21 Sep 2023

When a 'wasted vote' isn't wasted

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 21 September 2023

What's the point in voting when all the polls are pointing in the other direction to what you want? Well, that's not all there is to electing a parliament under an MMP system. 

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 "Wasted" votes to parties that fell beneath the 5 percent threshold and didn't win a seat totaled 6.8 percent, or just over 200,000 votes in 2020. Photo: 123RF

An election campaign that's both chaotic and boring at the same time. 

An undercurrent of simmering tensions, with the same protestors popping up in walkabouts of all hues.

All of this with the seemingly slow march towards inevitability – Labour's done its dash and the country's going blue-ish this year. 

If all this makes you feel confused, deflated, even despondent, you might ask yourself: what's the point of your vote?

What if you back National, but you don't like the look of its potential partners? Or vice versa: you're an ardent ACT supporter, but don't fancy National? 

Or, you lean to the left, but see that vote as a wasted one. 

The Detail today looks at strategic voting, split voting, tactical voting – and not voting altogether. 

More than a third of us currently split our electorate and party votes between different parties in an effort to engineer the results of an MMP election. 

"New Zealanders are smart people as a rule, and we know why we split our votes – it's intentional," says Professor Richard Shaw at Massey University's politics department. 

He cites Epsom (long held by ACT via a 'cup of tea' agreement with the National Party), and Waiariki and Auckland Central in 2020 (newly won by Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party respectively) as examples of giving a candidate vote to a minor party to ensure they get into parliament.

"The conversation that most people are having at this time of the electoral cycle is 'who's going to form the next government'. But one of the things about our constitutional and electoral arrangements is that when we go into cast our two votes, we're not directly voting for a government. We're not voting for a prime minister, we do not directly elect members of the cabinet. What we're voting for is a parliament, or a legislature. 

"For some people, voting can be an expressive act, they vote as much with their hearts as they do with their heads because they've got a long attachment to this person or that particular party." 

And he says for many people it's really important to have a more diverse and more interesting looking parliament that better reflects the diversity of the country today. 

Shaw explains how voting strategically can make a difference – and he is adamant that you must vote.

As for "wasted" votes, "it's a pejorative term and I'm not sure that it's the most helpful term, because it suggests the vote is worthless and that's not necessarily the case. 

"If you cast a vote and it's an expressive act – it reflects your views about things – the fact that it doesn't necessarily go to a person who wins is not indicative of the fact it's 'wasted', it's only unnecessary in the sense that it doesn't influence the result of parliamentary seats." 

Also on The Detail today we speak to Ollie Neas, the editorial director of the website Policy.nz which offers voters a guide to the election.

Some of the stuff it reveals about the parties and voters is pretty surprising – including the huge numbers of people who go in search of information to compare party policies and line up their ideals with their party colours. 

Some key facts and figures:

  • Advance voting starts Monday, October 2 2023
  • In 2020, advanced voting was 68 percent - 1,976,996 votes (before voting day)
  • 23 percent of all advanced votes were on the weekend before voting day
  • 30 percent of the vote total was cast before the final week started
  • Up to 2.3 million advanced votes are expected this time, of a forecast 3.1 million total votes
  • Special votes (counted later than polling day) in 2020 tallied 504,000
  • "Wasted" votes to parties that fell beneath the 5 percent threshold and didn't win a seat totaled 6.8 percent, or just over 200,000 votes in 2020
  • Turnout was 82.2 percent of those on the electoral roll (77.4 percent of eligible population) in 2020, the highest since 1999
  • Enrolment was 94.6 percent, the highest since 2008
  • Going off 2023 Electoral Commission estimates, a party needs 30,000-plus votes to get 1 percent and around 150,000-plus to make the 5 percent threshold

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