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Submission of Dr Stephen M. Glaister to the MMP Review

Thresholds, Electorate Seat Rules, Overhangs ver. 2.6 [Introductory Note: This submission supercedes previous versions submitted on 8/5/2012 and 27/5/2012. I refer repeatedly below to submissions by Andrew Geddis, Graeme Edgeler, and Stephen Winter (and occasionally to submissions by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and by David Farrar). I use surnames exclusively for this purpose. My positive views are mainly contained in sections 1-25 and 45-54. The remaining sections 25-44, which largely try to answer objections, are longer than the rest (comprising half my submission in total), and are unavoidably more complex and argumentative. Some readers might want to skip those sections. I'd like to thank all of the authors I discuss for the stimulation of their views.]


My name is Dr Stephen Glaister. I've taught Voting/Electoral Systems Theory at the University of Washington, Seattle (a whole course) and at Kansas State University (a unit inside a Philosophy of Law course), and I've had a book manuscript in circulation for several years, Mixed Illusions: Mixed Electoral Systems Without Illusions (viewable at ), which argues that the best one vote mixed electoral systems are superior to the best two vote mixed electoral systems. I'm contactable at .


Party vote thresholds simultaneously prescribe both the minimal level of support a successful parliamentary party should have in the community and the minimal size for a successful parliamentary delegation itself. In New Zealand that basic prescription has been for at least 5% support, hence for at least 6 MPs.


I accept the basic Royal Commission 1986 conclusion that it's both legitimate and desirable to use a party vote threshold for list seats to trade off some amount of pure representativeness to get a more tractable and functional parliament. Proliferating ultranarrowly-based (e.g., personality, single-issue, extremist, joke, highly regional, ethnically exclusive) micro-parties, whose MPs nonetheless get votes on everything, and inevitably get far more than proportional media attention,1 still seems like a bad idea.

1 Media coverage of parliamentary matters tends to give roughly equal coverage to all party spokespeople who front

up (max. one per party). As a result, congeries of minor-ish parties, ACT, Green (historically at least), New Zealand First, and the Maori party, say, can hog the media spotlight for months, wildly out of proportion to their actual

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It may be useful to provide a couple of examples of the worrying parliamentary fragmentation possibilities that I believe low (or no) threshold invites, i.e., that are worth purchasing some electoral system-level insurance against, at least in my view. The only important cleavage in NZ society is Maori/non-Maori, which has a firm foothold in NZ's electoral system. A very highly proportional electoral system, however, makes it very easy for other groups in a not-especially-assimilative, high-immigrant, multiethnic society to react electorally to that cleavage, and to understand its very vivid parliamentary expression as a precedent for their own political possibilities. EXAMPLE 1: (Parallel Ethnic Fragmentation) Given a low (or no) threshold proportional electoral system, a NZ politics very explicitly splintered by other ethnic themes (e.g., Pasifika, Chinese, Indian, European) becomes thinkable. If most of the cells in that ethnic partition develop a couple of parties devoted just to them (say, left and right ethnic parties roughly as we currently see for Maori with the Maori and Mana parties, and assuming the persistence (albeit with much lower vote shares) of historical, non-ethnic ideological political parties, then I say that the hyper-fragmented Millennium that the members of the Royal Commission 1986 feared would have arrived. EXAMPLE 2: (Regional Fragmentation) Maori are divided among themselves by Iwi and location. This could ramify in a very highly proportional electoral system, e.g., Ngai Tahu and Ngapuhi could easily consider getting their own parties, and this could in turn resonate with other regionalisms: South Islander/Mainlanders vs. The North, and so on. Or maybe those other regionalisms could be the ones giving Ngai Tahu, etc. ideas. There are many roads to the Lebanon.

political power in the House. (Relatedly, MPs for active small parties get to be media superstars. They appear as polymath, renaissance men and women who opine on all things and regularly go toe-to-toe with the PM and the Leader of the Opposition. Nice work if you can get it.) This phenomenon, more than anything else in my view, is what leads NZ-ers to complain that 'the tail wags the dog' under MMP. It doesn't in fact, but it sure can feel like it does. I'm not aware of any obvious, bearable solution to this problem. Strict media time quotas, i.e., in proportion to House shares, are a non-starter.

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Thus, even if changes in electoral systems, including increases in proportionality are unlikely to cause completely novel political splintering (Winter), they can amplify and spread existing cleavages. 5.

Geddis and Edgeler argue that the Royal Commission 1986 and others particularly overstate the dangers of extremist parties entering parliament. Maybe so, but the antiproliferation/anti-fragmentation argument against low (or no) threshold is far broader than worries about extremist parties per se. None of the parties in Examples 1 and 2 need be extremist. Insuring against existing, active fault-lines in society precipitating a slide into hyper-consociationalism is legitimate.


(In the context of anti-extremism, but the point's a completely general one) Geddis also opposes electoral system insurance against ghastly eventualities as follows: 'Using a threshold to save the voters from their own (allegedly) poor choices seems overly paternalistic in the New Zealand environment.'

But unless all regulation is paternalism, this is just loose talk. Regulating smokers because you believe they impose enormous economic and social costs isn't paternalistic. Regulating them for their own good, to stop them killing themselves (i.e., even if there are no wider social costs, etc.) is. Choosing electoral systems settings to help preempt various nasty possibilities is more like the former than it is like the latter. We don't give a toss about saving those who would vote for ethnically balkanized, extremist, joke parties etc. from their own rotten choices, but we are inclined to want to forestall as much of the diffuse social costs that those rotten choices, were they ever made, would impose on everyone else. 7.

While it appears to be legitimate to buy some insurance against the proliferation of microparties (and associated scenarios), and it's further reasonable to choose some electoral system that will return parliaments consisting principally of delegations that are true teams of MPs, there's room for debate over exactly what the entry/cut-off points should be. And, as many others have observed, NZ's status quo – 5% and 6 MPs – may indeed be overkill. The Royal Commission 1986 recommended 4% and 5 MPs, and in my view 3% (~ 75K party votes) and 4 MPs might also provide as much party breadth of support, seriousness etc, and as much non-trivial team-hood for parliamentary delegations as can be justified, i.e., beyond which the price in lost pure representativeness is too high.

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Still lower thresholds such as Geddis's and Edgelers's 2.5% and 3 MPs2 are unstable in the sense that even a single defection/departure from minimal qualifiers in that case leaves only one and two MP remainders. Put slightly differently, 3 MP parliamentary parties aren't robustly non-trivial: they are trivialized by minimal attrition whereas 4, 5, etc. MP parties aren't.


Does it make sense to impose robust non-triviality as a desideratum on the threshold's level given that trivial (one and two MP) parliamentary delegations can form in any case thanks to (one or two) electorate seat waivers? I think so, although the point's a ticklish one. The threshold sets a standard or norm for parliamentary parties. Exceptions to that standard, if allowed, have to be treated separately to not simply represent an abandonment of the standard or norm. That's awkward, but awkwardly exception-tolerant standards are both commonplace, and normally preferable to strict/not-pragmatically-qualified standards or to 'anything goes'. See 16-18 below.

10. I don't have a firm opinion or recommendation on the 3 or 4 or 5% (4, 5, or 6 MPs) question, and which tradeoff to prefer in that range may be to some extent a matter of taste.3 The Electoral Commission might well want to explore this specific matter in more detail. If I were forced to choose/recommend right now, however, as a cautious, centrist fellow, I'd say that NZ should adopt the Royal Commission 1986's original 4% threshold. 11. Farrar has suggested (as a pro-4% now consideration) that while it would be relatively easy to lower the threshold further later if required, it would be very hard to raise standards to 4% having first gone lower. But the current popularity of doing away with the one electorate seat waiver suggests the contrary moral: that it's relatively easy to muster popular support in NZ for 'making it more difficult to get into parliament'/raising standards, notwithstanding entrenched interests. 2 Strictly speaking this is both authors' alternative, given that each leans toward no formal threshold whatsoever. 3 It's important not to confuse taste with reason. Both Edgeler and Winter appeal to the authority of the Council of

Europe Parliamentary Assembly (and esp. its Political Affairs Committee), which has repeatedly urged member states to 'consider decreasing legal thresholds that are higher than 3%.' But the reports and communiquĂŠs in question contain no attempt to adjudicate the merits of various thresholds (either technically or philosophically). Instead in all cases, the 3% least upper bound preference is simply announced unsupported, and then repeated. Incantation is not reasoning, and these hectoring, political, bureaucratic documents simply record Euro-elite taste rather than anything more objective, rational, and deserving of respect. As far as I can see, their authority is completely bogus.

