Ugly, inaccurate and incomprehensible

This unidentified billboard has appeared in Cable Street: ugly, inaccurate and incomprehensible.  Perhaps that’s why no one was prepared to put their name to it. 

I can only guess that it is has been paid for by the First-Past-the-Post lobby that is pushing to get rid of proportional electoral systems.

It seems to lament the fact that a fair electoral system delivered a candidate with genuine majority support.  Or is it just using Kerry’s name as an oblique attack on MMP.

Its very hard to tell.  “Vote losers: get two votes’, “vote for a winner: get 1” makes no sense at all. 

It appears that some FPP supporter out there has more money than sense. You would think that if you are going to spend that kind of money on a billboard you would at least make it intelligible.

28 Comments Posted

  1. Hi @kahikatea – Yep, I just wanted names to play with and that’s the order they fell in when I put numbers alongside them, so sorry for any impressions with the lazy choices. I probably should have made up different names, but too late now. I guess a catch is that if Jack’s supporters had ranked a second preference, those votes wouldn’t have been lost meaning Jack couldn’t have won anyway because their second preference would’ve had to go to either Celia or Kerry, pushing one or the other further ahead and past the quota. I think this is a specific issue that would come up when not everyone ranks all candidates. Election system experts have probably known about it for yonks.

  2. Mike, that seems a fair comment, but I’m going to have to think about whether a similar problem could occur without voters leaving their second preferences blank. I trust that any resemblance of the names in your example to the names of any actual Wellington Mayoral candidates is purely coincidental.

    Rimu, according to the official results, about a quarter of voters who gave their first preferences to Jack, Bryan, Bernard or Al did indeed rank Kerry above Celia. I think the claim by FPP supporters is that those people’s votes shouldn’t count either.

  3. @toad, No argument there, except to add that my main point is that STV as designed isn’t as infallible as some people out there seem to think it is. STV specifically says people don’t have to rank all candidates, and if everyone doesn’t rank all candidates, STV isn’t guaranteed to produce a fair result… even for the subset of voters who did rank all candidates.

    The thing with the hypothetical STV election above is that all those imaginary-Kerry voters really did nothing wrong. They ranked the candidates in their preferred order exactly as asked. Imaginary-Kerry could never win, but her supporters might have had a really good reason to feel annoyed that their second choice couldn’t be elected despite a full 2/3 of all voters preferring imaginary-Jack over imaginary-Celia. Somehow imaginary-Celia snuck ahead based on STV’s bias towards prioritising first preference votes, and then eliminating a trailing candidate before the total support for that trailing candidate was able to be tallied.

    I really like STV and I think it’s much better than FPP for things like mayoral and council elections. (Maybe not so great with a system divided into lots of single-seat electorates unless there are other overriding systems like MMP to make sure a total vote count catches minority preferences between electorates.) But that’s really because FPP’s just very unfair from the beginning. The only thing going for it is absolute simplicity for voters to understand what’s happening. It’s really important for a good democracy that as many people as possible should be able to understand the mechanics of the system they’re voting in. If your system says “a computer does it and a small group of experts understand what’s happening and you have to trust them” then it’s not going to inspire confidence. But surely it's also important that the system actually produces a result that best represents everyone's views.

    As for DHB elections, the Wellington DHB was definitely the hardest one for me to vote in. I don't know much about it, or the local health system, and there were so many candidates I'd never heard of! I ranked them all after a gruelling hour in my lunch break where I read all their short blurbs and trying to come up with a vague ordering. Not exactly fair or well informed, and I didn't feel too good about voting that way. If there are more than a few people in my situation, I really wonder about the usefulness of the DHB elections.

  4. @MikeM 2:57 PM

    So be it. If voters don’t bother to rank candidates they don’t want under STV, then that is the consequence.

    With the Waitemata DHB, I made the point of ranking each and every candidate, right to the bottom of the list.

    That was so I could rank Christine Rankin right at the bottom at No. 31 to show my utter contempt for her bigotry and elitism. Admittedly, there were a few on the list I didn’t know at all, so ranked them alphabetically in the middle.

    Unfortunately, for reason of name recognition and probably no other, Rankin was elected to the Waitemata DHB (she also stood for the Auckland Council, and failed to get elected, for which I am very glad).

    But as far as the Waitemata DHB goes, shit happens! STV is still the most democratic voting system, but there are sufficient electors who (unfortunately) support Rankin or don’t bother to rank the full list that even under STV we don’t always get the results we would like.

