The decision last week by 11 of my colleagues to support First Past the Post as the electoral system Gisborne District Council intends to use in 2013 was disappointing for me for a number of reasons.
There seemed to be a number of councilors who believed STV is some kind of threat to rural wards. Someone who should have known better said Wairoa had done away with its wards after switching to STV and now only one rural councilor remained there. But according to the Department of Internal Affairs, Wairoa District Council uses FPP and always has. Anyway, Council chooses the make up of the wards, the voting system has nothing to do with it.
A growing number of people seem motivated to collect the 1,517 signatures of eligible electors required to ensure the public have their say through an official poll on whether or not to change to STV. This means the decision last week is likely to cost the Council around $60,000 to administer the poll.
STV is a fairer and more democratic system. According to the official guidelines from the Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM), the main advantage of STV is that it produces better outcomes than FPP. While Gisborne elections have had much higher numbers of invalids for STV than FPP, SOLGM and the Local Government Commission say most of the confusion is from having different systems on the same voting paper. Evidence gathered from comparing the results of STV against FPP elections has found that STV achieves “broad proportionality in multi-member wards/constituencies ; majority outcomes in single-member elections; more equitable minority representation ; and a reduction in the number of wasted votes.” Why would we not want all of those outcomes?
I don’t give much weight to precedence from reviews undertaken by GDC in years gone by. We have got the responsibility and opportunity to review the situation now and whatever people decided previously is of little consequence to this decision. Similarly just because the majority of other councils still use FPP, I don’t see that as a reason we should – its pretty clear that those who have used STV get a Council that is more representative of their community in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, again I suspect other councils like the status quo that delivered them the power.
I agree with claims that more voters feel comfortable with FPP but that is a self-perpetuating cycle, if we don’t try the alternative (for both Council and DHB) then we as voters won’t make the effort to understand STV.
Yes STV is a more complex voting process and it does take longer to work out who won, so if a simple, easy to understand voting system is most important then FPP is the best option. However if we believe the most accurate system is preferable in terms of electing the people most preferred by the voters, then STV is far superior.
FPP is a bit like using a sledgehammer to open an egg, it gets the job done quickly and simply, but the results are not as good as if we use a more sophisticated approach such as an egg cup, a knife and a teaspoon.
To avoid any chance of a perceived conflict of interest in these important decisions around representation arrangements, the idea of an independent panel to draft a proposal has some real merit. Any volunteers?!