Final MMP Review report is out

The final report from the official review of New Zealand’s Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system is now posted [PDF].

I have not yet digested the entire report, but the highlights of the recommendations are: dual candidacy OK, closed lists OK, dump the one-seat threshold, lower list-vote threshold to 4%, consider fixed 60:40 ratio of electorate to list seats. If one-seat threshold abolished, also get rid of overhang provision.

All good, though I’m not sure about that last one. The report says, on p.8:

Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold would increase the chances of significant numbers of overhang seats being generated by parties that win electorate seats but do not cross the party vote threshold. Therefore, if the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, we also recommend the provision for overhang seats be abolished. Parties that win electorate seats would keep those seats. However, the size of Parliament would remain at 120 seats because no extra list seats would be allocated. This would have minimal impact on the proportionality of Parliament.

I suspect most of the voting for small-party candidates in single-seat districts (electorates) is motivated by the possibility that said party would win more than this one seat, if it had a party vote sufficient for two or more seats (but less than 5% of the vote). Without the district win granting it a chance at list seats, there is usually little incentive to vote for such a party. An exception would be the Maori Party, which is able to win several of these seats even while getting few list votes. And it is this (very big) exception that calls into question the Commission’s claim of a minimal effect of their recommendation on proportionality. Without adding seats to parliament to (partially) compensate other parties for the party that is overrepresented due to district wins, it would seem that there would be considerable potential for increased disproportionality.

12 thoughts on “Final MMP Review report is out

  1. I gotta agree with this. The overhang problem will be increased by this (though somewhat offset by 4% thresholds), and then they’ll eliminate the extra seats which partially offset the disproportionality under the current system.

    Not sure why the logic made sense, as this struck me immediately when I was reading it.

  2. Could the current NZ National lead minority government not decide to do anything towards the MMP system and leave it alone? As they seem to like the one seat threshold as it allowed ACT, and United Future to win one seat each.

    If Labor won the next election, would they follow the recommendations of the review?

    The one seat rule should not be abolished, and be changed toward a two seat rule.

    Is it a good idea to abolish the overhang seats?

    Wouldn’t it be more prudent to exclude parties that win one seat in an electorate and failing to surpass the party vote threshold, but have overhang seats for parties that win more than one seat, but fail to surpass the threshold?

    Perhaps instead of a 60% district seats, 40% List seats should be a 55% districts seats, 45% List seats ratio, albeit this may be hard to keep because of the Maori electorates.

  3. The one seat threshold is for getting list seats. It was important in the previous election (ACT getting list seats on the back of Epsom, in contrast to NZ First), but not the most recent one.
    No-one has seriously suggested dis-allowing a district win because of a lack of party vote nation-wide.
    Dropping the overhang appears to be a sop to the popular perception that a potential handful of ‘extra’ MPs are of no worth, but have extra costs.
    A 55:45 ratio would require either a large increase in the number of MPs, or even larger districts in the South Island. Note the South Island’s proportion of the population is dropping, presumably accelerated by the Christchurch earthquakes.

  4. Errol, do you know if the MMP Review legislation requires there to be an actual parliamentary debate on the recommendations, or will this be at the discretion of the government? And are there any limitations on how the Commission’s recommendations are treated in Parliament? That is, could Parliament introduce other proposals–that is, without changing the underlying legislation itself?

  5. The review’s website says that it is up to Parliament to decide what to do, but the report must be presented by the Government. I assume that there will be a debate after presentation. Actual legislation would be a additional step, and would in practice have to be put forward by the government (subject to modification in Select Committee and later Readings). Some parts of the electoral legislation require a super-majority to change – 75% – so National and Labour together could pass even those in theory.

  6. Section 268 Electoral Act does the entrenching. Entrenched sections include 35 (number and drawing up of _General_ districts). As far as I can tell total no of seats, and Maori seats are not entrenched. Maori Party wants them entrenched, would probably need a super-majority to do so.
    I am not a lawyer.

  7. “The Government has rejected recommendations to amend the MMP electoral system, saying there is not enough agreement on the changes.” (NZ Herald)

    • Thank you, Errol. That is unfortunate, but not surprising. The main proposals, which I would have liked to have seen implemented, were to eliminate the possibility of list seats for parties that fall below 5% but win one district (electorate), and especially a reduction of the party-vote threshold to 4%. The Electoral Commission, by the way, had indicated a preference for the threshold to be 3%, but stated that it would not be politically feasible. Evidently not!

      The Commission also wanted to change the overhang provision, so that an additional list seat would not be added to parliament for any electorate won by a party that was above its proportional entitlement.

      The outcome is not surprising, given the relationship of the current government with small parties that depend on winning electorates for their presence in parliament.

  8. Perhaps they should put the amended version of MMP to a referendum. They should ask questions like do you want the list percentage threshold to be lower or stay the same? Do you want there to be overhang seats or not? Do you want the 1 electoral rule to be abolished or kept? If you want it to be kept, should it be increase to 2 seats.

    I think the threshold should be lowered to 3%. Why would National be oppose to that? They should allow a free vote the issue. The electoral vote threshold should be increase toward 2 seats.

    I don’t think that NZ should move toward a 4 year term. The 3 year term seems just right. The country can have earlier elections if it needs, but it generally almost every government lasts a 3 year term.

  9. Interesting that the three most established democracies that use MMP use three variants:
    1. NZ – national allocation of seats among both parties and candidates. (Apart from Irish presidential elections, this is, I think, the only election in the English-speaking world where all the voters across a whole nation are offered the same “menu” of parties and candidates.
    2. Germany (since 1953) – national allocation of seats among parties, but regional allocation of seats among candidates.
    3. Scotland and Wales (and Germany 1949-53) – regional allocation of seats among both parties and candidates.
    On the other hand, the German rule that a vacating district MP is replaced not through a by-election but from the list (plus the Constitutional Court’s gloss that overhang district MPs don’t get replaced at all) makes its version of MMP more “national” in that respect than the NZ version, where district MPs are replaced through by-elections.
    (At one time I considered the idea that a by-election under MMP should also involve a list-ballot too, with the party proportions in Parliament being adjusted as a result. Decided against it because of manipulability – eg, a National MP representing a safe district might resign, triggering a by-election, at which National keeps the district seat but the (say) Greens vote drops 5-10% in that district so the Greens forfeit a List MP as a result. An MP shouldn’t be able to unseat another party’s MP(s) by resigning. Aliter perhaps if NZ adopted some form of recall but I don’t think that’s on the cards).

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