3 way voting on alcohol purchase age more democratic

In the wake of the parliamentary vote on alcohol purchase age there are some people (the ones I have seen are people who favoured 20) who are suggesting that the voting procedure used led to a perverse outcome.

I disagree completely. This is not a post about the merits or otherwise of the various options, but an argument that while the voting procedure was highly unusual, it produced a more democratic outcome than otherwise would have occurred, and should be considered more often.

So recall that in this case the option that was in the Bill was the split age option, but that there were proposed amendments both to retain a uniform age of 18, or to raise it to a uniform 20. The ordinary House process would have seen first a vote on 18. If that had passed then the 20 proposal would have been ruled out of order. If it had failed we would have voted on the 20 option. If that had failed then the split option would have remained in the Bill.

As it happens, because of the voting procedure that was used, we do know what MPs’ top preferences were. 50 favoured 18. 38 favoured 20. 33 favoured the split option. So 18 had the most support, but no option had a clear majority.

Under the traditional voting method, what would have happened is this: the proposal for 18 would be put and fail. We would then have moved on to the 20 proposal, and this also would fail. This would leave the split age in the Bill – the option that was actually the least favoured by MPs.

Instead first preferences were canvassed and the split age option, as the least favoured excluded. Then effectively those who had favoured the split age added their support to their second preference. Hence 68 votes for 18, 53 for 20.

The voting method used ensured that the result could command a majority in the House whereas the traditional method would not have done (except by excluding this whole part of the Bill I guess).

About Kevin Hague 163 Articles

Green Party Member of Parliament

15 Comments Posted

  1. SPC – I think that’s a good way of looking at it:

    On the question of what should the age be for purchasing alcohol at an off-licence, 50 MPs preferred 18, and 61 preferred 20.

    On the question of what should the age be for purchasing alcohol at an on-licence, 81 MPs preferred 18, and 38 preferred 20.

  2. Er, I have to disagree with what I posted in the second paragraph, as obviously there was a majority of MP’s who preferred the age to purchase alcohol at off licenses to be 20.

    To relate the point of majority preference on this issue to that of the electoral system itself.

    Many people voting National preferred a coalition with a party other than one that also supported asset sales. Yet of course, once they voted National, it was that party that chose to form a coalition with ACT and United. Similarly once MP’s determined their first and second preferences, it was left to those now holding the balance of power (those supporting the eliminated option) to determine their preference of these two alone.

    Those suggesting that the MP’s holding the balance of power be able to veto the other two options to impose their own compromise, are tacitly suggesting that voters should be able to impose policy consensus as well as elect parties into parliament – by dictating the terms of choice of coalition partners and the policy compromise of the coalition towards the moderate centre (yet many supporters of the main parties resent the tail wagging the dog even now).

    In the current process this is only managed at a distance by the need for an incumbent government to retain suport and get re-elected, yet some propose a 4 year term to reduce this further.

  3. Well first, those supporting split age favoured age 18 for access to licensed premises to buy drinks – thus an overwhelming majority for this.

    And even for access to off license purchase of alcohol, age 18 was the preferred by more people than either of the other two options.

    If it were a politial party it would have formed the government or led a coalition government, not either of the other two – this under every “democratic” electoral system that exists.

    That proponents of an alternative voting system for these sorts of votes do not advocate such a system for the electoral vote is telling as to how compelling the case for it is.

    As to polling of the public, majorities against minority rights for people based on age or any other profile is why the human rights legislation exists.

  4. I raised the issue of tactical voting because Nikki Kaye said she would not vote for split age, even if it and age 20 were in the run off.

    Split vote being the preferred compromise is like saying the centrist party in a coalition government should provide the PM as this is the compromise because neither main party won 50% of the vote. No one in the world does this.

    If they did, the Free Democrats would provide leadershp in Germany, Dunne and Clegg here and in the UK.

    The problem with allowing a compromise to win is that it means allowing a veto on either main party holding office.

  5. I don’t dispute that tactical voting can happen under any system. It could have happened under the one the House used. Knowing that 20 wouldn’t win in a vote-off with 18, some could have gone with split vote.

