Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Do You Want Single Transferable Voting (STV) or First Past the Post (FPP)?

When I saw an announcement in the paper that the Wellington City Council had appropriated $185,000 to conduct a survey on which type of election they should have, I realized that after a life time of watching elections, that there was a whole new world of voting options in New Zealand. I really needed to know what this was all about!

It turns out that STV elections are not unique to New Zealand. The system has been used in many countries around the world and is currently being used in some municipal elections in the United States. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote. The New Zealand Parliament authorized the STV as an option a few years ago for District Health Boards and Municipal elections. So what is the STV system? In 2004 the national government ran a campaign to educate the electorate on the meaning and procedure for voting STV. It is used when several candidates are running for more than one position on a Board or Council.

The website (http://www.stv.govt.nz/STV/index.htm) advises:
How to vote using STV
With STV, voting is easy.
Instead of ticking the candidates you want to vote for, with STV you number the candidates in order of preference. Put a "1" beside the candidate you like best, then a "2" beside your second choice, "3" by your third choice, and so on. You can vote for as many or as few candidates as you like.
So what does the numbering do?
By giving the number "1" to a candidate, you are saying that the candidate is your number one choice.
By ranking candidates in your preferred order - 1,2,3,4 and so on - you are also saying which other candidates you prefer:
If your top choice doesn't have enough support to get in or, If your top choice doesn't need all the votes they received to be elected.
How candidates are elected
In an STV election, candidates must reach a certain number of votes to get elected. This is called a quota. The quota is based on the total number of votes and the number of vacant positions.
Here's how candidates are elected:
The counting process tallies all first preference votes
If a candidate is elected, they keep only the proportion of the vote they need to reach the quota. The surplus part of each vote is transferred to the voters' second choice.
The votes are tallied again
If another candidate gets more votes than they need to be elected, the surplus part of each vote for that candidate will be transferred to the voters' third choice
If no more candidates have enough support to get elected, the lowest polling candidate is eliminated and all votes for that candidate are transferred to voters' next choices.
This process is repeated until enough candidates are elected to fill the vacant positions.
The transfer of votes is done in order of voters' preference. This means that surplus votes are not "wasted" but are available to help other candidates to get elected.

So, what about the FPP? Now this system you are familiar with, as it is how most elections in the U.S. are conducted. The definition is:
First Past the Post (FPP)
Under FPP, you place a tick next to the names of the candidate you are voting for. The candidate with the most votes wins. This is a very simple method of electing candidates and is widely used throughout the world. It was used in New Zealand for Parliamentary elections up until the introduction of MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) in the 1996 general election.
Now that should make everything perfectly clear. Wow, I don’t even want to try and tackle the understanding of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system being used for Parliamentary elections.

Quirky Living Note: As if the above wasn’t quirky enough! All the restaurants and caf├ęs in New Zealand are very helpful. So you know what their menu is, nearly all put the menu in the front window. We routinely check these out so as to make dining plans. Today I read the following: Big Hummers Brekkie – Bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, bubble and squeak.

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