What should a voting system do?
The case for STV in the Far North District.
By September this year, the Far North District council must decide between two alternative processes for the next local government elections in 2022. Do they vote to keep the status quo, the current First-Past-the-Post electoral ‘race’ or do they follow the lead of 11 progressive councils last year, and adopt the ‘Single-Transferable-Vote system?
‘STV’ uses a preference system of voting: rank as many candidates as you want. It’s as simple as writing down your favourite colour and then your second favourite colour and so on. There’s no need to list every colour just as in the same way you needn’t rank all candidates. We already use it for the Northland Health Board. It’s a fairer, more democratic system where most voters have a stake in the results since their preferences are taken into account.
As Professor Priya Kurian, Political Science and Public Policy lecturer at University of Waikato, points out, "STV’s ability to better reflect the will of the entire voting population means it’s more likely to produce councils that look like the communities they represent." Locals I spoke to pre-lockdown believe a change to STV is well overdue. It’s common knowledge that in last year’s elections, the votes of the majority of citizens were wasted: our current mayor received only 29% of the vote while in some wards, elected councillors and community board members ‘won’ with only 10 or 11% of total votes.
We expect our elected leaders to go into battle on issues that matter to us. When we identify with councillors and community board members, we find it easier to trust they have indeed ‘got our back.’ And it’s a two-way relationship, which is going to be so important in the years ahead as we ‘ReBoot’ the way things are done and take the opportunity to build a more equitable and resilient Far North post-Covid . For our Council whose services are spread thinly over a vast area, collaboration with the general public and the support of local residents will be more essential than ever. Having a more diverse council will lessen the risk of offending citizens by not understanding their needs and perspectives.
Take the current uproar in Far North communities about the actions of Far North Holdings Limited. Furious local citizens of Russell, Opua, and Rangitane view the lack of transparency and consultation over wide-sweeping actions of FNHL as outrageous. An apparent disregard for the council’s legislated responsibility to ‘promote the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of communities in the present and the future’ has grown into distrust of our district council and a polarised ‘us v them’ approach.
We know STV is more representative, but will council members be willing to change the system that elected them? If councillors remain unmoved over the choice to move to a more representative voting system, a request for a district-wide poll can be expected from disgruntled Far North residents. Polling is a costly and labour-intensive option. Why go to all that expense when Council members can simply copy the lead of Kaipara District Council and pass a resolution at the next council meeting in favour of STV?
Author, Jane Banfield is a long-term resident of Paihia, a grandmother and a volunteer in the SEA CHANGE movement (www.seachange.kiwi), set up last year to see transformation within Far North local government to address local climate, environmental and community issues. In February 2020, Jane and fellow SEA CHANGE volunteer, Andrew Riddell spoke at the public FNDC meeting to point out the many benefits of a shift to STV.