Frequently asked questions
More information about how referendums and elections are run in New Zealand can be found at www.elections.org.nz.
This time was chosen to provide enough time to develop the referendum legislation, including public input into drafting the referendum questions, and for an education and publicity campaign about the referendum.
The timing was also selected to help ensure a high voter turnout. These considerations support the legitimacy of a referendum on the voting system, which is an important constitutional issue.
There are two questions in the referendum. A voter can choose to answer both questions, or only the first one, or only the second one. Voters will tick the option they prefer.
Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) voting system?
- I vote to keep the MMP voting system.
- I vote to change to another voting system.
If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?
- I would choose the First Past the Post system (FPP).
- I would choose the Preferential Voting system (PV).
- I would choose the Single Transferable Vote system (STV).
- I would choose the Supplementary Member system (SM)
This two-question approach is consistent with how the referendum on the voting system was conducted in 1992.
Under First Past the Post, voters have one vote for an electorate candidate. Each electorate elects one candidate to represent them in Parliament. The winning candidate in each electorate is the one who gains the most votes.
First-Past-the-Post was the voting system in New Zealand prior to the referendum in 1993 on the voting system. In that referendum, MMP was chosen as the new voting system.
Preferential Vote (PV)
Under Preferential Vote, voters rank the candidates in their electorate in their order of preference. Each electorate elects one candidate to represent them in Parliament. The winning candidate in each electorate must have 50 percent plus one vote of the total votes.
If no candidate receives at least 50 percent plus one vote of the first preference votes then the candidate with the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated and that candidate’s second preference votes are redistributed. This redistribution continues until a candidate has at least 50 percent plus one vote of total votes.
Single Transferable Vote (STV)
Under Single Transferable Vote, voters rank the candidates in their electorate in their order of preference. Each electorate elects a number of candidates to represent them in Parliament. The winning candidate in each electorate must receive a minimum number of the votes. The minimum number of votes is determined by a formula based on the number of seats allocated to the electorate.
Any candidate who has more than the minimum number of first preference votes is elected. If vacancies remain, the first preference votes of the elected candidates above the required number are redistributed according to voters’ second preferences. If there are still vacancies after redistributing the excess votes, the lowest-polling candidate is eliminated and all that candidate’s votes are redistributed in line with voters’ second preferences, and so on. This redistribution continues until enough candidates have reached the required percentage.
If no candidate receives the minimum number of first preference votes, the lowest-polling candidate is eliminated and all that candidate’s votes are redistributed in line with the voters’ second preferences, and so on.
This system of voting is used for district health board elections and for local council elections in a number of cities and districts, including Wellington, Porirua, Marlborough, and Dunedin.
Supplementary Member (SM)
Under Supplementary Member, voters have two votes. The first vote is for an electorate candidate, who is elected in the same way as First Past the Post. There would be 90 electorate seats.
The second vote is for a party. The supplementary seats are allocated to parties in proportion to the number of party votes received by that party. There would be 30 supplementary seats. A party’s supplementary seats are allocated to its candidates in the order in which they appear on the party’s list (excluding those who win an electorate seat).
Only the supplementary seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes received through the party vote or the nationwide electorate vote. Therefore, the total number of electorate seats and supplementary seats held by a party might not be in proportion to the total number of votes received by that party.
Why are these voting systems being put to voters?
The 2011 referendum builds on the referendum process held in 1992 and 1993. The voting systems listed in the second question are based on those put to voters in the 1992 referendum on voting systems.
The voting systems were chosen in 1992 after careful consideration of the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Electoral System, which was entitled Towards a Better Democracy (1986). This report provides an excellent basis for comparing voting systems.
For the purposes of the 2011 referendum, three aspects of New Zealand’s electoral system will remain the same in the descriptions of each of the voting systems. The referendum is not proposing any voting systems that change the size of the House or the provisions relating to the Māori seats and the fixed number of seats for the South Island:
- The size of the House will be at least 120 members.
- There will be no change to the basis for determining the number of the Māori seats. The number of Māori seats is based on the number of Māori voters on the Māori electoral roll.
The legislation provides that if at least 50 percent of voters opt to keep MMP, the Electoral Commission will review and seek public views on MMP. The Electoral Commission will then report to the Minister of Justice on whether any changes to the MMP voting system are necessary or desirable. The Minister of Justice is required to present the report to the House of Representatives as soon as practicable after it is received.
The legislation provides that the Electoral Commission must review:
- The 5 per cent party vote threshold for a party to be eligible for allocation of list seats.