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12. Many people want to argue from NZ's relatively benign experience with differently-sized micro-parties (notwithstanding the 5% threshold) over the last 15 years to the conclusion that (i) we have nothing to fear in NZ (stability-wise or any other -wise) from such parties, hence (ii) that thresholds in NZ can, on empirical grounds, now be dropped or at least shrunk far below what might otherwise seem abstractly justifiable. But the micro-parties that have flourished under the 5% threshold in NZ (principally because of the one electorate seat waiver) have tended to be simpatico with at least one major party. The sorts of micro-parties that low (or no) thresholds would grant representation would be much more self-standing, and we'd predict, much more fractious and problematic as partners than the sorts of tame micro-parties that have flourished under a waiver-encrusted 5% threshold have been. 13. In general, it's unwise to project positive features of life under thresholding into a nonthresholded future (let alone to make those positive features part of one's case against a threshold) unless you have something like a proof that the positives are causally independent of the threshold. But there is no such proof. Indeed the dependence is obvious and strong. THE ONE ELECTORATE SEAT WAIVER 14. In NZ's version of MMP the 5% party vote share threshold for a party to become entitled to list seats is waived if the party wins an electorate seat. This condition is currently widely scorned as illogical and otherwise unmotivated, and is criticized for causing massively unfair and arbitrary outcomes riddled with unequal suffrage. All of that, however, is false. 15. The one electorate waiver is not some illogical or unmotivated tack-on to the threshold, rather it: •

Falls directly out of the 'size of parliamentary delegations' side of the threshold's rationale (16-18)


Creates incentives for micro-parties to do proportionality-enhancing deals with (interested, politically compatible) larger parties rather than pure overhang, antiproportional deals (19-24)

16. The threshold expresses a phobia of micro-parties in parliament. But since MMP is a mixed electoral system, parties can get members into parliament anyway if they win electorates. But if a party is going to have a parliamentary delegation anyway (notwithstanding the threshold) then our phobia of micro-parties recommends allowing it to have as many MPs as

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possible compatibly with proportionality. Additional proportionality itself is valuable, of course, but so is non-trivial team-hood for parliamentary delegations. 17. Put slightly differently, NZ's threshold creates a presumption that parliamentary parties are fully functional teams of MPs. The one electorate seat waiver then says that if that presumption is defeated by a party's electorate success then that party should at least be as large, and as close to a fully functional team of MPs as possible. Better a 2 or 3 or 4 MP parliamentary party (that's consistent with proportionality) than a sole MP parliamentary party, and so on. 18. Note that policies qualifying a main condition (or stipulation or desideratum) with a fallback (or approximation from below or partial satisfaction) condition are commonplace, e.g.: •

Students should read War and Peace over the summer. Failing that, they should at least read some Tolstoy, even something as short as The Death of Ivan Illych.


Smoking in airplane bathrooms in particular is absolutely forbidden (and a fineable offence). But if you nonetheless do smoke in the bathroom, stub out your cigarette in the ashtray provided.

19. A small party, S, polling, say, 1.5-3% several weeks before election day, has a significant power base. That power base is a bargaining chip ('Who wants these votes? And what are they worth to them?'), and a moral argument ('We must get the best deals we can for our supporters, and generally do whatever we can to make sure that our supporters voices are heard and their votes aren't wholly wasted...'). 20. Given the one electorate seat waiver, S's best strategy is to secure an electorate win either unilaterally or with the help of a simpatico large party, L (to whom this arrangement is mostly costless). This type of deal enhances parliament's proportionality. 21. Without the one seat rule, S's possible strategies include: a.

Sell the Support Base. 'Sell' S's support base (both party and electorate votes) to L for policy concessions. [Painful, risky for S.]


Trade to Get Over the Threshold. Trade S's relatively unconditional support for L in parliament (and also a few electorate votes) for enough party vote defectors from L to get S over the threshold. This strategy might evolve organically (and very riskily for L) or it could be organized by L's leaders ('We need S, and S needs our help. We therefore

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urge all of our supporters in Electorates 1 and 2 - fully 2% of the overall electorate, and 1/20th of our support base - to party vote for S.) [Painful, risky for L] c.

Play the Overhang Vigorously. That is, if S's support base is nominally worth 3 MPs, then trade S's relatively unconditional support in parliament, its party votes, and its electorate votes for electorate votes from L's supporter's in two or three of L's safest seats. [Painful, risky for the electoral system]

22. Because of the availability of strategies such as 21a-21c, it is self-defeating for Palmer, Geddis, Farrar (in their respective submissions to the Electoral Commission) to urge the removal of the one electorate seat rule as a means of discouraging/preventing deal-making and 'gaming' of the electoral system. Moreover, given that parties no less than individual people tend to avoid pain and risk to themselves (and to give pain and risk to an impersonal system little mind), by far the most likely outcome of removing the one electorate seat waiver is the proliferation of explicit overhang plays å là 21c. Geddis says, 'smaller party reliance on the Electorate Seat exception opens the way for inter-party deals over the outcome of the vote'. But that's absurd: removing the exception invites much more pernicious inter-party deals. 23. Similarly, Edgeler decries the one electorate seat rule for giving 'voters in particular areas substantially more power than those in other electorates' (on which more below: 29-40). But that's short-sighted when ending the one seat rule will continue those alleged power inequalities (i.e., between those who are and those who are not lucky enough to live somewhere where clever parties set up a both-votes-count play) by other means, most likely in ways that are corrosively anti-proportional. 24. In sum, a party with a significant, sub-threshold power base has both self-interested and moral reasons to explore strategic play. A one electorate seat waiver then channels that strategic play, creating incentives for that play to be proportionality enhancing, and also undistorting of party vote shares. Removing the one seat rule creates incentives for that strategic play to be anti-proportional (21c) and greatly distorts party vote shares even when the outcomes themselves are nominally proportional (21a, 21b). 25. The one electorate seat rule therefore connects to proportionality indirectly and on two distinct levels: •

Which sorts of strategic play it channels/incentivizes

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How the system-wide preference for parliamentary parties that are full-service teams of MPs is effected

The relatively sparse group of defenders of the one seat rule (including the National Party in its submission to the Electoral Commission) often seems to suggest that proportionality directly justifies the one electorate seat waiver. But that's overkill that only makes the recurrent 'It's Unfair' objection to the one seat rule harder to answer convincingly (26-28). 26. I now want to address directly the first of two standard criticisms of the one electorate seat rule (in the context of a relatively high threshold). •

That it Generates Unfair Outcomes. Rodney Hide's victory in Epsom in 2008 saw ACT's 3.65% party vote share entitle it to 5 list seats – Hide + 4 other MPs – whereas NZ First's 4.07% got 0 MPs. Compare with Germany in 1990 under a 5% threshold+three electorate seat waiver regime: Greens (3.8%, 0 MPs), Alliance (1.2%, 8 MPs), PDS (2.4%, 17 MPs).

27. Any system of rules that draws legally-binding bright lines and boundaries is going to offend against certain aspects of childhood conceptions of fairness. a.

The Threshold Can Be Unfair. Party S gets 5.00% of the party vote and is entitled to 6 MPs whereas party T gets 4.999% of the party vote and is entitled to 0 MPs.


Plurality Elections Wins (and anything indexed to them) can be Unfair. Party U gets 3% of the party vote but narrowly wins a low turnout, but tight, multi-candidate, highlydivided electorate contest (e.g., U's candidate gets 6000 votes, and 25% of the electorate vote, margin of victory = 10 votes). Party V gets 3% of the party vote and narrowly loses a very high turnout, two-way local race (e.g., V's candidate gets 25,000 local votes for a 49.99% electorate vote share, margin of defeat = 10 votes)

Wah wah. We got almost exactly as many party votes as S. Wah wah. I got four times as many votes as V's candidate did and nearly twice the share of the electorate vote. Wah wah wah. 28. A threshold+waiver regime is logically just a disjunction of two boundary rules. Standard, tempting, childish mewling about what are always, partially arbitrary boundaries (27a, 27b) is then sent into overdrive by the target-rich environment of a more complicated, disjunctive boundary. Is that all there is to the claim of unfairness against the one electorate seat rule in

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the context of a 5% threshold? I think so, although a couple of more specific forces may help explain some of the felt gallingness of outcomes like those in 26. •

The heuristics and biases literature in Psychology warns us that people regularly lose their minds over disjunctions (e.g., they often find disjunctions less credible than their disjuncts). It's possible that the disjunctive boundary literally distorts people's value judgments, i.e., about how arbitrary, unfair, unworthy, etc. some outcomes are.

If the only defense one ever hears of the one electorate seat rule (or of the three seat rule in Germany) appeals directly to the boost it provides to proportionality (e.g., Geddis's 'the only possible justification for the Electorate Seat that it helps to rectify some of the disproportionate outcomes that would result from simply having a 5% Party Vote threshold.') then it can be hard to understand why parties whose exclusions from list seats caused the greatest disproportionalities (and the largest number of wasted votes) weren't extended the same grace. That is, the wrong defense of the electorate seat waiver probably does help undermine the intelligibility of and support for the threshold.

