The Electoral Commission has provisionally recommended a number of changes to MMP including abolishing the rule that allocates list seats to parties which win an electorate seat but do not reach the required threshold of votes. The commission will finalise its views next month but today, Andrew Geddis supports the change and Richard Prebble argues against. Scroll down the page to vote and leave a commment,

Andrew Geddis: Yes: Electorate seat exception a mistake

There is a bad reason for wanting to see an end to the "electorate seat exception" to MMP's representation threshold, and there are some good reasons.

Changing this rule because you do not like the parties that have gained seats under it is a bad thing to do. Electoral rules should not be written to make it more likely your team will win.

What is more, it isn't clear that trying to screw the scrum in this way would even work in the long run. While the centre-right in the form of Act and United Future may presently be more likely to benefit from the rule, a decade ago it was the centre-left that did so through Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition.


So if the electorate seat exception is going to be dumped, it should only be for principled reasons aimed at making the MMP system work better. I think there are at least three such reasons: the electorate seat exception was a mistake to begin with; it has operated in an unfair manner; and it has damaged the public's faith in the electoral system generally.

First, the electorate seat exception should never have been included in our MMP system. The royal commission that recommended it did not give any real reason for doing so.

Instead, it simply carried the feature over from the (then) West German model that it preferred. But Germany's reason for having an electorate seat exception simply does not apply to New Zealand.

Germany is a federal country with distinct regions and regional parties that attract significant local support, but are not popular enough nationally to break the 5 per cent threshold. And Germany thought it important for reasons of national unity to give such parties a place in its national legislature.

This concern does not arise in New Zealand, with its centralised, unitary government and no recent history of regional political movements. Consequently, the head of the royal commission, Justice Wallace, subsequently admitted that the commission's inclusion of the electoral seat exception in New Zealand's model of MMP was a mistake.

Nevertheless, even if it was adopted in error, the electorate seat exception may still have served a useful purpose. It can help to rectify some of the disproportionate outcomes that would otherwise result from only having a 5 per cent party vote threshold. However, it has not done this job very well, and using it for this purpose creates problems of its own.

In terms of maintaining proportionality, the electorate seat exception has been hit-and-miss. Most obviously, in 2008 Rodney Hide's victory in Epsom meant Act's 3.65 per cent of the party vote brought four other MPs into Parliament, while Winston Peter's loss in Tauranga meant NZ First's 4.07 per cent of the party vote was entirely wasted.

Equally, in 2002 Jim Anderton brought another MP with him by winning Wigram and getting 1.7 per cent of the party vote. But in 1999, the Christian Heritage Party's 2.38 per cent of the party vote was wasted; not to mention the Christian Coalition's wasted 4.33 per cent in 1996.


So at best, the electorate seat exception retains proportionality for only some lucky players. This is inherently unfair and contrary to the underlying principles of MMP.

What is more, the electorate seat exception only helps retain proportionality by (ironically) giving people in particular electorates a disproportionate say regarding Parliament's overall makeup. Those lucky voters in "electorate lifeboats" like Epsom, Ohariu, Wigram, etc get to "double dip", in that their electorate vote ensures one party is represented in Parliament while their party vote can help elect extra list MPs for another party.

By contrast, in every other seat the voters' electorate votes will not affect the overall shape of Parliament one bit. And giving some voters a greater say over Parliament's composition than others also is inherently unfair.

Finally, smaller party reliance on the electorate seat exception opens the way for inter-party deals over the outcome of the vote in particular electorates. Not that it is illegal for one party to give their supporters a message that they should cast their votes for a candidate from another party. However, such spectacles have not gone down well with the voting public; indeed, they have been one of the main grounds for dissatisfaction with MMP.

This matters because trust and confidence in the electoral system is the foundation for trust and confidence in government generally. And if the public believes that elections are being "rorted", even if in a legal manner, then it calls into question the basis for governmental authority. Which is a bad thing, which is why we should change this rule.

* Andrew Geddis is a law professor at Otago University.
Richard Prebble: No: Applying threshold blow to representation

Let us call things as they are. Unelected officials are proposing to strip the right of some of their fellow New Zealanders to be represented in Parliament. We have no written constitution. Parliament can strip the vote from any one.

A royal commission recommended MMP. The electorate in two referendums has voted for MMP. Unless an amendment was in the original royal commission report, MPs have fiddled with MMP, there is no mandate for any change.

The officials claim that from a few hundred submissions they can judge that some aspects of MMP are unpopular. You cannot compare a few submissions with the endorsement of two referendums.

Among other things, the officials are proposing to apply the threshold to elect list MPs to parties that have won a constituency.

Who is going to lose their representation? The most likely to be effected are Mana Party supporters. Despite being formed just weeks before the election and being refused funding or TV time Mana won one seat and nearly won another. With three years to organise and access to TV and funding if the rules are not changed next election, Mana may well have list MPs.

I am totally opposed to the Mana Party but I recognise they have a right to parliamentary representation. If it is a choice between having the Mana Party MPs in Parliament or its supporters playing terrorist in the Ureweras I will take the MPs. When we strip people of their representation we strip Parliament of its claim to be a House of Representatives.

I should not need to go any further. This is a dangerous anti-democratic proposal.

Most of the submissions are actually arguments against MMP. I have reservations myself but MMP is the voters' choice.

Submitters argue if we have few parties then Parliament will be more stable. Parliamentary democracy is not a "stable" system. One-party states are "stable". In my time in Parliament two "elected" Prime Ministers were removed by parliamentary coups.

Where is the evidence that small parties cause instability? No Prime Minister has been removed by a third party.

No government has been brought down by a third party. What MMP has done is force the executive to consult with Parliament. If we had First Past the Post the National Government would not be struggling with its asset sale programme. I support privatisation but it is no bad thing MMP forces the Government to make its case for sales.

Critics who say a constituency is too low a hurdle for list representation have never tried to win a constituency. Only one candidate who was not already an MP has, under MMP, won a constituency and modesty prevents me from naming him. It is a very high hurdle.

Most "independent" MPs have fallen out with their party and, being popular with their electorates, are kept as a pet.

The failure last election of the four single constituency MPs to bring in any list MPs shows it is a myth that having a constituency lets parties manipulate the system. Constantly repeating a myth does not make it true.

The Royal Commission when creating the constituency threshold said it had in mind the possibility of a geographically based party like a Southland Party. The Royal Commission was right but not in the way they foresaw.

Act is the only third party to win two constituencies, Epsom and Wellington Central.

They do have a geographic feature in common. The two electorates are two of the highest-taxed electorates.

Electorates do not choose to elect third party candidates unless the majority of voters believe neither of the two major parties represents them. Despite the rhetoric, government spending today is higher under National than it was under Labour.

High taxpayers are not represented by either of the two major parties so it is likely that Act or an Act-like party will continue to win highly taxed constituencies.

"No taxation without representation" is at the heart of our parliamentary system. Officials may be right that Parliament will be more "stable" if there are no MPs asking "Who is being taxed to pay for all this spending?" but we will not be more democratic or better governed.

If MPs change the rules I do not think Act will start terrorism camps in the Ureweras.

I do think even more high income earners will decide to take their job creation and taxable income to Australia.

* Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party.