Voting system FAQs

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Why are we being asked about FPP and STV?

By September 2020, Far North District Council needs to decide which voting system we’ll use in the next local government election. We’re asking which voting system you think is best, so our Mayor and Councillors know the views of the community before making their decision.

Is the Council’s decision final?

Not necessarily. Voters have the right to demand a poll on which voting system our district should use. This must have the support of 5% of voters. If a valid demand for a poll is received, the poll will be held before 21 May 2021 and the outcome (FPP or STV) will be binding for the 2022 and 2025 local elections. If there is no demand for a poll, then the Council’s decision will apply for the 2022 elections.

What councils in New Zealand use FPP?

In the 2019 local government elections, 67 out of 78 local authorities used FPP, including Far North District Council.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of FPP?

As Far North District Council has always used FPP to vote for the Mayor, councillors and community boards, it is a system voters are already familiar with. The counting process is easy to understand and the results easily show how many people voted for each candidate.

What are the disadvantages of FPP?

Under FPP, a mayor and/or councillors can be elected with a low number of votes. To be elected mayor, a candidate only needs to get more votes than the next highest-polling candidate. This can mean that more voters didn’t vote for the winning candidate than did vote for them. And votes for a candidate that aren’t needed for them to be elected can be seen as ‘wasted’.

What does it mean that votes can be ‘wasted’ under FPP?

Research on electoral systems labels any vote that does not help to elect a candidate as ‘wasted’. This is different to the typical meaning of something being a waste. For example, the votes for candidates who are not elected are described as ‘wasted’. Likewise, the surplus votes a candidate receives, over and above the number they need to be elected, are also said to be ‘wasted’. The FPP voting system produces more of this type of 'wasted' vote than STV.

What councils in New Zealand use STV?

In the 2019 local government elections, 11 out of 78 local authorities used STV: Dunedin City Council, Kaipara District Council, Kapiti Coast District Council, Marlborough District Council, New Plymouth District Council (1st time), Porirua City Council, Ruapehu District Council (1st time), Tauranga City Council (1st time), Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council.

How do I vote under STV?

In an STV election, you have one vote and rank the candidates in order of preference. You give a 1 to your favourite candidate, 2 to your second favourite and so on. You can rank as many candidates as you like – you don’t need to rank them all. By ranking the candidates, parts of your vote may be shared between the candidates you support according to your preferences. If the candidate you most want to win gets more votes than they need to be elected, because a lot of other people voted for them too, part of your vote may be transferred to your next choice. The same thing happens if your top choice is really unpopular and doesn’t get enough votes to be elected – your vote for them will be transferred to your next preference until all positions are filled.

How are votes counted under STV?

The votes are counted in stages. All first preference votes are counted first. To be elected, candidates must reach what’s called the quota – a number based on the total number of valid votes and the number of vacant positions. When a candidate reaches the quota and is elected, a portion of the surplus votes go to their voters’ second choices. If no other candidates reach the quota and there are positions still to be filled, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are transferred according to voters’ second choices. These steps are repeated until all of the positions are filled. If voters didn’t give any second or subsequent preferences, those votes cannot be transferred and the quota is recalculated to exclude the non-transferable votes.

All of the vote counting is done by computer using specialist software. The Department of Internal Affairs developed the program (called the STV calculator). It has been independently audited and certified, as required by law.

What are the advantages of STV?

Under STV, the election results are more likely to reflect the preferences of a greater number of voters. Because voters’ second, third, and other preferences are taken into account, the results are a more accurate indication of the total support each candidate has. As STV maximises the number of votes that help to elect candidates, there is also a higher probability of more voters being represented by someone they voted for.

What are the disadvantages of STV?

Voting for our Mayor and councillors under STV will be less familiar to Far North voters. The counting system is more complex.

Is the same process used to count the mayoral votes as the one used for councillors?

Yes, it’s the same process. The quota the winning mayoral candidate needs to reach is an absolute majority – more than 50% of the votes.

How is the quota calculated under STV?

In an STV election, the quota is the number of votes a candidate needs to get elected. It is calculated from the total number of valid votes cast and the number of vacant positions. In the case of mayoral elections, the quota is an absolute majority (more than 50%).

Do voters have to rank everyone?

No. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you wish, so your vote is still valid even if you only rank some candidates.

How might a vote become invalid in an STV election?

If you don’t rank anyone at all with a “1”. Or if you rank more than one person with a “1”. Or if you vote using ticks, as in an FPP election.

If you muck up the later numbers – like ranking two candidates with “3”s – your vote won’t be able to transfer after the 2nd preference to help other candidates, but your earlier preferences (1st and 2nd) will still count.

Are there any ‘wasted’ votes under STV?

Research on electoral systems labels any vote that does not help to elect a candidate as ‘wasted’. This is different to the typical meaning of something being a waste. For example, the votes for candidates who are not elected are described as ‘wasted’. Sometimes the surplus votes a candidate receives, over and above the number they need to be elected, are also said to be ‘wasted’. Under STV there are still some ‘wasted’ votes, but the system is designed to minimise these. If a popular candidate does not need all the votes he or she receives, a share is transferred to their voters’ next preferences. On the other hand, if a candidate doesn’t receive enough votes to be elected, their votes can be transferred to their voters’ next preferences.

Is voter turnout higher under FPP or STV elections?

It’s difficult to say if the voting system used affects voter turnout, as a number of variables impact participation e.g. the appeal of candidates, interest in council issues, perceptions of previous elected members.

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