  5. I know we don’t have STV for mayoralty in Christchurch, if we had I might have voted. Probably would have ranked everyone except Anderton and Parker.

  6. Okay, so just to give a purely theoretical and unlikely example of how STV could return an “unfair” result, here goes: 🙂

    * There are 3 candidates in a single seat election — Celia, Kerry and Jack.
    * 66,999 voters results in a Droop Quota of about 33,500.
    * Celia gets 23,000 first preferences. Kerry gets 22,000 first preferences. Jack gets 21,999 first preferences.
    * Celia’s supporters didn’t bother to rank anyone else, and neither did Jack’s. They’re apparently all apathetic basement dwellers and never researched the other candidates.
    * Nobody’s reached the quota after counting first preferences, and Jack is running last. Jack is immediately eliminated by STV rules.
    * Because Jack’s 21,999 supporters never bothered to rank anyone else, those 21,999 first preference votes for Jack are never transferred to another candidate.
    * With only 2 candidates remaining, Kerry (with less votes) is eliminated and Celia wins.
    * All of Kerry’s 22,000 supporters had listed a second preference of Jack (and no third preference), but this second preference is ignored because Jack was eliminated.

    The result means that Celia won with 23,000 votes, even though Jack had 21,999 first preferences, and could have had a further 22,000 second preferences if the STV system had allowed it. In other words, 43,999 of the 66,999 voters preferred Jack over Celia, but Celia still won as a consequence of the ordering rules of how candidates are eliminated.

    If just one of Kerry’s voters had reversed their preference and put Jack ahead of Kerry, then Kerry would have been eliminated first up, all her votes would have been transferred to Jack, and Jack would have beaten Celia in an overwhelming landslide.

    It’s just a proof of concept which relies on STV’s lack of requirement to rank everyone and that in turn meant the winner never reached the quota. But at some point someone might have a reasonable enough claim for an unfair result in an STV election, especially if it’s a lot of candidates having very distributed support and with voters tending to cluster the same groups of candidates with similar rankings and then not ranking everyone. That kind of situation could result in an elimination decided by a small margin between two candidates, and eventually results in a completely different election outcome down the track. Maybe this kind of outcome would be more likely to happen in DHB elections?

    It’s certainly not to suggest that Kerry’s support base has much to complain about in the recent election. 😛

  7. Yes it does appear to be an attack on the MMP system (2 votes) versus FPP (1 vote).. but I thought the majority of local body elections, use STV ?
    As for democracy, proportional representation (MMP) is definatley ‘more democratic’ than FPP.. (my opinion only)
    I think someone’s just a sore loser ?? Kia-ora

  8. For those who’ve not seen it, there’s a big article on page 2 of today’s DomPost that attributes the billboard to Graham Bloxham, who seems to say he’s very confused about STV and wants “to start a conversation”.

    It was pulled down a few hours after it went up.

  9. Scott, I’m not sure where you got your “label voters as losers” line from in this post.

    Seems to me it is just highlighting the PR ineptitude of someone on the right pissed off about a fair and democratic electoral system resulting in Prenderghastly losing.

    BTW, I was not happy, given the exploits of the NZ cricket team in Bangladesh over the last fortnight, for you to remind me of New Zealand’s darkest day in cricket. Some things are best left forgotten!

  10. @Valis – Although in FPP people would have voted differently, being less likely to support minor candidates, so it’s still hard to tell for certain if an FPP result would have favoured Kerry in this instance. STV gives a much better representation of actual support for other candidates, though.

  11. on a more positive not…

    celia wade-brown did very well on q & a on the weekend…

    ..she came across as calm/assured…with a clear vision..

    ..her ‘i have my networks’-line was a giant-killer…


  12. I wish I had enough money to publish billboards without bothering to check all the letters were going the right way 🙂

  13. Are those totals showing what candidates reached at the point they were eliminated for their votes to be redistributed, meaning some people’s votes would be displayed twice?

    I think that is correct.

    Actually re-reading my previous comment, strangely enough it suggests that even if STV was potentially unfair for anyone thanks to Kerry’s supporters only getting “one vote”, it’d be for Jack Yan, and pretty much everyone who’s not Kerry before being unfair for Kerry herself.

    No, Kerry’s bitch is just based on first pref votes, which she got the most of. It does mean she would have won in FPP, showing why STV is more fair, not less.

