mean they all represented a region running from the east limit of Toronto all the way to the Quebec border. Most of them would have no knowledge of, or interest in, my town. No accountability. In fact, with an open list system, you would get a mixture of aging incumbents resting on past laurels, sports stars, pop stars, Sarah Palin-style blowhards, and Berlusconi-style tycoons. No one can have a community support base or local reputation over such a huge region.

  40. Actually, my dyscalculia struck yet again. In New South Wales you have access to an MLA from your district and to 42 MLCs. I write 21 because the legislative council is elected on rotation with 21 re-elected at each general election.

    As it happens I live in a remote area with its own peculiar set of problems, including a desert climate, transport issues, water scarcity, local environmental problems from mining, and an different time zone from the rest of the state. Sydney is 1147 kilometres away as the crow flies.

    I am also one of those eccentrics who does contact MPs occasionally. There are a couple of MLCs in my area who are very familiar with local condition. The major parties and the Greens make a point of having MLCs who specialise in different areas of the state.

    If I saw geography as the main determinant of my politics I could talk to a couple of MLCs based in the Western Division. Because I don’t, I am not restricted to contacting MPs with whom I share an address.

  41. Alan, you have a nicely diverse upper house in NSW: four Greens, two “Shooters and Fishers,” one “Family First” and one Christian Democrat. And no overall control: 19 Labor and 15 Liberal/National. Mind you, you could have the same under a mixed member model, with 12 local Labor MLCs and nine Liberal/National, along with seven state-wide top-up Labor MLCs, six Liberal/National, the four Greens and the four others. But an upper house may have less call for a geographic element than a lower house.

    But I can’t imagine you would be satisfied with a lower house elected on such a model, with no guarantee of a local player. Yet Brazil has that nationally, and nine of their states have more people than NSW (one even has more than the whole of Australia). Not for me, thanks.

  42. Wilf, no I’m not.

    I’d greatly prefer a legislative assembly like Tasmania’s where the MLAs are elected by STV from five-member districts to ensure a degree of localism while maintaining proportional representation.

    The diversity of the legislative council is driven by the huge district magnitude. As magnitude rises the quota falls and smaller parties have a greater chance. The major parties attempted to exclude the Greens from the Tasmanian assembly by reducing district magnitude from 7 to 5 in the 90s. The present Tasmanian government is a Labor/Green coalition.

  43. I seem to be missing something. If the quota is (say) 50,000 votes and there are (say) 45,000 voters residing in the Far Northwest Peninsula, what incentive is there for parties and candidates to ignore those voters?

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