29. The second standard criticism of the one electorate seat rule is: •

That It Involves Unequal Suffrage. '[T]he voters in particular electorates [have] a disproportionate say regarding the overall composition of Parliament via their Electorate Vote.' (Geddis); '[The Rule] violates the principle that all votes should be of equal value, by giving voters in particular areas substantially more power than those in other electorates...[W]hat was wrong [about ACT's result in 2008] was that it was the voters of Epsom who had the power to decide whether the 85,496 people who gave ACT their party vote were going to be represented.' (Edgeler)

In my view there are three things (30, 31, 32) importantly right about this criticism, although none of them shows that there's anything wrong with the one electorate seat rule. 30. Geography Can Always Matter for a Small Party. Precisely because MMP is a mixed electoral system, the geographical location of a party's supporters can make a big difference at the margins that small parties occupy. And that fact is independent of the one electorate seat rule. Regardless of that rule, a small party whose supporters are relatively concentrated will be in a strong position to win MMP electorate seats, whereas a small party with a dispersed support base will have relatively little chance.

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For example, if ACT's 85,496 party vote supporters in 2011 had lived in exactly the right electorates their electorate votes could have won at least six single member district contests. To see this, consider that in 2011, among non-Maori seats, the six smallest winning electorate vote tallies summed to 80945 votes. Among seats that National or ACT actually won, the six smallest winning tallies summed to 86594 votes, but several of those seats were won with healthy majorities, so that only 75765 votes were strictly necessary in those cases. And so on. (Even more vote-economical and seats-rich solutions exist.) The point is that mixed-ness alone gets you all of this variability in system performance: that 85K electorate votes can mean anywhere from 0 to 6 electorate MPs depending on voters' locations. Mixedness alone gets you a whole heap of 'violation of the principle that all votes should be of equal value'. These problems have nothing to do with the one electorate seat rule seat rule, and they'd survive removal of all thresholds and waivers from NZ MMP. These problems can only be solved by abandoning mixed-ness (with its tier of locally-determined single member district representatives) in favor of pure PR. Those who are bugged by these problems should feel to advocate for that position. What they must not do, however, is claim that such problems cut uniquely or especially against the one electorate seat rule. 31. Overhangs Indeed Involve Unequal Suffrage. Overhang plays ĂĄ lĂ (21c) are a sore point precisely because they threaten to roughly double some people's voting power. But they have nothing to do with the one electorate seat rule. One electorate seat rule plays, unlike overhang plays, do not involve anyone having 'disproportionate say regarding the overall composition of Parliament via their Electorate Vote'. ~25-30K National and ACT voters in Epsom ended up electing, as it were, ~1.2 list MPs with their party votes just the same as all other similarly-sized groups of voters for parties who'd cleared the waiver-encrusted threshold did. The electorate winner they chose was then subtracted or compensated away from ACT's list entitlements (i.e., from the budget of MPs to which ACT's party vote share entitles it, which is at least 2 MPs if the one electorate seat rule applies non-trivially) just the way larger parties' electorate wins were. National and ACT voters in Epsom did not end up with roughly double the voting power of everyone else, their electorate votes did not by themselves affect the balance of power in parliament, and there was nothing anti-proportional about the outcome.

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32. 'Double Dipping' by Small Parties is Creepy (even when its proportional). Here's the continuation of Geddis's 'disproportionate say regarding the overall composition of Parliament' remark we quoted in 29: So, voters in electorates like Epsom, Ohariu, Wigram, etc are able to "double dip", in that their Electorate Vote helps ensure one party is represented in Parliament whilst their Party Vote helps elect list MPs for another party. And voters in such electorates do consciously double dip, as the split Electorate/Party Vote statistics demonstrate. In contrast, it does not really matter whom the voters in seats not being contested as “electorate lifeboats� cast their Electorate Votes for—this will not alter the overall shape of Parliament one iota.

But the vast majority of small party voters in NZ rationally 'double dip': they vote for their favored party with their party vote while ignoring the plurality-unviable local candidates their party may stand in favor of helping/boosting the tally of the local candidate for the politically closest large party. Typically, 65-75% of Greens and NZ First party voters split their votes in this way, and the one electorate rule doesn't apply. Around 50% of Maori party voters split their votes in this way thereby reliably producing an overhang, which again is nothing to do with the one electorate seat rule. The 'double dip' phenomenon is a little creepy. It has a 'for me but not for thee' quality to it, given that most large party voters never get to experience putting their two votes to work separately the way most small party voters regularly do. But insofar as the phenomenon is a real problem that must be solved (i.e., insofar as it constitutes a kind of unequal suffrage even when it's completely consistent with proportionality), to that extent moving to one vote MMP, which I advocate (46-52), is the solution, not tinkering with or eliminating the one electorate seat rule. And while Geddis is right that electorate votes and electorate wins mostly 'do not alter the overall shape of Parliament one iota', that's true in all non-overhang cases. In Epsom, Wigram, and Ohariu alike, once electorate wins triggered the waiving of the 5% threshold, it was the sum of their parties' party votes that settled the sizes of their parliamentary delegations, hence their parts in the balance of power in parliament. The electorate winners themselves were duly compensated away from their parties' party vote share-driven entitlements, just as all large party electorate winners were. 33. To summarize: While it's legitimate to dislike MMP's general geographical sensitivity (30), to detest overhangs/vote-doubling/anti-proportionality (31, 45-54), and even to experience

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wider, rational 'double dip' ennui (32), the one electorate seat rule is distinct from all of these, hence much of the 'unequal suffrage'-based animus against that rule is misdirected. 34. The remaining question – the only question in my view that legitimately pertains to the one electorate seat rule in particular – is whether an ability to trigger a relatively well-motivated waiver to a threshold (14-25) is itself an alarming new kind of power asymmetry and unequal suffrage? Edgeler crediting Epsom voters alone with the power 'to decide whether the 85,496 people who gave ACT their party vote were going to be represented' certainly sounds ominous. In 35-42, I argue that the one electorate rule is not a novel source of anti-democracy within NZ MMP, and try to show that, like Mark Twain's Wagner, the one electorate rule is better than it sounds. 35. Powers that principally get identified after-the-fact and that depend on a whole raft of positive and negative contingencies to exist at all are always at least a little suspicious. They're often easy to attribute without being especially probative, let alone alarming. For example, one can try to credit a handful of voters in particular counties of Florida with the power to choose the US President in 2000 after all other states' and counties' results are settled. But that's evidently alarmist, hindsight-biased talk more than it is an alarming discovery of illicit powers possessed by certain Floridians. There was nothing preventing Gore from winning his home state of Tennessee... Attributing to Epsom voters in 2008 the power to decide whether 85K ACT party votes count works similarly. Its identity and force depends on (i) ACT receiving a large but still sub-threshold share of party votes and (ii) no other electorates engineering ACT wins. But nothing stopped other communities organizing around their local ACT candidates, and ACT could have got 117K (= 5%) party votes, or barely enough party votes to 'cover' Rodney Hide's electorate win (as it did in 2011), or even zero party votes. 36. Attributing to actual Epsom voters in 2008 the power to decide whether 85K ACT party votes count would seem to require subtracting that power from them in the thresholdclearing and 'other electorate wins' cases, and granting them only substantially less power if party votes had come in at 2011 levels (and who knows what Edgeler would say or needs to say about the zero case?). But all of that variability in attribution seems wrong or at least strained, and definitely not compulsory. Rather than describe Epsom voters and their powers in ways that include, and Page 12 of 35

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so logically fluctuate with all surrounding events, better to describe the voters' situation and powers as neutrally and invariantly as possible. To wit: Epsom voters have (in all cases) just the same power to ensure ACT's entitlement to list seats. How many list seats ACT becomes entitled to (even to the one that would be compensated away by the Epsom win), however, is over to ACT's supporters nationwide. But if the only power Epsom voters strictly possess is just to choose an ACT electorate MP (thereby triggering the one electorate seat waiver of the threshold for list seats) then the only power asymmetry and point of unequal suffrage between ACT supporters (broadly conceived) in Epsom and ACT supporters elsewhere is just that ACT supporters have an easier time winning in Epsom (including making whatever deals with other parties might be necessary to get that win) than they do winning other electorates. But that's just MMP's general geographical sensitivity all over again, which we've already seen (30) is caused by mixed-ness not by the one electorate seat rule. 37. But doesn't the one electorate seat rule at least greatly, practically extend the sort of 'violation of the principle that all votes should be of equal value' that mixedness brings largely just in principle? That's certainly one way of looking at it, but there are alternatives. Consider the actual Epsom 2008 case: given ACT's polling in the months before the election (occasionally registering over 3% after rising from a steady 1-1.5% in 2006 and 2007), many of ACT's 85,496 (= 3.65%) party votes would have gone elsewhere if the one electorate seat shot in Epsom hadn't been on, i.e., if they weren't assured that their party vote wouldn't be wasted. Rationally speaking, without that assurance, all of ACT's party votes should have defected, but since diehard, 'principled', expressive etc. voters do exist, probably ACT would have retained a core of ~20K (~ 1%) quixotic party votes. It's therefore misleading to hold ACT's party votes fixed in thought and imagine the electorate votes in Epsom as an independent factor with all the power over them, deciding to juice them up by triggering the one electorate seat rule or not as the case may be (Edgeler's 'it was the voters of Epsom who had the power to decide whether the 85,496 people...'). No; at least 60K of those voters read the polls, knew what the shot was, and voted accordingly, which is to say freely, rationally, un-quixotically, and as part of a linked party unit. 38. Moreover, any dependence may well have been two-way. Maybe Epsom voters only finally committed to installing Rodney Hide as their electorate MP after seeing ACT's polls rise presumably on the supposition that they would in fact trigger the one electorate seat rule.

