On Tuesday, the Whanganui District Council decided to delay choosing between staying with the First-Past-The-Post (FPP) voting system for local government elections or changing to the Single-Transferable-Vote (STV) system.

The debate got a little heated at times.

I have been a staunch advocate of changing to STV -- not because of any philosophical or political convictions, but because, having studied voting systems, STV just makes too much sense not to use it.

The arguments against STV are as weak as the arguments against giving women the vote in 1893 -- that is: 'Women are not smart enough to understand these things'. Or so a lot of silly men thought at the time.

Advertisement

Now I suspect the tide is turning in support of STV -- at least, I hope it is.

At the council meeting, it seemed those councillors of a younger persuasion were more supportive of a change to STV.

Take Josh Chandulal-Mackay who, having studied political science and being more aware of how voting systems work, supports a change.

Hadleigh Reid, while not totally convinced on its merits, did appreciate the importance of STV when electing one vacant position with more than two candidates, such as electing the mayor.

When there is only one vacancy for mayor and more than two candidates, the vote can be evenly split. We want a mayor who has the majority support of their community, and this is not always the case under FPP.

There is no doubt that STV statistically achieves majority support and, for that reason alone, changing to STV makes sense. The same argument applies to electing councillors, but not to the same extent as that of electing a mayor.

Councillors Helen Craig and Philippa Baker-Hogan also supported a change.

I presented my STV petition to council recently, but I found one or two councillors whom I believed had closed their minds to supporting STV. One of those was Rob Vinsen who seemed to have dug his toes in against a change and refused to reconsider, even when given compelling reasons.

Those reasons: STV is statistically fairer; votes do not get wasted as they do with FPP; STV helps promote minority representation (but no guarantees); STV removes tactical voting and allows voters to show their true preferences.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Mr Vinsen argued that STV was too complicated a system and this was a credible reason for sticking with the current FPP system.

But as Ms Craig pointed out, while the mechanics behind STV might be complicated, voters easily understand what is required of them by listing their preferences numerically.

Mr Vinsen argued that STV reduced voter turnout, and said voter turnout in Palmerston North had dropped since STV was introduced. While he is correct in that statement, he failed to notice that turnout had also been dropping at a similar rate before the introduction of STV.

He said that other communities had voted against STV, but Dunedin City Council uses STV because Dunedin voters decided to do so in a referendum.

My main argument in support of STV is it reduces wasted votes, and does that in two ways.

It took a hell of a lot more votes to elect Hadleigh Reid to the district council than it did to elect Graeme Young -- 48 per cent or 3026 more votes to be precise. That is a lot of wasted votes.

With STV, voters are effectively saying I want to vote for Hadleigh Reid, but if Hadleigh gets more votes than he needs to get elected then I want my vote to go to my second preference. At the other end of the scale, they are saying I want to vote for my good mate Goofy, but if Goofy does not have any chance of being elected, rather than wasting my vote, I want it to go to my second preference.

Mayor Hamish McDouall only received 38 per cent of the vote last election, so 62 per cent of voters may actually think he was the worst choice of mayor ever. Alternatively, it could be that Hamish was the second pick of the 10,000 people that did NOT vote for him -- we will never know.

Perhaps Alan Taylor might have got more second and third choice votes under STV and maybe he was the most generally preferred mayor -- we will never know that either.

That is what happened in Wellington when Kerry Prendergast received more first choice votes under STV, but Celia Wade-Brown got more second and third choice votes and was elected mayor.

Under First-Past-The-Post, your last tick is as valuable as your first tick, and that just isn't right. Under STV, your number 1 choice is far more valuable than your number 12 choice.

Steve Baron is a Whanganui-based political commentator, author and Founder of Better Democracy NZ. He holds degrees economics and political science.