When the first hints emerged that the Government was abandoning "at large" voting for the new Super City in favour of a full ward-based electoral system, it seemed as though the message had finally got through about how undemocratic the "at large" system is. However, Bernard Orsman's report today suggests the cure is going to be much worse than anyone could have expected.

The latest brainstorm being favoured in Wellington appears to be a proposal to have six multi-member urban wards, plus a couple of large rural single-member seats. This arrangement will just repeat the shortcomings of the original proposal and makes a bad situation even worse. At least with the original plan to elect 12 councillors from local wards and the remaining eight on a citywide basis, there was an effort to retain a semblance of local representation.

But to reduce local representation to just six wards across the whole isthmus in effect introduces six medium-sized "at large" voting systems to replace one mega-sized partial one. The six wards, if you include Papakura and the urban areas of the outlying district councils, will be not much smaller than the existing four big cities, yet from each of these diverse, sprawling conurbations voters will be asked to choose three candidates to represent them.

What community of interest joins the rich of Remuera with the strugglers of Otahuhu? Yet chances are they will be voting in the same ward for someone to represent their very different interests. Similarly in South Auckland, where the people of Otara will have to compete with the Howickians for representatives that best reflect their very different viewpoints. Of course as with all electoral systems, there will be winners and losers. But the proposed system risks introducing a winning-trio-takes-all system, leaving large numbers of voters with no voice on the council - not even a minority one.

This is a return to the pre-reform days of 1989, when voters had to wade through a list of dozens of hopefuls and, from them, select a rugby team-sized group of councillors. There was widespread discontent at how this system tended to favour the rich, the well-known and, because of the formidably sized lists, people whose names began with early letters of the alphabet.

The ward system of voting introduced in 1989 split cities into more manageable "communities of interest" and resulted in a more representative cross-section of citizens getting elected.

To divide Auckland's 1.3 million people into six urban and two rural wards is a lurch back to the old unpopular and undemocratic system of yore. As I see it, the only way it could be acceptable is if it came combined with the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. Wellington and Dunedin City Councils, and a handful of minor councils, have used STV in the past two local elections without riots in the street. We Aucklanders used it in the last district health board elections, but, like me, you probably found that poll so boring it has long since vanished from your memory banks.

Until now, the incredibly complicated, computer-based counting system has put me off. Yesterday I sat down with several "idiot's guides" to STV and again glazed over. It wasn't helped by one of the tutorials using the names of famous composers as candidates, and the great Beethoven ended up being whipped comprehensively by that blowhard showman Chopin! Still that's democracy - the best man doesn't always win.

But in this time of emergency, I'm willing to accept the experts' assurances that the computer knows best, and that after I go into the voting booth and list several candidates in order of preference, it knows how to juggle my one, two and threes to best reflect my wishes. An STV system would allow minorities, be they geographical, ideological, economic or ethnic, to get like-minded representatives elected.

STV proponents argue that the system works best when voters have to select between five and seven councillors, which in the case of the Auckland Council would mean having fewer wards, more councillors overall, or something in between. In other words, a compromise between lesser local representation versus greater diversity at other levels. But either way, the solution would be better than a return to the pre-1989 model, which the Government seems intent on.