- The one electorate seat threshold for a party to be eligible for allocation of list seats.
- The effects of population change on the ratio of electorate seats to list seats.
- The effect of a party’s candidates winning more seats than the party would be entitled to as a result of the party vote on the ratio of electorate seats to list seats.
- The capacity of a person to be both a constituency candidate and list candidate.
- A party’s ability to determine the order of candidates on its party list and the inability of voters to rank list candidates in order of preference.
The Electoral Commission must also consider matters referred to it by the Minister of Justice or the House of Representatives, and may consider other matters.
The commission must not review Māori representation or the number of members of Parliament.
The 2011 referendum is indicative. This Government has committed to holding a second, binding referendum in conjunction with the 2014 general election if a majority of voters opts for a change to the voting system in the 2011 referendum.
Any second referendum would ask voters to choose between MMP and the preferred alternative voting system (selected from the 2011 referendum).
This was the process followed in the 1993 binding referendum on the voting system when MMP was selected as the favoured option.
If there is a vote to change the voting system, a new voting system would be in place for the 2017 general election.
Any second referendum would be conducted with the 2014 general election. If there is a vote for change at a second, binding referendum, the new voting system would be in place for the next election in 2017.
This process allows enough time to develop the necessary legislation for the second referendum if required, including legislation to implement an alternative voting system. It allows the public to participate through the select committee’s consideration of the legislation.
The process also allows sufficient time for the public to receive information about the referendum in order to make an informed choice. Holding the referendum in conjunction with an election will help ensure a high voter turnout.
It takes three years to prepare for a general election, even without a change to the voting system. Having three years between the second referendum and the first election under the new voting system allows time for all the processes required to implement the new system and plan for the election. This is also consistent with the process in 1993, where three years were allowed for implementing the MMP voting system for the 1996 election.
The legislation provides that anyone advertising for or against any of the referendum options will need to include their name and address on the advertisement (a promoter statement).
If the promoter of a referendum advertisement spends more than $12,000 during the regulated period, the promoter will need to register with the Electoral Commission. The commission will publish a list of registered promoters. Referendum promoters will also be subject to expenditure limits. Each referendum promoter will be able to spend up to $300,000 in the regulated period.
A registered promoter who spends more than $100,000 during the regulated period will also be required to provide returns of their expenses to the commission. Promoters will not be required to provide returns of their funding sources to the commission.
This goes further than the advertising rules in place for the 1992, 1993 and 1997 referenda, where there was no expenditure limit and no need to register with the Electoral Commission. All that was needed was a promoter statement.
The legislation provides that the referendum will be administered by the Electoral Commission in accordance with rules set out in the empowering legislation. These rules include technical provisions about, for example, who can vote, how they can vote, the role of election officials, and how the vote is counted and officially reported.
The Electoral Commission has identified potential risks in holding a referendum and general election on the same day: voter confusion, congestion, delays at the polling place, and risk to the timely and accurate count of the preliminary parliamentary vote.
These risks are being addressed in a variety of ways, including using colour and signage to help voters, training polling place staff to assist with voter confusion and congestion, and prioritising the general election count over the referendum count, as required by the Electoral Act 1993.
The Electoral Commission will undertake a public information campaign to inform voters about the referendum, the alternative voting systems, and the provision for a review of MMP. This campaign will provide information about the referendum and the details of the alternative voting systems. The campaign will aim to present information as simply as possible for voters to have a good understanding about the referendum and the options. It is intended that this campaign will stimulate public debate and raise awareness about the referendum.
All parliamentary parties were consulted on the referendum prior to the introduction of the Electoral Referendum Bill. The Bill was considered by the Electoral Legislation Committee, a specially established select committee with representatives from all parliamentary parties.
The House passed the Electoral (Finance Reform and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill 2010 on 15 December 2010. The regulation of referendum advertising is aligned with the regulation of third party promoters in the electoral finance reform.
The first stage of the project to establish an integrated electoral agency is complete. The Electoral (Administration) Amendment Act 2010 was passed in May. It provided for the first stage of reform, amalgamating the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Office. The newly established Electoral Commission became fully functional on 1 October 2010 and is responsible for the conduct of the 2011 general election and the referendum.
The Electoral (Administration) Amendment Act 2011 was passed in August 2011. The Act transfers the functions of the Chief Registrar of Electors to the Electoral Commission on 1 July 2012.
The estimated cost of holding the 2011 referendum is $10.97 million, which includes the cost of administering the referendum and conducting the public information campaign.