The Wasted Vote

Thursday, October 12, 2023

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Good Morning and Welcome to this week’s Gospel and Culture update, by Alan Vink
The Wasted Vote

Thursday 12th October 2023

The Wasted Vote

Is there such a thing as a wasted vote? This question is perhaps more relevant for many Christians as they contemplate giving their Party vote to one of four possible Christian Party’s. As at this morning no Christian Party is polling over 1%.

On the one hand some say if you vote prayerfully and according to your values then there is no such thing as a ‘wasted vote’. If nothing else you are communicating who you think would be best to govern us and by implication who you think shouldn’t govern us. On the other hand and if you give your party vote to a party who doesn’t make it into parliament then ‘technically’ it is a wasted vote. The reason for that is because the way our electoral system (MMP) works as my guest contributor, Dave Crampton explains.

What's the point in voting when all the polls are pointing in the other direction to what you want? It's a question many are asking now.

The answer: there is a point, because your Party vote will always have an effect on the election outcome unless it is spoiled. This includes votes cast for parties under the 5% threshold, which are widely referred to as the wasted vote. Votes cast for candidates are different, they will only count to that candidates election if that candidate gets more votes, including your vote, than anyone else in the electorate.

Put simply , a wasted vote is a valid vote cast for a party that will not count towards the party you wish to vote for. In other words, its one whose intention will be stripped from it.

Under MMP and our five percent threshold, if the party you gave your party vote to received less than 5% of the party vote, your vote will be effectively reallocated under what is called the Sainte-Laguë apportionment method.

MMP stands for 'mixed-member proportionality", meaning the idea is that seats are distributed in proportion to the votes for each political party, i.e. a party with 30% of votes would receive 30% of seats.

But a party with 4% of votes does not receive a seat at all unless it wins an electorate seat by getting more votes than any other candidate in their electorate, putting a handbrake on true proportionality. Instead, proportionality of seats is reallocated among parties that get into parliament. If five parties got a combined 8% of the total vote, but none of these parties were over the 5% threshold, that 8% is divided among the parties that do make it into parliament, in proportion to the party votes they received to get there.

This is because as the parties not reaching the threshold have been disregarded, the percentage share for each of the remaining parties increases. As an example, in 2017, the Green Party got 6.27% of the party vote, and 6.58% of the share of the vote after wasted votes were reallocated. If a major party's share of reallocated vote increases sufficiently, that party may get a further list seat in Parliament if they were initially just short.

Finally, the higher the threshold - currently 5% - the higher the wasted vote is likely to be. If a party is polling 5.1%, more are likely to vote for it and if it gets 4.7% on election night, those wasted votes are reallocated as above. This is why the Electoral Commission is currently revisiting the threshold in consideration of reducing it. If it does get lowered, two things are likely to occur: More party votes are likely to be successfully cast for intended parties, and as a result fewer wasted party votes are likely to be reallocated.

Dave Crampton is a Wellington journalist who writes sport for Newsroom, and has covered four elections. He has an Honours degree in Politics from Massey University, where he wrote on electoral systems and parliamentary representation, and has previously worked at Parliament.

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