STV system ‘really fair’

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STV pointers . . . Prof Janine Hayward, of the University of Otago's Department of Politics, suggests the single transferable voting system used in the local government elections might be as easy as ranking "as many people as you want, thinking of who could be the person to represent you". PHOTO: ODT FILES

As voting papers arrive in the post during the next week, voters will need to consider not only which candidates to support, but how to cast their vote.

Both the Dunedin City Council and Southern DHB elections are using the single transferable vote (STV) system, while Otago Regional Council elections are first past the post (FPP).

Since many people find the STV style of voting somewhat confusing, The Star asked politics and voting specialist, Prof Janine Hayward, of the University of Otago, for some guidance on getting it right.

Prof Hayward said, under the STV system, voters were casting a single vote, but were doing so by ranking candidates in order of preference – starting with “1, 2, 3, 4” and continuing on as far down the list as they wished.

Voters should bear in mind that they were voting for the candidates that they ranked.

In Prof Hayward’s opinion, while voters can rank all candidates on the ballot sheet if they wished, it is really “too much to ask”.

“It [ranking all candidates] is not essential to cast a valid vote,” she said.

It was not possible to vote strategically under STV, “only honestly”.

However, if there was a candidate a voter was completely opposed to, they had the option of voting for everyone else first.

“So, what I say to people is, for goodness sake don’t rank everybody if that’s too onerous a task and will put you off voting.

“I’m just going to rank the people I want to support into office.”

Under STV, all of the number 1 votes get counted, and the least popular candidate is excluded. Some candidates will be elected immediately, having reached the necessary quota of votes.

Their surplus votes are redistributed to the voter’s number 2 candidate, and so on.

“The thing that STV does really well is minimised the wasted votes,” Prof Hayward said.

“For our mayoral elections, whoever wins the mayoralty has to get over 50% of the valid votes,” she said.

However, FPP was a much less efficient voting system, meaning large numbers of people were not helping to elect anyone.

“Under STV, you know you have a majority mayor, rather than a mayor elected by the biggest minority.”

For voters, STV was a simple system to use.

“You look at the list, you think about who your number one candidate is, and you give them a ‘1’, and then you think about who you would next like your vote to go to.

“Once all the votes are counted, you can be confident that the people who got elected broadly reflect the preferences of the community,” Prof Hayward said. While there were 14 council positions available, people should not be overwhelmed by it.

“Just rank as many people as you want, thinking of who could be the person to represent you.”

The 11 councils who were using the STV voting system this time, including the DCC, would have elections that were “really fair and democratic”, she said.