STV vot­ing - it’s not that per­plex­ing


Each coun­cil gets to de­cide the vot­ing sys­tem by which its mem­bers are elected, mean­ing there is a mix through­out the coun­try.

Most coun­cils use the more tra­di­tional First Past the Post (FPP) sys­tem, where vot­ers put a tick be­side their favourite can­di­dates, and those who re­ceive the most votes in any given con­test are de­clared the win­ner.

But all of the health boards, and eight of its coun­cils – Welling­ton, Porirua, Kapiti Coast Dis­trict, Palmer­ston North, Dunedin, Kaipara Dis­trict, Marl­bor­ough Dis­trict, and Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil – use what is known as the sin­gle trans­fer­able vote sys­tem, or STV.

With STV, in­stead of tick­ing the can­di­dates you want to vote for, you rank as many or as few as you want to vote for, in your pre­ferred or­der – 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on.

Can­di­dates must reach a cer­tain num­ber of votes to get elected. In the case of the may­oralty, this quota is set at 50 per cent.

If none of the can­di­dates reaches the quota af­ter the votes have been tal­lied then the low­est polling can­di­date is elim­i­nated and all votes for that per­son are trans­ferred to those vot­ers’ next pref­er­ences.

This process is re­peated un­til some­one reaches the quota.

Your votes can also be trans­ferred a dif­fer­ent way, which is par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent in sit­u­a­tions where mul­ti­ple va­can­cies need fill­ing, as is the case with coun­cil ward and health board seats.

If a can­di­date reaches the quota with more votes than they ac­tu­ally need, then the sur­plus part of each vote is trans­ferred to the voter’s sec­ond pref­er­ence. This means sur­plus votes are not sim­ply wasted.

As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Ja­nine Hayward, head of the Univer­sity of Otago’s politics depart­ment, is a big be­liever that STV is a bet­ter way of do­ing things than FPP.

‘‘It takes a cer­tain kind of per­son to think through the me­chan­ics of how the [STV] vote works. But in terms of cast­ing the vote, it’s a very sim­ple process,’’ she said.

‘‘You sit down, look at the can­di­dates, de­cide who you like best, start at ‘1’, rank them se­quen­tially and fin­ish when you run out of peo­ple you want to sup­port. It’s as sim­ple as that.’’

But what if your in­ten­tions are two-fold? What if you’ve got a favourite can­di­date, but equally, a can­di­date or two who you would be mor­ti­fied to see in of­fice?

Should you not rank them at all? Or should you rank all of the can­di­dates in the race and put the one you de­spise most dead last?

Hayward ad­mit­ted aca­demic opin­ion on this point is mixed. She al­ways en­cour­aged peo­ple to rank only can­di­dates who they would like to see elected.

But there is a school of thought that says rank­ing all of the can­di­dates gives your vote the best chance of keep­ing some­one you dis­like off the coun­cil be­cause your vote re­mains ac­tive in the trans­feral process longer.

For in­stance, if you only rank two can­di­dates, and those peo­ple are ei­ther elected or knocked out of the vot­ing process early on, then your vote has nowhere left to trans­fer.

But if you have ranked ev­ery­one in the race then your vote has bet­ter odds of trans­fer­ring to some­one other than the per­son you dis­like most, pro­vided an­other can­di­date you like more re­mains in the count.

Hayward ar­gued that while it would be highly un­likely in a race like the Welling­ton may­oralty for your eighth pref­er­ence to have the op­po­site ef­fect of ac­tu­ally help­ing that per­son, it is a slim pos­si­bil­ity.

Vot­ing is not as com­plex as you think un­der the STV sys­tem.

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