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Maybe ACT's quixotic core 1% alone wouldn't have been worth the aggravation (roughly ACT's situation as I write in 2012). And note how easy it is to divine shocking, shocking power asymmetry in that case: 'It was the ACT voters around the country (as reflected in polls) who had the power to decide whether the people of Epsom would have an ACT electorate MP.' 39. There's no interesting or alarming power asymmetry or disproportionate say or unequal suffrage here (at least none beyond the differential opportunities that MMP's single member district tier affords). Rather it's business as usual under MMP. It's in the nature of an electoral system with proportional elements to link the destinies of far-flung groups of supporters. Whereas under FPP, voters in a particular electorate get to act completely independently of everyone else, that's not so once overall statistics like party vote share (and other boundary/trigger conditions) are crucial. 40. Under MMP, if you support a small party that's polling close to the threshold then the whole rationality of your vote can turn on your confidence that the party organization at, as it were, the other end of the country has its act together. Someone bent on artificially separating these linked populations in thought can make this sort of dependency look and sound terrible: EXAMPLE 3: (Small Town Boy) You live in a small town in rural NZ, but you support the cool, highly urban party G, which mainly relies on turnout in Wellington Central and Auckland Central to get over the threshold. Your vote, like those of other rural G party supporters will be wasted unless G's 'turn out the base' operation in the cities goes well: 'It was the (party) voters of Wellington and Auckland Central who had the power to decide whether my vote and the vote of 20K other rural G supporters counted.') Of course, in this case, the linkage runs very symmetrically in both directions: the city slickers need their country cousins just as much if their own efforts and votes aren't going to be in vain. So let's de-symmetrize: EXAMPLE 4: (Small Town Boy Redux) You live in a small town in rural NZ, and the cool, highly urban party G you support (perhaps seeing that its chances of crossing the threshold are slim this time; maybe its support in Auckland has collapsed for some reason) decides that

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its best chance by far is to try to win the Wellington Central electorate. 'It was the (electorate) voters of Wellington who had the power to decide whether my vote and the vote of 20K other rural G supporters counted.' The asymmetrical dependence: •

Isn't Necessarily Complete. The sorts of tactical calculations we discussed in 35 could play a part here as well.


Doesn't Require Inter-Party/Proto-Coalitional Play. G has real strength in Wellington Central. If G, as it were, 'goes it alone' in Wellington Central (perhaps because it's too prod, fiercely independent, or oddball to do any deals) then it's still true that 'It was the (electorate) voters of Wellington Central who had the power to decide whether my vote and the vote of 20K other rural G supporters counted.'


Doesn't Require Two Votes. Example 4 draws strength from the idea that rural G supporters' party votes dangle from the thread of Wellington Central electorate votes, and that imagery is sharpened if we suppose that those electorate voters play safe with their own party votes, i.e., voting for the (politically) nearest major party. But none of that's essential. Rural party votes still 'hang by a thread' if there's no-split voting Wellington Central (let alone under one vote MMP generally). That G-supporters in Wellington Central have their party votes on the line too, doesn't change the fact that only an electorate win there can save all G's party votes from oblivion (a fortiori, still, 'It was the G voters of Wellington Central who had the power to decide whether my vote and the votes of 20K other rural G supporters counted.')

41. I claim, then, that all of the cases in 40, including those I referred to only in passing (e.g., where deals with other parties are made etc.), are importantly the same. In each case, global boundary conditions that are characteristic of electoral systems with proportional elements create logical and strategic dependencies between groups of voters that would act completely independently of each other under FPP. Those dependencies and linkages are features not bugs of MMP, and MMP voters, especially at the margins where small parties live, vote and act as parts of linked blocs. One can always make that sort of phenomenon look and sound bad, especially in hindsight and in the context of idiosyncratic single member district races, and particularly when deals between parties are involved.

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42. To confirm, however, that none of that squeamishness should attach to the one electorate rule in particular let's construct a 21b-style, 'get the small party over the threshold' strategic play in Epsom 2014. Suppose that Geddis and Edgeler have triumphed: the one electorate seat rule is gone, and the threshold has been lowered to 2.5%: EXAMPLE 5: (Epsom 2014 Knife-twisting) Polling ~2% two weeks out from election day, ACT begs for National's help, offering what quid pro quos it can. National decides to assist, i.e., to give up .5.7% of its own party vote to ensure that ACT's 2% (or some significant fraction thereof) isn't lost to the center-right. To minimize its risk from a play of this sort, however, National restricts its 'defecting party vote' push to the National party supporters in a single electorate. And who better for that effort than Epsom's sophisticates who know ACT well? (And the ~25K National party supporters in Epsom gives about the right margin for error, i.e., just so long as a majority of National supporters in Epsom play along.) If one is of a mind to credit voters with unequal powers, especially after-the-fact, then Example 5 looks like a case in which voters in one electorate, though this time through their party votes, 'have a disproportionate say regarding the overall composition of Parliament,' 'have substantially more power than those in other electorates', 'decide whether the 50K other people who gave ACT their party vote were going to be represented', and so on. 4 But if so, tough. While Example 5 is a little more explicit and organized than usual, or than it needs to be, for dramatic effect, the basic situation it describes - voters inclined towards one party nonetheless vote for another (from their perspective) sub-optimal but still

4 We stipulate in Example 5 that everything in fact works out beautifully for ACT and National. But in fact ACT's

support could easily have either taken off or collapsed in the final days of the campaign. If either of those things had happened then Epsom's strategic defectees to ACT would have screwed their own party (i.e., National) either moderately (National gifts .7% to ACT but gets little back for that since it wasn't needed) or royally (National's gift ends up being just more wasted vote share). This helps us see through the temptation to credit National's ACT-voters with any special powers. Rather than attribute powers that aren't robust across variations in obviously relevant contingencies, better (or at least equally legitimate) to describe the capacities of defecting Epsom voters more neutrally, invariantly. Given the low threshold, National supporters in Epsom jointly had the power to give ACT about 1/3 of a threshold's worth of party vote share (the same power every other similarly sized group of voters had).

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acceptable party that needs their votes more - is business as usual in an electoral system with proportional elements. 43. Let's expand on our view of inter-party deals and coordination. Although not everyone sees it this way, in my view horse-trading and other deal-making isn't just for parliamentary parties after the election, rather it's part of the on-going operations and incentive structures and consensual, multi-party ethos of electoral systems with proportional elements. At any rate, if MMP electoral outcomes sometimes seem to 'violate the principle that all votes should be of equal value' that's because MMP has the potential to reward parties, especially small parties, that are well-organized (Example 3), and especially those that are inclined towards and capable of smart, cooperative proto-coalitional play and deal-making. Dumb, small parties that don't or can't play nice with others suffer for it (at least occasionally). In my view, however, the freedom of parties to work together at all times is a feature not a bug of MMP. The converse situation - parties always standing in inherently zero-sum, antagonistic relations to one another - is, of course, the default modus vivendi of strongly two-party favoring, single-party/majority government-fabricating FPP. We're not supposed to want that.5 44. Evidently a lot of people dislike strategic plays by large party supporters to help simpatico smaller parties qualify for list seats (regardless of which qualifying condition those plays target). But the case has not been made that such plays give some voters more power or 'say' than others in any way that demands a solution (or many solutions since there are a number places you can spy a 'problem' of this kind if you squint hard enough). For the reasons we characterized in 31, the gulf between plays-to-get-parties-to-qualifyfor-list-seats and overhang plays ĂĄ lĂ 21c is enormous. Parties that try to gain representation entirely through electorate wins while shedding (and ideally trading and getting good value 5 Compare with the technical work in voting theory due to Gibbard & Satterthwaite that teaches that any

comprehensive and non-dictatorial rule is open to strategizing/manipulation in the sense that voter profiles exist in which some voters (and groups of voters) have incentives, given that rule, to falsify their preferences. Prima facie, then, it's a mistake to think that susceptibility to strategic falsification of preferences is a vice. Since the comprehensive and non-dictatorial is the manipulable, perhaps manipulability deserves not scorn but respect as a (perhaps even the) mark of voter freedom and potentially meaningful/impactful expression. See Dowding, K. and van Hees, M. 2008. In Praise of Manipulation. British Journal of Political Science 38(1): 1-15.

