Local government STV in New Zealand

Increasing numbers of local councils in New Zealand are switching to the single transferable vote (STV) system. An article by Tim Newman, Nelson Reporter (via Stuff), indicates that in “2022 Nelson will be one of 15 councils using the STV system, and one of four adopting it for the first time.”

The Nelson version of STV (which the article indicates is approved but still subject to an appeal process) will be somewhat more complex than I would think necessary.

Under the new model two general wards have been set up, Central and Stoke-Tāhunanui , with four councillors to be elected per ward. For each ward, the population per councillor will be approximately 6400.

Running parallel to the general wards will be the Whakatū Māori Ward, which covers the whole city and will only be eligible for those on the Māori Roll.

One councillor will be elected from this ward, which has a population per councillor of about 3300.

In addition to the wards, there will also three “at-large” councillors representing the whole city. The mayor will also be voted at large.

So if I am understanding this correctly, it will be doubly parallel. For electing the 12 council members there are both districts (wards) and a citywide component in addition to the Maori special district. And all by STV, except maybe the single Maori member (it is not clear if this is by STV (AV) or not). One would think they could simply use STV–either citywide or in districts–with a rule ensuring a minimal number of those elected are Maori. Or, slightly more complex than that, but less than what is now likely to be adopted, two sets of districts–general and Maori–but not three.

The current system seems to be MNTV, but the article is a little confusing on this point. It says:

In previous elections, voting in Nelson has been conducted “at large”, meaning that voters could vote for any of the 12 council candidates standing for election, along with mayoral candidates.

I am taking that to mean the voter had 12 votes and the top 12 were elected, but I wish it was clearer. The adoption of STV is a positive development, even if it has been done with more complex districting than seems necessary.

6 thoughts on “Local government STV in New Zealand

  1. Your guess is correct Matthew – MNTV and STV are the two systems available to local government, though of course the “STV” for mayoral elections is in effect just PV.

    I think the trend of these strange, overlapping “at large” wards comes from many years of MNTV only elections, and has been adopted in a lot of the country to give geographically non-cohesive minorities in a council area access to representation. You see it in some MNTV councils as well as ones who have picked up STV, so I get the impression it’s just a hold over of what people like.

    Māori wards in local government have been a very controversial subject for some time. There’s a vaguely consociational principle in play, not just a representative one. The idea is Māori should be deciding who represents Māori, hence separate wards voted on by people on the Māori roll (conveniently already established for central government elections). If there were merely a minimum requirement for Māori roll candidates in the general STV wards, that would see pākehā voting on who represented Māori, which isn’t palatable to supporters of the wards.

    It’s notable that this is also one of the first times a Māori ward has been established without having to first avoid or win a referendum of the whole council’s population first – a purely racist requirement, as there weren’t the same hurdles for establishing general wards. I believe that under the old referendum requirements, only one council with a very large Māori population (which is unusual) had managed to get through that process, despite many trying over several decades.

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.s. as it is, the establishment of Māori wards (and legislative change to make it easier) has come under a lot of fire for being “undemocratic”, “privileging” Māori, etc.

      A “quota” system within STV would certainly attract even greater ire – and more consistently, as someone may well claim that they were undemocratically kicked from a seat they won by Māori candidates with fewer votes, while Māori voters are dissatisfied by their representatives having to pander to non-Māori voters to win.

      It’d be a system that bled legitimacy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder if there is also an element of not wanting to increase the number of representatives when introducing the Māori Ward (especially when Maori are ‘over-represented’)? If you need to introduce general wards, splitting 12 less 1 is a problem – dividing the City fairly arbitrarily into 2 then having 6 reps for one bit and 5 for the other is asking for pushback.


  3. I like the idea of mixing PR w/ at-large single-seat seats for city council. It’s important for there to be uncertainty in an election to generate interest by more voters etc. If the distribution of voter prefs in the city is relatively stable, a bigger DM might be too predictable in terms of its outcome. An alternative wd be to have 2.5 seat LR w/ Hare quota for 5 districts and then the 1 Maori seat and let the newly city council members and half-members vote for the next mayor from among 3 candidates determined by the city at-large. I’m not quite sure how a half-city council member would work, but if there’s a will, there’s a way and that would be an easy way of making a city that has strong preferences be more mindful of its minorities.

    How wd 2.5 seat LR Hare work? The quota would be 40%. It’d be closed party list but the lists would be short, two or 1, maybe 3 candidates per party. The locally top party would be going for 2 full time, settling for 1.5 seats, or going for 1.5 seats and settling for 1 seat.

    Thus, they could have 5 districts and 13.5 seats total, with 11 full time city council members and 5 half-time members w/ half a vote and half as many assignments/responsibilities. To get a majority, the top party would need the Maori seat and 48% of the remaining seats or 56% of the remaining seats. To win a half seat, a small party would most likely need to be the within 40% of the top party’s ticket.


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