Don’t forget about the referendum too…

24 Nov

On the eve of the election, parties have made their promises for the future of the country, debated who is the most capable of taking New Zealand in the ‘right direction’ and thrown punches as they battle to win votes. However, this years election has an extra layer – we are also voting about whether we want to keep MMP. However, as Gordon Campbell so rightfully points out, we as a nation are lacking the expertise and the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision on this referendum.

“It seems a big ask to expect that after a month of brochures in the letterbox and occasional 30 second ad on television that most voters will be well enough acquainted with the voting systems on offer – Supplementary Member, Single Transferable Vote, Mixed Member Proportional and First Past the Post – to make an informed call about their relative strengths and weaknesses. Is a referendum a good way of dealing with issues of such complexity?”

“An entire generation of voters up to the age of 33 or thereabouts have voted only within MMP-style elections. Among older citizens, memories of the unfairness of the FPP system have faded.”

Campbell makes a further important observation regarding this referendum. On Saturday, we will be asked two different questions:

1. Do you want to keep MMP or change to another voting system?

2. What voting system would you choose if New Zealand did decide to change?

Answering the second question is just as important as the first. If the majority do not vote ‘yes’ for retaining MMP, then in the 2014 election we will be voting between MMP and the alternative that wins the most votes on Saturday. Hence the importance of answering the second question.

Earlier today I was talking to a friend of mine who placed a special vote yesterday. He commented about how he had been thrown by that second question when he went in to cast his vote. He had carefully considered his party and electoral candidate votes and his opinions about MMP. However, when faced with the second question he didn’t feel that he knew enough about the other options to make an informed decision and therefore left it blank.

In the same situation, I think I would have made the same choice. My fear is that this will be the reality for many voters. Or worse, people will just tick FPP because that is the only other option that they know.

So, I urge one and all to read up on the different options before heading out to vote on Saturday. Here are a couple of good places where you can figure out which alternative option suits you best:

Why MMP is Still the Best Option, Gordon Campbell

Explained: The MMP referendum, The Dominion Post

There is also a Referendum website set up to help people get informed.

And enjoy placing your vote on Saturday!

Hannah Mackintosh


2 Responses to “Don’t forget about the referendum too…”

  1. Renee Rushton December 1, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I had managed to miss the fact that there would be a second question in the referendum too.

    However after considering the other options I decided that none of the four alternatives were as good as MMP so I decided to abstain from voting in the second question. I had considered arguments that a strategic vote for FPP might be the best way to go as it would likely be the easiest to defend against in the following referendum between MMP and FPP (See I didn’t like this option because I felt that a vote for FPP or any of the other options would represent the overall preference for these systems as disproportionately high and to abstain was also in essence an indication of my preference.

    On the Sunday following the election I was chatting with some friends about what we’d each voted. One friend admitted that he had accidentally checked the wrong box for the second question. My other friend took this as a little humorous but nothing serious. Then I admitted that I had abstained from voting in the second referendum question and tried to argue my reasons – both friends proceeded to berate me rather viciously “you’ve just missed your chance to have a say” etc. They argued that the question was asking if you had to change to another system, what would your preference be (so if MMP is your fav, then the question asks you to choose your next fav). They pointed out that you don’t get to add a comment with abstain vote – so there was no way of making it clear that in abstaining I was trying to indicate that I preferred MMP.

    In speaking to a number of others after the election, many were confused about the best response for a pro-MMP voter in the second question. One friend even suggested that for a pro MMP voter to vote in the second question would essentially cancel out a vote for MMP in the first question. Perhaps the fact that 34% of voters submitted invalid or blank votes for the second question indicates that many Kiwi’s were either confused or considered it a strategic vote (See results here:

    I think the key issue here is, as Hannah Mackintosh and Gordon Campbell have pointed out, as a nation we lacked the knowledge to make an informed choice in this referendum. The creation of sound research like the Report of the Royal Commission on the electoral system ( and good communication of this information might go some way to remedying this situation.

    Thank goodness over 50% voted to keep MMP.

    • Hannah Mackintosh December 4, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      Only the advance votes have been counted for the MMP referendum (about 10%) so we are still waiting for that outcome. It will be interesting to see if these statistics follow a similar trend once all the votes have been counted.

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