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.


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  • JeffW2

    At a higher level, the question is surely what are we trying to achieve – proportional representation or a system which establishes a government able to do the hard things necessary to save the country from the effects of welfare and other government over spending. I care less about proportional representation than I do about saving the country. Accordingly, I would be happy with a 10% threshold. Or a second chamber with a right of veto or at the very least delay, in which votes are given to individual electors according to the amount of net tax they pay.

    • AngryTory

      What are you after – more “democracy” or less?

      Given the size of NZ, here’s all we need: 10 seats only, STV, 50% threshold, 10 year terms.

      The parliament from 2011-2021 would be:

      Bill EnglishGerry BrownleeSteven JoyceJudith CollinsTony RyallNick SmithAnne TolleyHekia ParataChristopher Finlayson

      who else do we need?

      (OK sure, actually under this system, Hide & Brash would have been on National’s “list”)

      and yes, taxpayer franchise is an idea whose time as more than ever ready.

  • 10 might be a little high, but I’d support a general rule in that direction.

  • Spam

    The problem with 1 & 2 MP parties is that they have disproportional influence over a parliament if they happen to be the 1 or 2 MPs required to get a majority.

    • Pete George

      Only if they disproportionately exercise that influence, and there is little evidence of that.

      A 59 MP party still has much more influence than a one or three MP party.

    • Callum

      The other side of that is, the more 2 or 3 MP parties there are, the less individual influence they can wield.

    • GPT

      Yes and that is were the very laudable aim of every vote counting falls away. 

  • That MMP allowed that dirty little commie subversive Gareth Hughes into parliament is the best reason we have ever had to wipe it completely.

    • Kosh103

      So you are anti democracy then.

      • MrV

        I think its just a matter of you should have more experience than dressing up in a clown suit to be an MP.

      • AngryTory

        What’s democracy? votes for DBPers, MUNZers. Bludgers, Codgers and all the rest —  vastly out-voting the 10% of Kiwis who pay for themselves, and the 1% of Kiwis who pay for everything else.

        NZ’s growth rate: 0.2%    UK: -0.3%     China 10%

        where do you want to invest?   
        Who will still have an economy and a country in 20 years time?

  • Kosh103

    Drop the entrance % down to 3%, but introduce a party exsistance limit. If a Party fails to win – say 4+ seats then they are not a party in Parl and as such dont get all the leadership perks etc….

    As I have said in the past, to consider Banks, Dunne, Hone etc… as a party when there is just one of them is plain silly and costly to the tax payer. All 3 won electrate seats – they are Indpt electrate MPs, not a party in Parl.

  • Fergus

    Never agreed with Mike Moore before I believe he said….”You can find 1 in 20 (5%) of people who still believe elvis is alive” MMP threshold

  • mattyman

    A 2.5% threshold would create blind chaos when trying to form government or merely trying to govern a nation. Threshold that low would make it far too easy for protest parties, who have no desire to make a contribution, in to parliament. Turning it into more of a joke than it already is.

  • tas

    Transferrable party votes. If you voted for NZ First in 2008 or Conservatives in 2011, your vote should be transferred to your second preference party.

    • I agree! Give everyone a second-choice vote, and keep the threshold as it is. Reduces wasted vote and provides a little encouragement to vote for a minor party. I only would want to see two votes though. If you vote for two silly parties your vote pretty much deserves to be wasted. 

      • Kosh103

        Well to all those going on about the transferable system – you are waisting your time.

        Vote was held – MMP won, move on to the next step.

      • No, you are missing the point. A transferability element can be introduced into MMP, on the party vote. There is nothing preventing that. 

        Why not allow voters whose first choice does not make it into parliament to have a second choice? I can’t find any reason why that would be a bad thing. It would probably make parliament more diverse, in fact. 

        Wasted votes are a bad thing, and this is a way to reduce them without having to lower the threshold (which has some downsides).

      • MrV

        I see what you are saying and have some sympathy for what it tries to achieve, but David Camerons response to that was quite eloquently, why do people who want to vote for the stark-raving-loony party effectively get two votes under such a system.