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for) as much of their party vote shares as possible are a cancer on any electoral system that allegedly aspires to be proportional. Remarkably, however, all of the figures we've seen scorn the one electorate rule (and who barely have a good word to say about thresholds) are positively nonchalant about overhangs: •

' I must admit to being largely agnostic on this particular issue [The effect of a party winning more electorate seats than its party vote share entitles it to].... I recommend no change be made to the law on this issue.' (Geddis)


'I am not particularly concerned about overhang.' (Edgeler)


' The current overhang structure is fine.' (Winter)

I've referred to overhang-strategic plays in passing as 'pernicious' (22), 'corrosive' (23), 'risky for the electoral system' (21c), and now as 'cancer'. In the next section, I provide an overview of the seriousness of the overhang problem and of why one vote MMP is its only solution. OVERHANGS 45. As Edgeler notes, some overhangs have nothing to do with strategic play and can occur without any split-voting or (equivalently) under one vote MMP: EXAMPLE 6: (Inadvertent Massive Overhang) Suppose an election in NZ with (i) no split voting/one vote MMP, (ii) five parties each get ~20% of the party vote, (iii) each party's supporters are uniformly distributed so that each electorate reproduces the nationwide 20/20/20/20/20 division on both votes, but (iv) one of the five parties, L, ends up winning each of the 70 electorates by a handful of votes in each case (i.e., so L in fact has 20.0001% of the vote at every level). L's party vote share gets it 24 list MPs, so L ends up with a 46 seat overhang (and a 70/166 share of a 166 member House). 46. There are two key differences between the inadvertent overhangs to which even no split votes/one vote MMP is susceptible and the pernicious overhangs that are distinctive of two vote MMP. First, as Example 6 suggests, inadvertent overhangs, especially large ones, are quite hard to arrange. On the one hand, small parties tend to find it very hard to win significant numbers of single member district races, hence hard to overshoot the delegations their overall vote shares entitle them to with their electorate success. On the other hand, the Page 18 of 35

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large parties that tend to do disproportionately well in single member district elections also end up with large list entitlements. Normally a large party has to win all its 'marginal electorates', to come close to 'running out of list seats'. In sum, so long as there are plenty of pure list seats to go around (50% of the total was the original Royal Commission 1986's good recommendation; NZ's current 41.66% is about as low as one can go without sharply increasing inadvertent overhang rates) then inadvertent overhangs are likely to be relatively rare and small where they do occur.6 47. The second and more important difference between inadvertent overhangs and the distinctive, pernicious kind concerns the incentives in the two sorts of cases. In inadvertent overhangs, as best captured under no split votes/one vote MMP, a party's incentive is always to get as many votes as possible: it tries to win electorates precisely by trying to increase its share of the overall vote, and vice versa. In the overhang plays that are characteristic of two vote MMP, however, the incentives are quite different. Since it's not determined within a two vote MMP system that the same parties will or should compete for both votes, the 'compensatory' mechanism in two vote MMP creates a strong incentive for parties to specialize on either the electorate seat or party vote share side of the ledger, and then to coordinate to reduce each others' compensatory loss and to give supporters two votes that really count, 'the most bang for their voting buck'. And the incentive for parties to coordinate increases monotonically: the larger your shrewdly-played overhang, the better off your party and its relatively simpatico coordinatee will both be. And this seems to mean that even otherwise, not-especially overhang-prone two vote MMP systems will eventually descend into widespread, large overhang, anti-proportional chaos, en route to a fully decomposed, supplementary member end-game (120: 70 in NZ's case). Hence we weren't kidding when we projected vigorous pursuit of large overhangs back in 21c. 48. I explore what this means and what to do about it in my book Mixed Illusions (viewable at ). Building on discussion in Chapter 3, in Chapters 5 and 6 I establish the robustness of my core case against two vote MMP by showing that existing so-called 'solutions' to our problems with two vote MMP systems fail miserably. 6 If all of the people who voted for Maori party candidates in their electorates had also given their party votes to the

Maori party then two of the Maori party's four overhang seats across elections in 2005, 2008, and 2011 would have been 'covered' by list entitlements. Hence it's plausible that half of the Maori party's overhangs have been inadvertent.

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Those alleged solutions either try to mitigate the effects of strategizing behaviors (esp. House inflation/Ausgleich seat proposals and 'internalize the overhang' proposals), or try to block those behaviors in the first place (esp. proposals to legislate both for and against various party behaviors, and proposals due to Max Anderson of the Committee for Voting Equity in British Columbia to penalize parties that don't receive large numbers of both party and electorate votes). But the effects of strategizing behaviors can't be mitigated at anything like an acceptable cost, and there is no way to block such behaviors short of collapsing the electoral system overall down to one vote. Or so I argue.7 49. Chapters 7 and 8 scrutinize and reject as largely illusory two alleged benefits of two vote MMP systems: that they extend voter choice, and that they induce something like additional institutional structure (e.g., separated powers, checks and balances, etc.), as it were, on the cheap.

7 Take Winter's perfunctory remarks on the topic for example (Winter's sentences in italics):

The current overhang structure is fine. It creates only small disproportionalities, which would decrease with the elimination of the one-seat threshold. Just because NZ hasn't seen any large overhangs so far, doesn't mean they aren't possible! And removing the one electorate rule greatly increases the incentives for, hence the likelihood of overhang-strategic play (19-24). Changes would be problematic. It would be difficult to ‘remove’ a seat from an elected constituency winner and having rules that punish ‘winning to much’ would simply induce strategic gaming (e.g. a proliferation of party-affiliated independents). Another alternative, where the overhang reduces the number of list seats is more feasible. But this reduction of other voter’s impact should only occur if there are very good reasons for making the move. No argument from me there. None of those changes does any good whatsoever. So long as the disproportionalities induced by overhang are minor, these are not present. But Winter previously said that the current structure only allows small disproportionalities. What's he worried about? However, it may be advisable to introduce a maximal overhang as a percentage of the party’s popular vote. A maximum of 150% would insure against grievous disproportionalties. So Winter finally agrees that large overhangs may occur, but then offers only a very partial solution whose ultimate sanction involves exactly the removal of seats from elected constituency winners; the option he previously, rightly dismissed as 'difficult'. Winter's exact proposal (whether he means that a party's electorate seat tally can be no more than 150% of the number, n, of seats its party vote share entitles it to, or that the party's overhang itself can't be more than 150% of n - these are not equivalent) requires taking away all of a party's electorate MPs in the case of a pure overhang party (one with close to 0% party vote share). But it's not especially fanciful to imagine Maori or Mana parties becoming pure overhang parties, thereby arriving at the nominally strongest possible positions with respect to coalition and coalition-like arrangements with, say, pure list parties such as the Greens. Good luck with removing all of the Maori and Mana MPs in that case! 'Difficult' doesn't begin to describe it. Of course, the dialectic can continue. Maybe Winter's proposal would be enough of a deterrent that the 'nuclear' option of a minor party, electorate MP massacre would never be used. But in my view it's risky to assume that. And, in general, infecting one's electoral system with possibilities for bluff-calling and brinkmanship seems like a classic VERY BAD IDEA. Lastly in our parade of horribles, just imagine the howls of injustice (not to mention the calls for the head of whoever recommended a system allowing such inequities) if a very small, very pure overhang party has, say, both of its electorate MPs taken away, while a larger, much less pure overhang party gets to keep its two electorate seat overhang. Good times.

