Monday, August 13, 2012

MMP review: One good point

While the Electoral Commission's MMP review blew it in terms of improving our democracy, there is at least one good point: they've taken a great, steaming dump over Labour's desire to increase the number of electorates. The Commission looked at the balance between electorate and list seats, and based on past election results identifies a ratio of 76 electorates to 44 list seats as the point at which the system breaks down:

At the 2002 General Election the Labour Party’s successes in the electorate contests might have caused there to be too few list seats to maintain proportionality if there had been 76 electorate and 44 list seats. The same problem might have arisen at that election for the National Party’s result if there had been 83 electorate seats.

The specific combination of electorate results and party votes received by all parties in 2002 were, arguably, exceptional. However, were the 2002 results so unusual that, were they to be repeated in a Parliament of 76 electorate seats and 44 list seats, the public would regard any problems for proportionality as a one-off aberration and, therefore, acceptable? Or would the public regard the inability of the electoral system to maintain proportionality in the case of a main party with significant nationwide support, albeit with unusual results, as a failure of the system? We suspect the latter. For this reason, we suggest it would be prudent to identify 76 electorate seats as the point at which the risk of there being too few list seats to maintain proportionality becomes unacceptable.

On current projections, we will reach that point sometime after 2026, so its not an immediate cause for concern. But Parliament is going to have to deal with it one way or another in the next decade or so. Reducing the number of electorates to restore balance to the system is one solution, but would require a supermajority or referendum as it requires changing an entrenched provision. Alternatively, we could preserve balance by automatically add a list seat every time we add an electorate (which would require the Chamber to be remodelled by about 2040 or so). But either way, Labour's nasty little proposal is a dead duck. And OTOH, the proposed removal of overhangs should remove Labour's reason for pushing it, so it should cease to be an issue.