  • Mr_Blobby

    I would like to see the threshold lifted to 10% for list MP’s. Realistically that won’t happen I would also like to see the number of MP’s dropped to 100. In any event we should stay with a 5% of the party vote threshold for List and Party alike. This would cut out the one man seats and the race based protest parties. The Maori party won’t like that as they sit around 1.5 – 2% support. We should also address the race based seats themselves, as they upset the proportionality of Parliament itself.

  • Allan

    Any system that allows, The Greens, Mana or NZ First anywhere near the Halls of Power should be dumped.  I agree with the 10% threshold, perhaps then we may see some stable form of Govt and serious reforms made by the major parties.  At present everyone is too scared to do anything for fear of alienating the idiots who vote for the above 3 mentioned parties and by not doing anything NZ is sliding further into debt and a crisis that Greece, Spain and the other Socialist blocks of the EU are now finding themselves in.  We simply cannot afford to carry on with the way we are going.

    • Kosh103

      So are you saying that you are against reasonably accurate democratic results then.

      • Mr_Blobby

        There should be no overhang ,how the Maori party can get 1.5% of the vote and 3% of the seats. How proportional and fair is that.

      • Getting rid of the overhang would make this worse. The Maori Party may cause the overhang, but the party that benefits from it in this Parliament is National.

    • Mr_Blobby

      You are absolutely right. Unfortunately the rot has already set in, with so many people dependant on the state, from beneficiaries to government employees, voting in there own interests.
      It is, I believe inevitable. Watch the European situation they are a few years ahead of us. Unfortunately the regurgitated dribble that the local media dish up doesn’t show the violent protests starting around the EU, most recently Spain.
      But coming to our shores it is, and it won’t be nice. We will borrow until we can borrow no more to fund our lifestyle and we are forced to front up to the situation.

    • AngryTory

      Of  course we can’t: but you can’t blame any of that on the Greens or Mana (never been in govt), or even WInston First (whose only policy is $100,000 every year to Winston).

      Put the blame where it is deserved: Labour, the political wing of the MUNZler industrial terrorists.

      In Queensland Labor are no longer a political party.
      Key revised the electoral act, and had the opportunity to do the same here.
      But unlike in OZ (or unlike Ruth or Maggie) Key didn’t have the balls.

  • Arnie

    If a party gets 5% of the list vote they should only get 5% of the list seats (around 3 seats) NOT 5% of the total number of seats (6 seats) as it is at the moment.

  • Sam Hill

    I have been suggesting 2.0% for a long time.

    Here’s why:

    Ideally we should have 120 MPs – 70 electorates, and 50 list MPs.

    However due to overhangs we have had a variable number of MPs. This is one of my major hang ups with the current system.

    I suggest we keep 70 electorate MPs, entrench the 50 list MPs, and for every 2% that a party earns in the party vote, they get a seat. 2% is 1/50th of the party vote. If it turns out that we’re a few seats short, the seats are allocated to those closest to the 2% threshold.

    The house would currently look like this (brackets for current seats)

                           Party vote %    Seats 
    National 47.31             66 (59)  42 electorate + 24 list
    Labour 27.48             36 (34)  22 electorate + 14 list
    Green 11.06               6 (14)  6 list
    NZ First 6.59               3 (8)    3 list
    Conservative 2.65               1 (0)    1 list
    Māori 1.43               4 (3)    3 electorate + 1 list
    Mana 1.08               2 (1)    1 electorate + 1 list
    ACT                1.07               2 (1)    1 electorate + 1 list
    United Future     0.60                1 (1)    1 electorate

    • @BoJangles

      Sam, that a tidy solution, keeps emphasis on electoral seats, but rewards fairly the party vote.

    • Unfortunately, that is basically the supplementary member system (but with a different list:electorate ratio) that was an option at the referendum. 

      • Sam Hill

        I think most people would see that it keeps much of the same ‘proportionality’ of MMP though, except that it is fairer.

