OPINION: People who like to have Palmerston North divided into several parts to elect the city council will have their say this week.
So will those who think councillors should have to get support from throughout the city if they are to be elected.
The merits and disadvantages of city-wide voting have been debated for years and the arguments are now well-practised.
Meanwhile, the game-changing switch from first-past-the-post (FPP) to single transferable vote (STV) has been largely ignored, although it ought to be one of the significant factors considered by decision-makers.
The debate about scrapping wards for city-wide voting has been carrying on like before, almost as if the switch to STV were never made.
More likely, the implications of STV are not well-understood.
Opponents of city-wide voting are generally worried the winning candidates could all come from one, probably affluent area, and the cost of campaigning city-wide disadvantages poorer candidates or those less likely to receive donations.
Apparently, some also believe city-wide voting is stacked in favour of incumbent councillors, although the logic backing this argument is fuzzy. City-wide voting might make profile slightly more important, but the profile that comes with being an incumbent surely helps no matter what the system is.
It's weird to argue that city councillors who favour city-wide voting do so for self-serving reasons when the existing system of wards got them elected, they know their patches well and how to win elections there.
Switching to city-wide voting would be a step into the unknown and therefore carries greater risk for the incumbents.
Advocates for city-wide voting argue every voter should be allowed to have a say on the makeup of the entire council, not just back two or three people who might live in the neighbourhood.
A voter in Takaro might want to vote for a Hokowhitu candidate, but cannot currently do so.
This voter might have heard of just a few candidates for council, and there's a good chance not one of them is in that voter's ward.
There's a grassroots sort of argument in favour of wards, whereby it is believed a person who has developed solid networks in their local community can expect to have a reasonable chance of being elected.
A series of localised battles can result in robust debates and strong contests for seats around the council table.
But there's something not quite right about the city being divided into so many wards that not all that many votes are needed to get elected.
Many of the arguments are well worn, but the relevance of STV has been understated.
What it means for voters is that they will rank candidates, starting at 1 and going out possibly as far as 15, instead of putting ticks next to some names.
What it means for contests is that they more accurately reflect the wishes of more voters - the results are more proportional.
One thing that shouldn't be ignored is that the system works best when there are several positions and many candidates. This runs counter to little local battles with few candidates.
I hope advocates of wards are asked the following question by councillors this week: How do you reconcile the retention of wards with STV? This is a question they ought to think about before presenting their submissions.
Switching to STV makes having a lot of wards an unattractive option. Having too many wards cuts against the way STV works.
Palmerston North has five wards. At the very least, proponents of wards should find it difficult to justify having the city split so many ways in an STV environment.
In a mayoralty race, STV can mean a popular, but polarising candidate can be pipped by a candidate with widespread and moderately warm support.
It's possible in an FPP election for votes to be split among 10 good candidates standing on similar platforms while one rogue with strange ideas triumphs.
STV makes it harder to elect a seriously bad mayor.
STV means voters' second, third and fourth choices for mayor become relevant in a five-horse race, so a candidate with luke-warm but broad support can win.
Contests for council seats are more likely to result in a diverse pool of representatives.
As a system, STV does not work as well in achieving proportional representation when there are few candidates spread across lots of races. It is much better when there are 20 candidates chasing seven positions than if there are six candidates chasing two positions, for example.
The more wards there are, the better the chances of the latter scenario.
STV tilts the argument about wards against the status quo. It will be interesting to see if advocates of wards acknowledge this.
Grant Miller is the Manawatu Standard's head of content and a politics junkie.
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