It’s election time again. In less than five weeks on Saturday, September 23, New Zealanders will go to the polls to elect a new government that will run the country for the next three years. By voting we have your say on the issues that affect us, our friends and our family.
As we have a large number of new migrants in our midst – some of whom may have experienced a different system of governance – this is a good time to brush up on our knowledge of New Zealand’s electoral system so that we can go forward confidently.
WHO CAN VOTE?
First up it is good to know that New Zealand is a democratic country in which the Members of Parliament (MPs) are chosen in free and fair elections. What is more, you can be absolutely sure that your vote is secret.
In this regard, please note that citizens and permanent residents (who have lived in New Zealand for more than one year continuously at some time in their life) who are aged 18 years and over are required to enrol to vote. But voting is not compulsory.
ADVANCE VOTING SYSTEM
One unique feature of elections in New Zealand is the advance voting system. Unlike many other countries you may have resided in, over here you are allowed to cast your vote about two weeks before the actual Election Day. This year advance voting opens on Monday, September 11.
MMP VOTING SYSTEM
Another difference that newcomers need to come to grips with in New Zealand is the fact that we use the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system to elect our Parliament.
It is a proportional system, which means that the proportion of votes a party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament.
Its defining characteristics are a mix of MPs from single-member electorates and those elected from a party list, and a Parliament in which a party’s share of the seats roughly mirrors its share of the overall nationwide party vote.
The MMP System is quite different from the popular ‘First Past the Post’ system where every voter gets one vote – candidate vote – and the candidate who receives most votes wins.
In the MMP voting system, each voter gets two votes.
The first vote is for the political party the voter chooses. This is called the party vote and largely decides the total number of seats each political party gets in Parliament.
The second vote is to choose the MP the voter wants to represent the electorate they live in. This is called the electorate vote. The candidate who gets the most votes wins. They do not have to get more than half the votes.
Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat OR 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is about the same as its share of the party vote.
For example, if a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get roughly 36 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of 120 seats). So if that party wins 20 electorate seats it will have 16 List MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs.
Coalitions or agreements between political parties are usually needed before Governments can be formed.
WIDER OPTIONS FOR VOTERS
Under MMP, voters choose the electorate candidate they want to represent them in parliament and also separately choose the political party they want to represent them. Their choices can differ – the candidate they choose does not have to be from the party they vote for..
Out of a total of 120 Members of Parliament (MPs), there are 71 electorates, including the seven Maori electorates. One MP is elected in each electorate – these are the 71 Electorate MPs, and the other 49 MPs are elected from political party lists and are called List MPs.
MMP AND POLITICAL PARTIES
Since total party votes determine the number of seats a political party will have eventually in a parliament; therefore political parties have greater incentive to reach out to voters regardless of the region or seats they represent so as to increase their total number of votes and hence increase their chances of forming the government.
The smaller political parties, with financial resources and appropriate presence around the country get a fair chance to try their luck in elections thus bring more options on the table for the voters.
Before you can vote, you need to enrol. Enrolment forms are available at www.elections.org.nz or by calling freephone 0800 367656.
You’ll need to fill in a new enrolment form every time you move house to keep your details up to date.