        I don’t see why the Greens for instance, can win only 11.06% of the party vote, yet be awarded more list seats than Labour? 

        We get two votes in NZ. One for our electorate, one for the whole country. I think they should be worth and equally significant amount. Ideally I would like the same amount of electorate and list MPs, say 60 – 60.

      • Mr_Blobby

        Sam. There should be no overhang ,how the Maori party can get 1.5% of the vote and 3% of the seats. How proportional and fair is that.

    • Mr_Blobby

      There should be no overhang ,how the Maori party can get 1.5% of the vote and 3% of the seats. How proportional is that.

      • Sam Hill

        I agree there shouldn’t be an overhang.

        Yes, Mr Blobby. However, the Maori Party won three electorates. Under my system they would have those seats + one more in order to fill the 120 seats. There is no possibility of an overhang in my system.

  • Allan

    No Kosh what I am saying is we should prevent those who are trying to send this country into uncontrollable debt with their ridiculous and unsustainable socialist policies from ever getting anywhere near the halls of power.  We desperately need a system that rewards effort and achievement instead of the repressive taxation that is currently the norm. Hence my desire to see an electoral system that stops the Greens, Mana and NZ First getting any seats in Parliament.

    • Kosh103

      So as long as they are right wing policies that damage the country its all good then.

      And also keep in mind any system that will keep out the parties listed will also keep out ACT and UF.

      Hell, the only system that would get you what you want is the very undemocratic FPP system.

      • Mr_Blobby

        Yes, one man, one vote.

      • Kosh103

        And yet blobby thats been proven not to be democratic when picking a Govt for a country.

      • AngryTory

        No! we want an electoral system that rewards high-value, high-worth Kiwis!

        Brash had a great suggestion in his final 2025 report: a fiscal council would vet political parties and their policies, only parties with fiscally prudent politics would contest the election. 

        So yes UF would be out, but ACT would be in, as would National. 

    • AngryTory

      Once again: the Greens have never been in government, nor has Mana.
      NZ FIrst only ever had policies that benefited one person.

      Socialism in NZ was introduced by Labour.

      • Kosh103

        Do you actually know what real socialism is? I mean real, not the made up batshit crazy bullshit that the right say it is.

    • AngryTory

      No Representation Without Taxation!

  • Blair Mulholland

    I support keeping the five percent threshold, but making the party vote preferential.  That means if you vote for the Conservatives and they don’t get in, you can still support National on your second preference.  Ditto for the Greens and Labour.  At the moment election results can produce different governments entirely on the basis of whether one of the parties makes the threshold or not, and that isn’t right.  Preferential party voting eliminates the problem.

  • A-random-reader

    The purpose of the electoral threshold is to keep extremist groups out of parliament.

    Some views shouldn’t be given representation.

    • We don’t have the type of extremist group that you fear. A threshold may do that in Germany, or Israel, but our extremist element is minuscule. None could get close to 2.5%.

  • BR

    There should should never be people in parliament who are chosen by their political parties. List MPs have no mandate from the voting public to be in parliament. One can have proportional representation by having a first past the post election, and any proportionality errors could be corrected by allowing some candidates into parliament who lost their electorate seats, starting with those who lost by the smallest margin.


  • davewin

    Ho Hum! All the words and none of the action! MMP is a way to divide the cake of government, not to build a strong and viable country. To do that you need results as in Queensland that are definite at the times people want change. Then give it to them. MMP simply blurs the lines, and tries to keep everyone happy, or maybe less sad.

  • BR

    “Do you actually know what real socialism is? I mean real, not the made
    up batshit crazy bullshit that the right say it is.”

    Socialism represents the expansion of all levels of government and it’s influence. As the government expands, the productive sector contracts. When the government has expanded to the point where everyone is a state employee, i.e. 100% of the economy, communism is the result. History shows that the result of this is certain. Widespread misery and poverty will be the outcome for any country that continues on such a path. No matter what policy is implemented by the government, the result will be either contraction or expansion of the government.

    So what do you favour Kosh? More government, or less?