We know election year has arrived when everyone from the child-smacking Colin Craig to former NZ First MP Brendan Horan and even Kim Dotcom is getting into the act, each with their own party. And the Act Party is seeking a new candidate who might appeal to the National voters of Epsom.

Elections used to be so simple. Parties put up their candidates and everyone voted for the candidate of the party they preferred. MMP was not supposed to change that. It offers everyone two votes: one for their preferred party, the other for the person they want to represent their electorate.

The system's designers expected most voters to give the second vote to the candidate of their preferred party and, left alone, that is what the most do. But National voters in Epsom have been urged to use their electorate vote "strategically" to give the centre-right at least one more seat than it strictly deserves.

The polls are finally balanced between National and a possible Labour-led coalition, so National is anxious to repeat this rort in Epsom and maybe in a few other seats. It is so anxious that, as we disclosed last Sunday, campaign manager Steven Joyce sounded out Rodney Hide about standing for Epsom again.


Hide wisely declined. It is only three years since he was unseated at the behest of former National leader Don Brash and replaced by John Banks, a move that erased any lingering impression Act might be an independent party. It is no more than a National adjunct being cynically used to add to the senior party's tally of seats.

The new Conservative Party could meet the same fate if it is not careful. National is said be looking around its electorates for one in which voters might be persuaded to vote for Craig. He is making that task more difficult with his comments, particularly his attempt to revive the smacking debate and make referendum results binding.

There is undoubtedly a national following for this sort of conservatism and Craig stands a chance of clearing the 5 per cent threshhold for seats in Parliament without needing to win an electorate.

The same might be true for Dotcom, whose planned Internet Party is said to be looking at one or two seats where it might do well. If Dotcom has a serious following, it is likely to be among the young with minimal interest in politics.

They could give his party promising numbers in opinion polls this year, enough to put the party in Parliament if it can get those people to a ballot box. But they would be a nationwide constituency, not one sufficiently concentrated in a single electorate for its candidate to win it.

Dotcom's party would be fairly immune to electorate deals, at least until the major parties know where he stands. His donation to Banks' 2010 mayoral campaign suggests his sympathies were once on the right. Now he is associated with a blogger on the far left. Unpredictability might save him from any other party's embrace.

Horan will be on his own, too. Cleared this week by an investigation of drawings on his late mother's account, Horan hopes to become MP for Tauranga by explaining to the electorate that its present MP, Energy Minister Simon Bridges, would return on National's list. It is a variation on the two-for-one card offered to Epsom.

This could be the year that voters rebel against these machinations and resolve to vote as their minds and hearts are inclined. The fact is nobody knows the result in advance. Manipulative strategies can have perverse outcomes. Better that we vote honestly.