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50. It's worth mentioning that (compensatory) one vote MMP (with or without Ausgleich or 'balance' seats), is used in the two largest German states (L채nder), North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-W체rttemberg, and in the Italian Senate, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, and the South Korean Kukhoe. 51. The Royal Commission 1986 seems to have been guided in its recommendation of two vote MMP by the thought that only a small minority of New Zealanders would split their votes. If that thought was part of the Commission's case for dismissing the obvious worries about two vote MMP then it is a thought that has failed every test so far. In New Zealand's first six MMP elections the percentage of voters splitting their votes has been 37% (1996), 35% (1999), 39% (2002), 29% (2005), 30% (2008), and 31% (2011). At the time the Commission wrote its report, Germany's Bundestag elections had experienced little significant votesplitting. Indeed, even now, rates of vote-splitting for the Bundestag are barely half of what they are in New Zealand. 52. Significantly, from 1965 to 1987, there were only a total of seventeen overhang seats in the Bundestag, hence the Commission's sanguine observation: If a party wins more constituency seats than its overall proportional entitlement, it keeps the seats it has won, and the total number of seats in the Bundestag is increased until the next election; this has happened on a few occasions since 1949, resulting in a 1 or 2 seat increase.8

But things have changed greatly since Germany's reunification. There were six overhang seats in the Bundestag in 1990, sixteen in 1994, thirteen in 1998, five in 2002, sixteen in 2005, and twenty-two in 2009. That and much, much worse - illegitimate government just for starters - is the future for NZ's two vote MMP system. Better to head all that off at the pass now by moving to a one vote counterpart of our current system. 53. Unfortunately, that probably won't happen in part because many of NZ's foremost electoral engineers (e.g., Vowles, J., Sullivan, A., Aimer, P., Miller, R., and Banducci, S. 2000. Electoral System Opinion and the Evolution of MMP: A Report to the Electoral Commission) deny that large-scale inter-party coordination to produce overhangs is a real problem simply because it hasn't happened so far. Hence, directly and indirectly, the complacency on the matter that we find in Geddis, Edgeler, and Winter. 8 Royal Commission on the Electoral System 1986, sec. 2.92, p. 36.

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We don't allow civil, mechanical, etc. engineers to rest on such backward-looking laurels – 'So far the dam has held', 'So far no plane has crashed' – and to answer charges (let alone proofs) that their complex systems have design flaws or important vulnerabilities with such hand-waving. But we seem determined to give exactly that latitude to our electoral engineers. Sadly, then, New Zealanders will probably have to wait for the electoral equivalent of a dam failure or an airplane falling out of the sky for their principal electoral engineers (and those they've influenced) to agree that an entirely foreseeable, design-level phenomenon is real. 54. Note that whenever I've mentioned to a non-expert New Zealander that I advocate a one vote version of MMP, their initial response has mixed 'How can that be MMP?' with 'So you want to go back to FPP then?' That is, within my small, highly non-random sample, people tend to think of two votes as defining MMP, and hence of 'one vote MMP' as close to a contradiction-in-terms. They've never been exposed to the possibility of one vote MMP before, and their sense that two votes must be essential suggests that the various seductive myths (e.g., voter choice, checks and balances on the cheap) surrounding two votes may have played crucial motivational roles in forming their, as it happens, broadly positive attitudes towards NZ's MMP system. This political reality unfortunately creates incentives for electoral engineers to avoid recommending transitioning to a more reliable and secure one vote system. AFTERWORD 55. I'd like to thank the Electoral Commission for the opportunity to make this submission. I did not submit earlier because I thought that my original research on one vote MMP would lie somewhat outside the Commission's brief. Reading other people's submissions on thresholds and electorate seat rules, however, convinced me that I had something to contribute on those topics, and further that some of my main research interests were relevant (notwithstanding the improbability of my largest, one vote MMP recommendation being accepted).

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[June 4, 2012 Note: Rob Salmond's and Elizabeth McLeay's interesting submissions appeared too close to the Commission's deadline for me to cover them or even be aware of their existence. I treat them now in Appendices.]

APPENDIX I: SALMOND 56. In 3-7 we agreed with the Royal Commission 1986's point that a non-trivial (i.e., not a low (or no)) threshold for list seats is defensible as a kind of rough insurance against proliferating micro-parties. We further argued that this relatively abstract point was not easily deflected, and that it was given some urgency in NZ's case by the racial and ethnic cleavages or fault-lines in NZ society (4). Micro-parties catering to these divides (i.e., in addition to the currently inevitable Maori-centric parties) would be an unwelcome development, and it's reasonable to prefer a less than maximally permissive electoral system to help preempt that outcome. Many other people (e.g., Winter, Palmer, Farrar) have made a closely related point: what's wrong with low (or no) threshold-induced fragmentation of parliament isn't the fragmentation itself (let alone anything specific about what that fragmentation might look like in NZ's case) but the political and especially executive instability it allegedly promotes.9 57. Salmond frontally attacks the instability line of reasoning by providing statistical evidence that effective thresholds10 aren't significantly correlated with executive stability. Salmond combines change-in-government-composition data (for 23 OECD countries) from the

9 One way to underline the difference between the two points is to observe that in some cases a racialized, etc.

politics might make for very strong, stable executives. For example, a majority group that would otherwise be divided ideologically over, e.g., the size of the public sector, might become an immovable, winning voting bloc once invited to conceptualize itself primarily racially, etc.. 10 'Effective threshold', whose technical details need not trouble us, is a slight broadening of the concept of a

threshold that (i) allows for comparison of countries with legal thresholds and those with only de facto barriers to entry into parliament, and (ii) takes systematic account of district magnitudes. E.g., if NZ had numerous regional lists rather a single national list, that much smaller district magnitude would push NZ's effective threshold above the 5% legal threshold. Similarly, although Finland's proportional electoral system has no legal threshold, it has an effective threshold of more than 5% because it divides the country into fifteen electoral districts some of which only have 6 MPs.

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University of Berne's Comparative Political Data Set I, 1960-200911 with data about effective thresholds from Lijphart 199412 to get the following two graphs:

Figure 1: Salmond's Effective Threshold v. Executive Stability Graphs.

and an underlying technical analysis: [S]imple bivariate correlations between thresholds and instability in PR countries were only significant at 0.514, and this significance drops further to 0.952 if election years are discarded from the analysis to give an estimate of between-election instability.

58. When I tried to reproduce Salmond's results I got slightly different graphs:

11 Klaus Armingeon, David Weisstanner, Sarah Engler, Panajotis Potolidis, Marlène Gerber, Philipp Leimgruber.

Comparative Political Data Set 1960-2009, Institute of Political Science, University of Berne 2011. 12 Arend Lijphart, Electoral Systems and Party Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1994.

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Figure 2: My Effective Threshold v. Executive Stability Graphs

with respective underlying scatterplots (the data points are <country, electoral regime> pairs, e.g., NZ-under-FPP is one dot, NZ-under-(current)MMP is another, and so on):

Figure 3: Scatterplots Underlying My Threshold v. Stability Graphs.

In the first, total years case I found (correlation coefficient with 30 degrees of freedom) R(30) = -.1112 significant at .5445 (i.e., a result that had ~54% chance of occurring if the variables were objectively independent), and in the non-election years case I found R(25) = .1736 significant at .3866. Like Salmond, then, I get neither case as close to a statistically significant correlation, but I don't get his bizarre drop-off in significance in the second, nonelection years only case. 59. And yet Salmond's analysis also raises an obvious question:

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[A]s the number of political parties goes up, instability also tends to rise. And it is also true that decreases in the threshold tend to increase the number of parties. What, then, explains the lack of a relationship between the threshold and instability?

Which he answers as follows: [M]any things other than the electoral system threshold cause the number of parties to rise and fall, and some of those other reasons are also causal of government instability. Religious fragmentation, for example, frequently causes the number of political parties to rise and is also an indication of a divided society, often linked to government instability. Multi-ethnic societies have the same issue. These relationships can jointly give the misleading impression that the number of parties is a prime cause of instability, whereas in fact deeper divisions in the community are causing both more parties and more instability at the same time. The parties-instability correlation is likely spurious.

60. My investigations of the data confirm that as (effective) thresholds decrease, the average effective number of parliamentary parties (ENPP) increases: R(30) = -.4417 is significant at .0114, i.e., highly statistically significant. The data case for average ENPP positively correlating with instability is less clear-cut: R(27) = .3005 is significant only at .1278. That's not even weakly statistically significant, but it's in the ballpark, and since the covariation/'variance in common' itself is sizeable, we've ample incentive to let this pass for the sake of the argument. 61. Yet Salmond claims that 'The parties-instability correlation is likely spurious'. Here's what I think that Salmond's suggesting as a rough causal picture of what's going on:

Lowering Threshold

Community Dividedness


Instability Figure 4: Salmond's Apparent Causal Graph.13

13 Why the ?-ed arrow? Well, Salmond does say 'likely spurious'? Moreover, in private correspondence Salmond

adds: 'The higher ENPP caused by community divisions are much more likely to lead to instability than are the ENPP increases caused by changes in threshold mathematics.'

