The best eludes New Zealand polity

It is less than two months until the Referendum, when everyone will get a chance to choose what electoral system he or she would like going forward.

To do this, we all need to understand the nuts and bolts of the systems, the sorts of outcomes they will lead to, and what it means to be represented by politicians in Parliament.

There is no perfect voting system. They all have pros and cons and prioritise different outcomes.

Choosing a system involves understanding the different factors at play and making trade-offs between those factors, according to what each of us thinks is more or less important for New Zealand.

Maxim Institute’s latest paper aims to help New Zealanders understand the issues involved.

The paper, titled, ‘Kicking the Tyres: Choosing a voting system for New Zealand,’ looks at criteria that are helpful for assessing a voting system and identifying several important elements. These elements fall under two main headings, namely, how voting systems enable quality representation; and how they affect the workings of parliament and government.

No system matches all criteria perfectly. In fact, some criteria exclude each other.

For example, a voting system that delivers an “effective government” that can do what it promised voters may not deliver strong opposition and oversight from competing, non-government parties.

The criteria do not work like a simple tally, but help to understand the systems so that each of us can make a well-considered decision about what we think is the best.

One of the main distinctions made between systems is to do with whether they are Proportional or ‘Majoritarian.’

Put simply, does Parliament try to reflect the diverse range of interest groups in society through lots of interest group representation, or does it tend to have one party win a majority?

No system is purely one or the other, but they all strike the balance in different ways, leading to very different outcomes and very different types of Parliament.

New Zealand should have a voting system that enables representative democracy to flourish.

Each of us must decide which system we think will do this best, based on how we prioritise the different effects of different systems.

We hope that voters will decide their preferred system after thinking carefully about what provides for effective representation, and that ‘Kicking the Tyres’ will help voters to develop an awareness of each system’s implications.

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