Referendum Primer 2011


Editor’s Note: In New Zealand, general elections normally occur at least every three years. The Chief Electoral Office and the Electoral Commission co-ordinate the electoral system. Unlike some other countries, New Zealand has no fixed election-date for general elections, but rather the Prime Minister determines the timing of general elections by advising the Governor-General when to issue the writs for a general election which always take place on a Saturday so as to minimise the effect of work or religious commitments that could inhibit people from voting.


The first ever national elections in New Zealand took place in 1853, the year after the British government passed the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. Since then, there have been 49 general elections with this year’s election being the 50th in the coun try’s history. Electoral reform in New Zealand has, in recent years, become a political issue as major changes have been made to both Parliamentary and local government electoral systems.


All New Zealand elections from 1914 to 1996 consistently used the British system of ‘first past the post’ (FPP) for parliamentary elections. This system had consistently favoured the two largest parties, since 1936 being National and Labour. In 1978 and 1981, National won more seats even though Labour won more votes.


In 1984, Labour was elected to power. Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, also Minister of Justice, established the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in 1985. The Royal Commission’s report, in 1986, entitled Towards a Better Democracy recom mended the adoption of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). In the 1993 electoral referendum, 53.86% of all participants voted to adopt MMP and the first election using it were held in 1996. The National Party promised a second referendum to decide whether or not to keep MMP as part of the lead up to the 2008 general election. Upon gaining power, the party legislated that the referendum will be held alongside the 2011 general election, which will take place on Saturday 26 November 2011.

This year’s referendum is similar to the 1992 referendum, in that voters will be asked firstly to chose whether to keep the MMP system or to change to another system, and secondly to select their preferred system if the voting system were to change.For the benefit of our community members, site visitors and subscribers, Filipinos in Christ church now outlines and explains all five voting systems marked on ballots in order to give one a better understanding of what they are asked to vote on, besides the electoral candidates and parties running in this election.




MMP is a voting system originally used to elect representatives to the German Bundestag. It has been adopted by numerous legislatures around the world and is similar to other forms of proportional representation in that the overall total of party members in the elected body is intended to mirror the overall pro portion of votes received in an election.


In New Zealand, the method used to elect MPs in New Zealand works this way. There are 120 MPs and 70 electorates – including Māori electorates, respect ively. Therefore, one MP is voted in for each of the 70 electorates called ‘Elect orate MPs’. The other 50 MP seats that remain are elected from political party lists. They are called ‘List MPs’.


Each voter gets two votes on Election Day. The first one, the electorate vote, is candidates running for where he or she resides in. Electorate candidates don’t have to get more than half the votes and the one who gets the most votes wins. The second or party vote is for the political party he or she chooses. It largely decides the total number of seats in Parliament each political party gets after elections have been decided.


Under MMP, a party is entitled to a number of seats based on its share of the total electoral and party votes. If a party is entitled to 10 seats, but wins 7 seven electorates or constituencies, it will be awarded three list seats, bringing it up to its required number of seats. This only works, however, if the party’s seat entitlement is greater than (or equal to) the number of constituencies it won. If, for example, a party is entitled to 5 seats, but wins 6 constituencies, the sixth constituency seat is called an overhang seat.


Under current rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat or 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is roughly the same as its share of the party vote. If a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get about 36 MPs in Parliament (i.e. 30% x 120 seats). If the same party wins 20 electorate seats, it will likewise have 16 List MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs (i.e., total of 36 MPs under party vote less 20 electorate seats won).


In this method of voting, coalition or confidence and supply agreements between political parties who win higher percentage of the votes are usually needed be fore governments can be formed. These are agreements that involve minor parties or independent MPs who signify support for the government in motions of confidence and appropriation (supply) votes by voting in favour or abstaining.




The FPP method was the traditionally used system of voting before it was re placed by the MMP in 1996. FPP or ‘Plurality-at-Large’ voting is a majoritarian voting system for electing several representatives from a single multi-member electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election. Although multiple winners are elected simultaneously, block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead, the usual result is that the largest single group wins every seat by electing a slate of candidates, resulting in a landslide.


Therefore, if there are 120 MPs in Parliament, each of the 120 electorates (includ ing the Māori electorate) elects one MP. Each voter has one vote to choose the MP they want to represent the electorate they live in. The candidate who gets the most votes wins although they do not have to get more than half of the votes.


Under FPP, large parties like National and Labour, particularly the winning party, usually win a share of the seats in Parliament larger than their share of all the votes across the country while smaller parties receive a smaller number of seats than their share of all the votes.


A government can usually be formed without the need for coalitions or agree ments between parties.




Preferential voting (or ranked voting) is a type of ballot structure used in several electoral systems in which voters rank candidates in order of relative prefer ence. For example, the voter may select their first choice as ‘1’, their second preference a ‘2’, and so on. This contrasts with ballots used by methods which do not allow more than two-valued ranking of candidates (Yes or No; Yes to one and No to the others), such as plurality voting or approval voting.


