On 13 August the Electoral Commission released a proposals paper relating to its review of the MMP voting system.

The Paper follows a consultation paper released in February and outlines the changes that the Commission proposes to include in its final report to the Minister of Justice in October this year.

The Commission's key proposals are that:

  • The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished.
  • The party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats should be lowered to 4%.
  • Candidates should continue to be able to stand both in an electorate and on a party list at general elections.
  • List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections.
  • Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists.
  • The provision for overhang seats should be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold.
  • Parliament should consider the point at which population growth and the increase in electorate seats relative to list seats threatens Parliament's proportionality.  The Commission suggests that when the number of electorates reaches 76 in a 120-seat Parliament (this is expected after 2026), the risk to proportionality from an insufficient number of list seats becomes unacceptable.

The Paper recommends that list MPs continue to be able to stand in a by-election, but does not address the issue of by-elections disrupting the proportionality of Parliament. 

This is an issue where a candidate from a different party wins a by-election, but the party does not lose a list seat.  For example, if Nick Smith were to resign from Parliament and force a by-election in Nelson (where the party vote contest is much closer), and if a Labour candidate were to win that by-election, then Labour would gain a seat and National would lose a seat.  That would change the overall make-up of Parliament from the general election result.  To address this, there could be a rule so that in that example Labour would lose a list seat and National would gain a list seat, to keep the overall proportionality.  The paper does not address this issue except to note that:

Some submitters were concerned the proportionality of Parliament is changed if the party that won the seat at the general election fails to hold it at a by-election.  This is certainly a possible outcome of a by-election but the results and proportionality established at a general election cannot be guaranteed to continue for three years.

One implication of the recommendations in the Paper is that, in some circumstances, the Māori seats can become more important.  For example, if a party wins five out of seven Māori seats (as the Māori Party did in 2008) but gets a low party vote, then it would still get 5 seats in a 120 seat Parliament and effectively deny larger parties additional list seats.  The Commission's own projection of the 2011 election under its proposals would have National, ACT, and United Future with a combined 60 seats out of 120, meaning that the Māori Party's three electorate seats would become critical.

The Electoral Referendum Act 2010 specifically excluded from review matters regarding Māori representation and the number of MPs.  These are being considered separately by the Constitutional Advisory Panel.

The Commission is currently seeking submissions on its proposals.  The deadline for submissions is 7 September 2012.

The Commission will consider responses and then report its recommendations to the Minister of Justice by 31 October 2012.  This allows time for Parliament to enact any changes in advance of the next General Election, expected in 2014.

The Paper can be found here.