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Ideally, I believe, we would respond to this sort of hypothesized (albeit simplified) causal structure by expanding our data set to allow us to control for background CD levels. If we did that then we'd be able to: (i) Measure precisely the differential impact of LT on ENPP while holding CD fixed. We know that LT has an impact, but maybe it's always negligible compared to CD's influence, or maybe it's strong only at particular CD levels, e.g., at the low CD levels that also cause little instability. (ii) Calibrate and maybe eliminate ENPP→I altogether. If 'the parties-instability correlation is spurious' as Salmon suspects then CD should completely probabilistically screen off I from ENPP, i.e., Pr(I | ENPP ∩ CD) = Pr(I | CD). 62. I have a dog in this fight principally because of my argument (3-7, 56) that it's reasonable to prefer a less than maximally permissive electoral system to help preempt parliamentary fragmentation/very high ENPP when there's moderate-to-high CD.14 But that preference wouldn't be reasonable if LT's influence on ENPP were always washed out by CD. So I'm directly interested in (i). (For my apparent vindication, see 64.) But I'd also be amazed if the full screening off possibility in (ii) were realized (perhaps particularly if I'm right about (i) and LT's independent influence on ENPP is nonnegligible). Screening off (hence the full spuriousness of ENPP→I) means that background CD level always or in every instance causes all the executive instability (maybe all the political instability more generally) that it ever will. While it's surely an occupational hazard of social choice theorists to exaggerate the difference that an electoral system makes, the full screening-off idea is at the opposite, prima facie implausible extreme. Salmond might be right, but the odds would seem to be against him since there's only one way for him to be right and many, many ways for him to be wrong, i.e., the vast middle ground of possibilities where a community's electoral system influences how closely its parliament reflects underlying political realities including its CD structure (which shapes how political power is distributed and wielded in the community, which ramifies on higher order political phenomena such as the various kinds of stability).

14 In part because I suspect that ENPP←CD can become ENPP↔CD under such conditions.

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63. In private correspondence, Salmond confirms that, even in the absence of more fine-grained data that would allow us to control for CD levels, he is prepared to grasp the nettle here and just assert that LT never causes additional executive instability under any CD level condition. (Salmond: rather than 'proposing a conditional causal relationship between thresholds and instability... my view is that there is no causal relationship between thresholds and instability'.) While that's a bold and interesting position for Salmond to take, it's sheer assertion. While that position is consistent with his current data, so is almost every intermediate hypothesis allowing that institutional and electoral superstructures (including effective threshold levels) can have some role in making CD structure manifest in political life (for better and for worse, including with additional instability). 64. Can I do any better? Not really; it's much easier to throw stones at someone's else social science data and analysis than it is to produce your own data or provide your own penetrating analyses to higher or even the same standards. The best data on community divisions/cleavages (hence the best candidate for merging with Salmond's Berne/Lijphart data) that I've been able to find is the Fractionalization data set compiled by Alesina et al..15 While I'll rely on its ethnic fractionalization indices (EFI) for some of my comments below, I do so holding my nose and as a kind of triumph of hope over experience given my reservations about the data. For example, Alesina et al.'s data set mechanically computes and compiles linguistic and religious fractionalization indices in parallel with its ethnic ones. One only needs to spend, say, ten minutes with that data before it starts to smell badly. For example, it scores secular, post-religious NZ as highly religiously fractionalized (.8110), very much more so than Israel (.3469) and more so even than the Lebanon (.7886). While one can imagine the census (and census-like) data that have led to these numbers, you'd have to be a social science robot to think that the head-counts means the same thing in all these cases. Rather, in some places religious affiliations run very deep and matter greatly, whereas in other countries they hardly matter at all. Regardless of what a head-counting-derived statistic may suggest, NZ has no significant religious divisions. 15 Available from The MacroData Guide [ ] and

originally reported on in Alberto Alesina, Arnaud Devleeschauwer, William Easterly, Sergio Kurlat, and Romain Wacziargm 2003. Fractionalization. Journal of Economic Growth 8 (June): 155-194.

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I fear, however, that some social scientist somewhere is right now using NZ as an important data-point with which to dispute the idea that religious cleavages are anything to be worried about. What comparable howlers will the Alesina et al. data lead me to commit with respect to the vast majority of the countries for which I have no independent basis for interpreting and assessing the indices it assigns? In sum, my official view is that anyone using the Alesina et al. data set to draw important causal conclusions is likely to end up confused: premature, mechanical formalization and computation is almost certainly obscuring as much as it reveals (see 66 for an apparent confirmation of this conjecture). 65. Setting 64's worries aside for the sake of the argument, I've done some preliminary covariation and regression testing of a conjoined Berne/Lipjhart/Alesina data set and not got anything useable back (e.g., correlating EFI with Mean Non-election Year Govt Change we get R(27) = .006 significant at .9739. Ha!). Even just eyeballing some of the conjoined data (see Table 1) one can see why that should be so: Eff. Thresh

Mean Govt Change

Mean Nonelection Year Govt Change






EFI 0.7124


35 5

0.520000 0.500000

0.161290 0.111111

2.464224 4.487203

0.0929 0.3969


16.4 35

0.677419 0.826087

0.450000 0.437500

2.630523 3.534904

0.0119 0.1032













Country CAN

thr(Can) = thr(Ausl) efi(Can) >> efi(Ausl) yet Canada is stabler thr(NZ2) << thr(Jap) efi(NZ2) >> efi(JAP) yet NZ2 is stabler efi(Fra1) ~ efi(Ned) thr(Fra1) >> thr(Ned) yet Ned is stabler efi(Fra1) ~ efi(Ita) thr(Fra1) ~ thr(Ita) yet Ned is much stabler

Table 1: Berne/Lipjhart/Alesina Data Woe.

The obvious thing to do here is to conclude in part that EFI is a lousy measure of community division, hence that our conjoined data set won't provide any meaningful checks on whatever causal story we might be inclined to tell. But it's irresistible to try, at least rhetorically, to turn this defeat into victory. Whereas Salmond could say in his submission (loosely reflecting on his 'no correlation' analysis): for every unstable low-threshold country like Israel, there is a stable low-threshold country like the Netherlands

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we can observe: for every unstable low-threshold, low CD/EFI country like Italy, there is a stable lowthreshold, low CD/EFI country like the Netherlands.

And so on. Of course, even if EFI perfectly measured CD level, Salmond's not really on the hook here. Despite being clearly tempted by a causal structure like Fig. 4, some of what he says sounds very open-ended: many things other than the electoral system threshold cause the number of parties to rise and fall, and some of those other reasons are also causal of government instability (my italics)

In principle, 'community divisions' could, I suppose, even be understood as a completely unpredictive place-holder for an utterly heterogeneous set of factors, different in every country. Let's hope not though. 66. An alternative to adducing problematic new data is to look deeper inside the Berne/Lijphart data for 'natural experiment' cases for the claim that if one holds community divisions (at least relatively) fixed then lowering effective thresholds increases instability. And indeed there are 4 such cases: Austria, Norway, NZ, and Sweden (see Table 2). Eff. Thresh

Mean Govt Change

Total Years

Mean Nonelection Year Govt Change

2.6 8.5

0.350000 0.636364

20 11

0.071429 0.625000

14 8

2.344314 2.167927


4 8.9

0.350000 0.538462

20 26

0.071429 0.315789

14 19

3.387984 1.966303


5 35

0.500000 0.472222

14 26

0.111111 0.125000

9 24

4.487203 3.346151


4 8.4

0.342105 0.333333

38 9

0.076923 0.000000

26 6

3.715441 3.139771

Country AUT2 AUT1

Nonelection Years


Table 2: Four 'Natural Experiments'.

All four countries saw their mean ENPPs rise after lowering their respective thresholds, NZ and Norway significantly. This appears to confirm that the basic answer to 61(i) is that LT's influence on ENPP isn't negligible compared to CD's. But only two countries (NZ, Sweden) exhibited increased overall executive instability, and only Sweden increased non-election year executive instability (our preferred measure). Moreover, those increases were minimal, amounting to only one additional full change of

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government every 10-15 years, whereas the more numerous decreases were sizeable (on average about an order of magnitude larger than the increases). That's... a mess. 67. One can try to explain away or find reasons to ignore the fact that only Sweden behaves in accordance with our basic prediction that (holding CD fixed) greater electoral permissiveness is likely to have a stability price. •

The number of cases is small

According to the Alesina et al data set, Austria, Sweden and Norway are some of the most ethnically homogeneous, least internally divided countries on Earth and perhaps for that reason constitute an unrepresentative sample16

Sweden and NZ have recently experienced significant immigration and demographic change17 so that levels of community division may not have been kept fixed enough across their respective threshold changes for them to constitute genuine natural experiments

Of the four natural experiment cases, only Austria actually dipped its effective threshold into anything like the 'low (or no) threshold' zone where we'd expect the most executive instability signal to show through

It's always possible to object that the Berne data's way of measuring instability is more convenient than probative.18 For example, hideously tense and unproductive coalitional arrangements that nonetheless hold together are invisible to it and count as stable.