It is a rather complicated method of voting where ballot papers are counted ac cording to a prescribed set of rules which set out the method used in the counting of the ballots and the distribution of preferences. Voters’ preferences are then entered into computer systems that process the recorded votes to determine the results of the election. Copies of the transcribed data file used in the counting of the elections are published and made available for public inspection and scrutiny.


In the coming referendum vote on Election Day towards the end of this month, the type of preferential voting system option can be described as follows:


There are 120 MPs. Each of the 120 electorates (including the Māori electorate), elects one MP. On their ballot, each voter ranks the candidates 1, 2, 3 and so forth in the order they prefer them. A candidate who gets more than half of all the first preference votes (that is, votes marked “1”s) wins. However, if no candidate gets more than half the first preference votes, the can didate with the fewest number “1” votes is eliminated and their votes are ‘inherited’ to the candidates each voter ranked next. The process is repeated until one candidate receives more than half of the votes that were cast.


Under the PV system, the larger more dominant parties usually win a share of the seats in Parliament larger than their nationwide share of the first preference votes. As a result, it is difficult for smaller parties to win seats and a government can usually be formed without the need for coalitions or agreements between parties.




STV is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through preferential voting. Under STV, an elector’s vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elec ted or eliminated, any surplus or unused votes are transferred according to the voter’s stated preferences.


The system minimizes “wasted” votes, provides approximately proportional representation, and enables votes to be explicitly cast for individual candidates rather than for closed party lists. It achieves this by using multi-seat consti tuencies (voting districts) and by transferring votes to other eligible candidates that would otherwise be wasted on sure losers or sure winners.


The type of single transferable voting system that will be posted on the ballot as an option in the coming referendum this November can be described as follows:

There are 120 MPs. Each electorate has more than one MP (including the Māori electorate). It is likely that the 120 MPs would be divided between 24 to 30 electorates, each with 3 to 7 MPs. Each voter gets a single vote that’s transfer able.


Voters either ranks individual candidates (1, 2, 3, etc.) in order of preference, or they may vote instead for the order published in advance by the political party of their choice. MPs are then elected as a result of receiving a minimum number of votes or a ‘quota’ and is based on the number of votes in each electorate and the number of MPs to be elected.


Candidates reaching the quota from first preference votes are elected. However, if there are still electorate seats to fill, a 2-step process. Votes that elected candidates receive beyond the quota are transferred to candidates ranked next on those votes until they reach the quota. If after this round there are still some electorate seats to fill, the lowest polling candidates is eliminated and their votes are transferred to the candidates ranked next on those votes. The 2-step process is repeated until all seats are filled.


Under STV, the number of MPs elected from each political party usually mirrors a party’s share of all the first preference votes across the country but coalitions or agreements between political parties are usually needed before governments can be formed.




The Supplementary or Parallel voting describes a mixed method where voters in effect participate in two separate elections for a single chamber using different systems, and where the results in one election have little or no impact on the results of the other.


It is sometimes also known as the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM), which combines first-past-the-post voting with party-list proportional representation. SM is distinct from mixed member proportional representation where there is one election, and the party vote determines what share of seats each party will receive in the legislature.


In this year’s referendum, the variant of SM as a voting system option also has 120 MPs involved but there are 90 electorates instead (including the Māori electorate). Each elects one MP (Electorate MP) and the remaining 30 seats are called supplementary seats. MPs are elected to these seats from political party lists (List MPs).


Each voter gets two votes – one for an Electorate MP and the second for the poli tical party of choice. The share of the 30 supplementary votes each party then gets reflects its share of the party vote.


For example, if a political party gets 30% of the part vote, it will get about 9 List MPs in Parliament (30% x 30 supplementary seats) no matter how many elec torate seats it wins in the elections. This method differs from MMP where a party’s share of all 120 seats does not mirror its share of the party vote.


Under SM, it is possible for one of the major and dominant political parties to garner enough seats to govern alone but otherwise, coalitions or agreements bet ween parties may sometimes be needed.




Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in a country in which all its people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes (and more or less) direct participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.


Political self-determination is also expressed in terms of political freedoms des cribed as a relationship free of oppression or coercion; the absence of disabling conditions for a particular group or individual and the fulfillment of enabling conditions; or the absence of lived conditions of compulsion (e.g. economic com pulsion) in a society.


The concept of political freedom is also closely connected with the concepts of civil liberties and human rights, which in democratic societies like New Zealand are usually afforded legal protection from the state.


In a truly representative democracy, every vote has equal weight. Likewise, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a represent ative and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution. However, various groups across the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes “true” po litical freedom but the most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.


Vote wisely.



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