Last week I blogged on the options around the party vote threshold for parties to gain representation in Parliament, as this is one of the issues being considered by the Electoral Commission in its review of MMP.
A related issue is the other threshold to gain representation in Parliament - winning an electorate seat. Currently a party that wins an electorate seat not only gets that electorate, but is eligible to gain list MPs even if their party vote is under 5 per cent. Generally a party that wins an electorate seat will gain a second member of Parliament if it gets 1.2 per cent of the party vote.
The three basic options for the electorate seat threshold are to retain it, to abolish it or to increase the threshold (to, say, two electorate seats).
Before I touch on the arguments for and against the electorate seat threshold, I always like to look at how it would have affected the six MMP elections we have had to date if it had not existed.
In 1996 no party gained list MPs through the one electorate threshold. All those parties with list MPs got over 5%.
In 1999 NZ First gained four list MPs as Winston Peters won Tauranga and NZ First got 4.3 per cent. Without the electorate threshold, NZ First would have had only Peters in Parliament in 1999.
In 2002 Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition gained a second MP in Matt Robson on 1.7 per cent party vote as Anderton won Wigram.
In 2005 United Future gained two extra MPs on 2.7 per cent party vote and ACT gained one additional MP on 1.5% party vote as Peter Dunne won Ohariu-Belmont and Rodney Hide won Epsom.
In 2008 ACT gained four extra MPs on 3.7 per cent party vote as Rodney Hide retained Epsom.
Interestingly in 2011, no party gained list MPs through the electorate threshold. The only parties with list MPs all got over 5 per cent party vote.
As one can see, if MMP did not have the one seat electorate threshold, Parliament might have been very different in the past. NZ First would have lost all its MPs except Peters in 1999. The Progressives would have been reduced to a one-person party in 2002 and both ACT and United Future the same in 2005.
It is even possible some of those parties would have been wiped out entirely. Would Epsom voters have voted for Rodney Hide in 2005 if there had been no incentive to have ACT gain extra MPs from voting for him?
The argument against the electorate seat threshold is that it is unfair a party with a lower party vote than another party gets more MPs than that party. This has in fact only happened once in six elections - in 2008 when NZ First got no MPs on 4.1 per cent party vote and ACT got five MPs on 3.7 per cent party vote, as they had won an electorate seat.
The other argument against the electorate seat threshold is that it encourages parties to do deals in seats, and encourages tactical voting in some electorates.
An argument against removing the electorate seat threshold is that it will make Parliament less proportional. It will make it harder for parties to be represented in Parliament, and that the better solution is to lower the party vote threshold so that it is easier for a party to gain representation in Parliament without having to win an electorate seat.
Another argument against removing the threshold is that the system worked the way it was meant to in 2008. That no voters in a seat would vote tactically to give NZ First an electorate seat was an indication that they did not think it could be a stable partner for either Labour or National (otherwise Labour voters would have voted tactically for it), while National voters in 2008 did see value in having ACT in Parliament.
Overall I think there is a case for removing the electorate threshold, but only if the party vote threshold is lower so that it is easier for parties to make it into Parliament. However, my mind is not yet made up on this issue, as if the threshold is made too low, then stable government is much more difficult, as we have seen in Israel.
Do you think the electorate vote threshold should stay or go? Do you think it is a big issue considering that in the last general election no party gained any list MPs through the threshold?
David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.
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