Monday, March 04, 2019

Strengthening our democracy?

Over the weekend the Greens introduced a Member's Bill with an assortment of changes to the Electoral Act to strengthen our democracy. The one that seems to be getting the most attnetion is overturning National's repulsive (and unconstitutional) prisoner voting ban, but it would also enable Māori voters to change rolls whenever they want (as recommended by the Electoral Commission), strengthen transparency and disclosure of electoral donations, and lower the MMP threshold and eliminate the one-seat rule (as recommended by the 2012 Electoral Commission review of MMP).

I support most of these changes. The prisoner voting ban is a stain on our democracy. It is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, and it has to go. And it is shameful that the response of our political class to the court ruling saying so has been a giant "meh", rather than urgently bringing the law into consistency with our constitution. The changes to the Māori roll seem like a good idea, though the Greens' drafting means that they are amending entrenched provisions in s35 of the Act. Not substantively, but it does mean that those changes (and the bill itself) would need a 75% supermajority to pass. Which National will use to defeat the very necessary changes to the transparency regime, which would throw open the books on who is trying to buy influence with our political parties.

The one area I don't support is the move to eliminate the one-seat rule. As I noted at the time, the Electoral Commission blew it by recommending a change which would actually make our voting system less representative than it is at present. I support eliminating the threshold entirely, and any reduction in it is a step towards this. But until the threshold is reduced to the level required to win two seats, then removing the one-seat rule will reduce proportionality, and damage our democracy rather than strengthening it. So oddly, I'm hoping that this bill is never drawn, and that the other changes in it are advanced by other bills instead.