    My simple point is that if a majority of the House favours split over 18, and a majority of the House favours split over 20, then calling that outcome, derived from either the process that would ordinarily be used, or the process I recommend, “less democratic” is fundamentally wrong.

    Valis – yes, this was effectively STV. No system is perfect, and one of the problems people can have with STV is that the compromise candidate favoured by a majority will not necessarily win.

  6. @ Rich
    I travelled all over from : London to LochNess & Dublin.. Im not saying that there wasnt people intoxicated, BUT they seem to have a diffrent attitude (social drinking as opposed to competative guzzling)


  7. zedd: dunno where you were in the UK, but I was in a bar in Derry a few months ago, and not only were most of the patrons fully drunk, the bar staff were pretty pissed as well. Happy drunks though – when one of the bar person managed to throw a glass of red wine over us, she bought everyone a round.

  8. I support the status quo : 18 (not that it effects me- 50+) But at the end of the day, the vote was effectively a waste of time. Several MPs during the debate stated the ‘facts’ that alcohol abuse is across all age-groups, not just 18-19. Education & upholding the laws around NOT serving intoxicated patrons in bars, would be a good start. Having lived in Australa & visited UK & europe, that is something that I noticed over there.. you can not enter a bar or be served, if you appear intoxicated. I think off-licences are also bound by law to refuse sales to overly intoxicated people ? This is definatley not the case in Aotearoa/NZ. (speaking from experience !)


  9. I suppose if split age was the “democratic” consensus, then so would one man rule by Peter Dunne here, a Liberal Democrat PM of the UK and the Free Democrats ruling Germany in perpetuity. No more need to hold elections.

  10. PS If the option suggested by Graeme Edgeler was tried it could have been gamed – by those preferring age 18 voting for age 20 to beat the split.

  11. We know that under both FPP and preferential voting age 18 would have won.

    Under MMP, 15 of the 30 who favoured the split chose 18 and 15 chose age 20 – thus age 18 would have won if such a party had split on the issue or if they had favoured the “party” with the most votes as NZ First likes to say.

    Generally perverse outcomes happen if the least favoured option prevails – it could have occured if those who favoured age 20 had been prepared to compromise. Their decision not to. The process was fair. Their problem with the process is an expression of their failure to win and their inability to appreciate why.

  12. Graeme, isn’t the way the vote was done essentially an STV process, if in stages rather than a single ballot? Maybe not the only fair way to do it, but this way seems fair to me.

  13. You say “The voting method used ensured that the result could command a majority in the House whereas the traditional method would not have done (except by excluding this whole part of the Bill I guess).”

    This is not necessarily true. If you really believe it is, then when the amendments are drafted by Parliamentary Counsel, and come back into the House, hold a personal vote between 18 and split, and see which wins.

    There are other ways to hold a three way vote to ensure that whatever results is favoured/acceptable to a majority. The way the House chose is one which can result in the final option not being the preferred compromise. I would have suggested, if you wanted a “democratic” outcome, you should have held three personal votes. One between 18 and 20; one between 18 and split, and one between 20 and split. Every option would have been in two votes. If any option one both its votes – and split may well have – it would have been the clear compromise choice of a majority.

  14. I favour 18, but the process adopted clearly was one likely to lead to a perverse outcome.

    What you appear to be saying here is that more MPs favour a split age than favour 18, and also that more MPs favour a split age than favour 20. If nothing could get a majority on its own, then you need a compromise and split would appear to be the choice the majority favours. If this is true, then split age is more popular than either of the alternatives. Yet what happened was that something that a majority of Parliament would have preferred was a different way will be the law.

    That said, this was possible from the start. I wrote a blog post about it on Legal Beagle; it was obvious to anyone with slightly more than a basic understanding of voting systems; and if it wasn’t, they could have sought advice. MPs knew this was a possibility when they unanimously agreed to change the voting system by which they would choose between the three options. If they were happy to do this, and indeed so happy to do it that they agreed unanimously to it, then I’m fine calling it democratic.

    But accusing people who realise that the way things were done resulted in a choice that would have been beaten in a straight vote with one of the alternatives, of favouring a less democratic outcome is way over the line.

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