  14. @Toad — To state it another way, of all the people who voted in Wellington, more people preferred Celia over Kerry than preferred Kerry over Celia. The rest of the counting process is just a case of eliminating the other candidates to reach that conclusion.

    @Valis — Thanks for clarifying that. Reading further the Droop Quota formula for a one-seat election basically puts the quota at number-of-votes/2, or near enough. I’m still trying to understand the way the totals have been presented. Celia’s shown with 24881 votes, but the sum of all the votes for all candidates adds to 64682, well over twice Celia’s votes. Are those totals showing what candidates reached at the point they were eliminated for their votes to be redistributed, meaning some people’s votes would be displayed twice?

    Actually re-reading my previous comment, strangely enough it suggests that even if STV was potentially unfair for anyone thanks to Kerry’s supporters only getting “one vote”, it’d be for Jack Yan, and pretty much everyone who’s not Kerry before being unfair for Kerry herself.

  15. Yep, you’re right, Valis. Preferences only get redistributed as candidates drop out. That is as fair as it gets – if a candidate is no longer in the race, the next question is who would that candidate’s voters prefer after that candidate.

  16. MikeM, the second place candidate’s votes are never redistributed. Starting with the lowest polling candidate, votes are redistributed until someone goes over 50%. If this didn’t occur before getting to Yan, his votes were redistributed and that would have put Celia over 50% (it could have also created a tie). That Kerry’s voters may have all preferred Yan still wouldn’t put him above Celia, who was already over 50%.

    I think!

  17. The hard right really do go troppo when they lose!

    The puke-fest all over the right wing blogs, first over Len Brown in Auckland and then over Celia Wade-Brown in Wellington, was unbelievable.

    By contrast, the reaction at Frogblog or The Standard when NACT won enough seats to govern at the 2008 General Election was largely one of disappointment and realisation that the left/green parties have to pick up our game – not a vicious campaign on what is a largely democratic electoral system to attempt to revert to something less democratic.

    I think it is indicative of the belief by many on the right that they have some sort of inherent superiority, and a lack of acceptance by them of the outcomes of democratic elections.

    As far as the Wellington Mayoralty goes, more people favoured Kerry Prendergast over any other candidate as their preferred Mayor. But even more people than that opposed her as their preferred Mayor, and the majority of them preferred Celia Wade-Brown.

    STV, which as Josh says above is really just preferential voting when there is only one elected candidate, is therefore a far more democratic system than FPP which can and does elect people with less than 30% of voter support, even though the rest of the voters may absolutely loath them.

  18. Gosh it’s hilarious.

    That aside and looking at the claim, if all the people whose votes eventually counted towards Kerry had put someone like Jack Yan as their next preference on the list, does that maybe make it technically unfair in some respects if those people’s votes weren’t redistributed once their candidate was finally eliminated, as everyone else’s were?

    Having come third, maybe you could argue that Mr Yan should be most preferred if everyone who initially preferred Kerry wanted him as their next choice. Or is there something additional in the proportional way preferences are distributed that makes sure he couldn’t possibly be more preferred even if Kerry’s votes had been all redistributed onto him? (Part of this question is just me trying to figure out the details of how the quotas work within STV when only one candidate is needed, and all that stuff.)

  19. If Kerry had been chosen as the 2nd, 3rd, etc choice by anyone then she would have benefited from STV too. How does she know this did not happen?

  20. I hate to say this but I think I comprehend it.

    1) People who voted for people who came last ‘get extra votes’ because their lower preferences go in to the next round an a way that people who 1’d for Kerry (or Celia) don’t.

    2) ???

    3) Profit!

    Bit odd trying to use anger to attack an STV result. I mean – the whole thing is that you get a candidate most people don’t mind.

    … and why deliberately make it look like illiterate scrawling?

  21. Hmm. I’ve got to disagree that STV is an example of a proportional system in this case (the election for mayoralty). Proportionality is useful where there is more than one job, in that positions are allocated proportional to the total amount of votes.

    However, in Wellington, there is only one role, and you can’t have a person who got 45% of the vote be 45% of a mayoral. Rather, the beauty of STV here is that it is preferential, rather than proportional (in that votes are redistributed according to preferences).

    STV as a general electoral system however, that’s a different story.

  22. What an illiterate eyesore! If someone had it professionally made, they should ask for their money back… it looks like it was made a year 9 kid in his garage on Saturday…

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