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.