68. But general humility as well as openness to the future recommends against 67's defensive actions at this point. Better just to confess that the current data set is too small, too flattened out, and full of noise to settle anything really controversial. We're entitled to hope and even expect that richer data sets will have enough additional observations and ultimately allow enough confounding variables to be incorporated so that circumstances in which thresholdlowering has important effects can be identified and the non-functionality of CD→I demonstrated. But Salmond's certainly entitled to bet otherwise. 16 Austria's about as ethnically fractionalized as the Netherlands (~.1), and Sweden and Norway are much more

ethnically homogeneous still (~.06). 17 Not that any of that shows up in Alesina et al.'s data, which dates to 1996 for NZ and 1998 for Sweden. 18 The very general problem about what counts as data in social sciences that we raised against Alesina et al. in 64.

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In the meantime, however, I think it behooves countries like NZ, Spain, the US and Israel to be a little more cautious, to buy a little more insurance (and be a little more credulous about its efficacy) than countries like Austria, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands.19 Consider that among the OECD countries covered by the Berne data set only Belgium has both a lower effective threshold than NZ currently does and also a higher degree of ethnic fractionalization. That's an inauspicious precedent since Belgium is currently close to falling apart, took well over a year to form its last government, lives with the dread specter of eight-way coalitions, and so on. And if you remove Belgium from the Berne/OECD list then the average EFI for OECD countries with lower effective thresholds than NZ is ~ .1, i.e., about 1/4 of NZ's figure. They look like the Netherlands. If there is such a thing as an especially benign environment for low (or no) threshold politics then I'm pretty sure the Netherlands is it, and that NZ is not. (Now shoot me for relying on a data set that I distrust to make these ripostes.) 69. As for the rest of Salmond's submission, Salmond advocates eliminating NZ's one electorate seat rule. Like Edgeler and Geddis he doubts whether the one electorate seat rule can have any normative justification, and like Edgeler and Geddis he never considers either of our normative justifications (15-24). 70. Salmond also suggests that the key uses of the rule in NZ have been somewhat at variance with the occasionally-offered rationale that the electorate seat rule helps the representation of small, regionally-concentrated pockets of voters. He claims that ACT, et al. are, in fact, 'parties that seek broad nationwide appeal' so that their success through the rule is anomalous, and

19 The Netherlands is often touted as the poster child for the proposition that very low effective thresholds are

compatible with political and executive instability. But not only is the Netherlands ethnically homogeneous (see Table 1), its principal historical cleavages were religious, and for most purposes they've been transcended: the Netherlands is now one of the most secular countries in Europe. The Netherlands is also only 10% the (geographical) size of NZ so our (Example 2) worries about regional themes feeding any other fault-lines that might become active don't get a grip there. Indeed, the Netherlands is such a unified community of interest that it can and does do without a tier of location-based (electorate) representatives. Unsurprisingly, while the Netherlands has a few regional/ethnic parties, none is currently represented in the main, lower house, notwithstanding that there's an effective threshold of only 2/3%.

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[W]here parties really are successfully targeting a narrow slice of voters â&#x20AC;&#x201C; for example the Maori Party and Mana â&#x20AC;&#x201C; our experience is that these parties have done well enough in electorate contests not to need any list seats to achieve proportionality.

71. Two points in response to this curious line of thought. First, Maori and Mana are just as much nationwide-appeal-seeking as ACT, et al., and conversely ACT, et al. target narrow slices of voters just as much as Maori and Mana do. They're all niche parties on a national stage, and only the slightly odd character of the Maori seats (the geographically largest of which, Te Tai Tonga, is five times the size of the Netherlands) obscures that. Second, effectively Salmond salutes the Maori and Mana parties for either having or at least courting proportionality-distorting overhangs, although he glosses over that fact with the phrase 'to achieve proportionality'. Notably too, Salmond's submission doesn't officially address the Commission's overhang question. APPENDIX II: MCLEAY 72. McLeay gives seven reasons for eliminating the one electorate seat rule. We deal with these in turn. 73. McLeay's first reason is the unequal suffrage or 'trigger electorate voters end up with disproportionate power/say' line of reasoning that we've explored (and demurred from) length in 29-42. 74. McLeay's second reason is that; Citizens are encouraged to make non-sincere voting choices. This is a pity since one of the strengths of the mixed system is the way it allows voters to choose the candidates of their choice for their local representatives in the knowledge that it is their party vote that counts when determining the sizes of the parliamentary parties.

But that's absurd. For example, typically 45-50% of Greens party voters give their electorate votes to Labour candidates, usually without the one electorate seat rule being involved. If McLeay really thinks that most of those voters actually (let alone should have) refrained from voting for a Greens candidate because in their sincere judgment it's the Labour candidate 'whom they see as performing best for their electorates as their MPs' then I've got a bridge I'd like to sell her. No, obviously the vast majority of those Green party voters voted strategically/rationally

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for the 'nearest'/most politically compatible, FPP-viable local candidate, 'to not waste their vote'. And the same is true for at least 70% of other minor party voters. The only difference between these standard, rational 'double dipping' cases and the one electorate rule cases is that roles are reversed. In one electorate rule plays, it's major party supporters who get to 'double dip' (i.e., put both their votes to work, and for different parties), and minor party supporters who finally get to vote sincerely and unquixotically for their own party's candidate. See 32 for our discussion of Geddis's version of the same ineffectual manoeuvre, and see 43 for our broadest defence of rational/strategizing voters. 75. McLeay's third reason for rejecting the one electorate seat rule is the 'it treats parties unfairly'/'it generates unfair outcomes' objection which we answered in 26-28. 76. McLeay's fourth reason is that it distorts party campaigning, i.e., because winning waivertriggering electorates becomes a matter of life or death for sub-threshold parties. I don't see this as an especially major concern, and, if our argument at 19-24 is correct then eliminating one electorate seat plays will tend to see sub-threshold parties (McLeay favors a 4% threshold) play pure electorate-seat overhang strategies. Some parties campaigning hard or electorate wins and only lightly (if at all) for party votes - more campaign distortion than ever in McLeay's terms â&#x20AC;&#x201C; is the likely outcome. 77. McLeay's fifth reason is that the public doesn't like the one electorate seat rule, hence that removing the rule would improve MMP's legitimacy in their eyes. Maybe so, but, honestly, if political scientists and electoral engineers just did their jobs better, gave the public better explanations of the rule and of the risks around its removal (16-24), then this wouldn't be a problem. McLeay's job and my job qua submitters is to provide the kind of advice to the Electoral Commission that will enable it to inform and recommend to the public the best options for NZ MMP moving forward, not to illicitly weigh things in favor of the masses getting out o the Commission what they thought they wanted prior to and regardless of all systematic consideration and expert advice. 78. McLeay's sixth reason is that removing the rule simplifies MMP. Fair enough, but the complexity the one electorate seat rule introduces wasn't so enormous that this can be a major consideration. Compare: I advocate one vote MMP (48-52), which is necessarily simpler than two vote MMP. But the case in favor of one vote MMP turns on the anti-

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proportional overhang chaos it forestalls. That it simplifies MMP a little is only a pleasant side-effect or bonus. 79. McLeay's final reason is more of technical observation: that ending the rule still allows any local winners for sub-threshold parties to enter parliament. McLeay suggests, however, that they'd have to enter as independents (which would shrink the number of Sainte-LaguĂŤ quotients to be distributed). But that's false. They could keep their party-affiliated status in one of two ways: either be treated as automatic overhangs or (Edgeler's idea for cutting down on overhangs) include their party votes in the Sainte-LaguĂŤ calculation but only earn quotients up to the party's number of electorate wins. 78. McLeay mounts an interesting argument for a 4% threshold based on the likely ineffectiveness of very small parliamentary delegations. All small parties, whether they are in government or in opposition, have difficulty in finding enough expert speakers for plenary session debates, supplying members for our important select committees, keeping in touch with their extraparliamentary party members, connecting with electors through addressing and attending meetings, and so forth. It is an obvious outcome of our small Parliament that our parliamentary parties are also small in size.

I broadly agree with this as an important consideration that should influence the choice of a threshold level. I share McLeay's preference for 4%, but I don't yet see how narrowly intraparliamentary considerations can, by themselves, rule out anything except what's below 3% = 4 MPs. 79. McLeay joins the complacent, backward-looking chorus that sees no point in doing anything about overhangs, simply because they've not caused any real trouble so far (53). And then the dam collapsed. The plane crashed. The truck-bomb drove right though the front gates.

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MMP Review Submission: Thresholds, Electorate Seat Rules, Overhangs 2.6  

Threshold+electorate seat rule regimes are more defensible than is commonly realized. Overhangs are more of a problem than is commonly reali...