Monday, December 19, 2011

MMP review: Open lists

MMP is currently being reviewed, with an issues paper due out in February. In anticipation of that, I'm doing a series of posts on the review questions. This one will focus on the fourth question:

Whether voters or political parties should decide the order of candidates on a party list
As someone who favours giving power to voters rather than parties, my answer is "yes". But how can it be done?

Wikipedia has information on the various open list systems used overseas. The basic system is that voters can tick a party, and (or by) tick one or more candidates on that party's list. Which means that you need a bigger ballot paper, or multiple ballot papers (one per party), or numbered candidates and a box to write in. Any candidate who gets more than a set threshold (usually some fraction of the list's quota, the effective number of votes required to elect a single MP on it, and varying with the weight assigned to the party's choice) goes straight to the top of the list, in order of votes received.

The effectiveness of such a system depends on how many voters use it. In the Netherlands, most simply vote for their chosen party's top candidate in order to ensure they enter Parliament. In Sweden, over 25% of voters pick a candidate, and low-ranking candidates are regularly elected against their original list-ranking. Given the significant extra expense and hassle involved, I think we'd want to see some research about how many people would actually use this option, and review it after a couple of elections to see whether the use justified that hassle. But I think its worth a serious look. One of the biggest complaints about MP is that it took power from voters and gave it to the party's list makers (as opposed to its local selection committee); open lists would give us that power back.