MMP review

The Party Vote Threshold

Legal Beagle

Graeme Edgeler writes his thought about the MMP threshold. He wants it at about 2.5%.

If we are to have a threshold at 2.5% then I think the adoption of the Queensland rule that you need to have 10 MPs to justify a leaders budget should be highly appropriate. That way we avoid the rorts of single MP parties declaring they have a leader and score extra funding accordingly.

The way that people tend to look at this is to consider the effect on parties: for example, in 2008, the 5% threshold meant that New Zealand First wasn’t represented in Parliament. This is a fundamentally flawed way to approach thresholds. I don’t care about parties. I care about voters. The threshold wasn’t unfair to the New Zealand First Party, but it was unfair to the 95,356 people who gave it their party vote. By having a threshold, and in particular, by having a high one, we are telling a lot of people that they have no place in our democracy, and that their views matter less because they voted the wrong way. In creating a threshold, we are deciding that the voices of some voters just aren’t worth hearing. 95,000 voters are enough to given any party 5 MPs, or any party 5 MPs more. That’s a lot.

My simple point is that the threshold should be as low as is needed to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve by having a threshold, and absolutely no higher. So I’m stumping for 2.5%. Whatever anyone wants to achieve by having any threshold at all, I consider it will be achieved with a threshold at this level. Any number will have a whiff of arbitrariness about it, but I think this has a bit going for it if we are going to have a threshold.

In a 120-seat House of Representatives, a party which has the support of 2.5% of voters, has fully earned 3 MPs (with rounding, a party could get three MPs with somewhat fewer votes – as little as 2% will sometimes be enough). Although the case can be made (and I’m quite amenable to it) that two MPs is large enough to have a positive effect on Parliament, when we’re talking about 3 or more likely 4 MPs (which cuts in at around 2.8% ~ 3%), we’re really talking about a significant and useful bloc (of voters, and of MPs). At 4% or 5%, you’re saying that a some groupings of five MPs are too small to bother with, and their voters justifiably ignored, which is at least a couple of steps too far.

Now, you can legitimately argue that even a 2.5% threshold is too great an imposition on the the principle that all voters should be equal, and there’s something in that, however I’m a pragmatist, and because I think it highly likely that this debate will end up being an argument over whether the threshold should be 5% or 4% and because I think both of these numbers are far too high, I’m happy to compromise.