The 59 votes that count

Posted: December 7, 2016 in New Zealand

It’s an interesting quirk of our Parliamentary system that it’s completely up to each party how they determine their leaders.

The Green Party, for instance, gives members the right to determine its leaders, other than stipulating that one must be female and one male.

Labour recently reformed their own rules so that a vote is held, and that vote is weighted 1/3 to its current caucus of MPs, 1/3 to direct party members, and 1/3 to indirect party members through affiliated organisations. (ie. unions that back Labour) That’s not perfect, but at least members get their say, even if Caucus gets more of a say than everyone else.

It’s only the parties on the centre-right side of politics whose leaders are determined with no real nod to democracy, and no need to show that they can actually command popular support before they are appointed. Notably, New Zealand First and the National Party both stipulate that their caucuses in Parliament are the only people who get a say in who the party’s leader is. (Must have been awkward for NZ First if anyone asked about it while they weren’t in Parliament…)

It’s not really acceptable to have the Prime Minister being chosen purely by party insiders with no real democratic accountability until 2017. This was the sort of thing people voted against when they decided to bring in MMP, that we’ve had enough of smoky back rooms.

Instead we will get a PM determined by as few as 28 people, because there’s only 59 votes that count in determining who leads the National Party. Why anyone would pay to be a member of a club that cares nothing about their opinion is beyond me.

So Judith Collins was on the radio this morning, using the only political strategy in her toolbox for defense, which is of course to attack back.

I mentioned briefly in a footnote that in a couple of moments of extreme hubris, pre-Trump, I had expressed the view that I could only wish that the National Party would make Ms. Collins leader/Prime Minister, as it would practically guarantee their loss. Post-Trump we should probably be very careful about such sentiments, even if Collins is lacking a couple of the key ingredients to Trump’s success. (namely, she’s had a long career as a politician and sounds like a politician, and she doesn’t speak the language of economic populism)

While I will now promise to shut up about Dirty Politics if she becomes PM, I think it’s arguably worth throwing the kitchen sink at her during this week-long selection by the National Party, just so that all the relevant attacks against her are written down. I promise I won’t deep-dive into issues that are old, even if they are being a little resurrected by the media today. If you want the details, you should really buy Hager’s book. He is a serious journalist and doesn’t post things that aren’t backed up by facts, regardless of what the National Party tries to say.

So, what’s wrong with Collins?

  • She doesn’t seem to understand compromise. Her relevant modes are full attack and say nothing. There is no evidence that she can behave like a stateswoman, and she has never conceded to a mistake in her entire political career. She says she’s willing to work with Peters as PM, but doing so would actually require ceding some ground to him, and she’s shown no evidence that such negotiations are in her wheelhouse.
  • She would be Prime Minister of the National Party, not of New Zealand. There is no evidence she is interested in growing her constituency.
  • She is a bully, maintained an enemies list, and it seems likely that as PM she would be a hostile manager at best.
  • She incorrectly claims to have been cleared of the Oravida scandal in the Chisholm Report. That report was a narrow investigation into whether she undermined the head of the Serious Fraud Office, and essentially just an excuse to stand her down to limit National’s exposure to Hager’s criticisms. She was not cleared by any independent inquiry over her conflict of interest, in fact objectively she failed to meet ministerial standards of ethical behaviour so I’m not sure how she could have been cleared even if such an investigation were to have taken place. If you’re not capable of behaving to the ethical standard required of a minister, you shouldn’t even be considered for PM.
  • She has admitted that she still maintains contact with Cameron Slater, which ought to be a black mark against any potential PM. (Not that this makes her any worse than Key, who also colluded with his attack politics)
  • Unlike the other candidates, she doesn’t even seem capable of pretending to empathy. National has always had an empathy deficit in policy, and has needed its leader to be perceived as a compassionate conservative who can ensure that government cares about the ordinary voter. Collins doesn’t do nice.
  • She can’t name a single MP who will publicly support her. Acts like she is protecting their privacy instead. If she doesn’t even have Joyce on her side, she’s done for.
  • Collins is basically Dolores Umbridge after the nice facade has fallen. (in fact, there are some pretty decent memes out there pointing out the visual similarity, too)

Overall, there’s much to hate. Don’t support Collins, not even ironically. The men in the race right now are opportunity enough for the opposition to become the government, we don’t need to expose the country to almost a year of Judith Collins, PM.

So John Key announced today he intends to resign as Prime Minister in a week’s time, heralding the end of a political era. (or perhaps a political error, take your pick) Coverage was initially not particularly clear on whether he’s to resign from Parliament at the same time, but it looks like he’s staying until the election at least, so no by-election for Helensville1.

There are several implications of this. For those who are not political nerds, all the new Prime Minister requires to be Prime Minister is the confidence of the House. That is, a majority of Parliament has to be willing to vote for the replacement. Essentially that means it will be an internal National choice that will then be endorsed by its coalition partners. We don’t get a “by-election” or anything of the kind, and Bill English doesn’t become Prime Minister automatically because he’s the deputy. Those are the sorts of things that happen in Presidential systems, we’re a Parliamentary democracy.

The most obvious fallout is that it’s absolutely going to cost National in polling going forward, and probably even in the Party Vote in 2017. A lot of the party stability was driven by the perception that Key was unassailable as a leader, while his resignation speech has talked up his caucus colleagues, all of them has significant problems as potential Prime Ministers. Let’s go through them:

The Throwback: Bill English

English, a former Leader of the Opposition, has tried to make a run at PM before, back in the Clark era. In National Party history, he had the second-worst election campaign ever, bested only by Don Brash’s later implosion. While he’s not unpopular within the National Party, it’s likely his appeal to soft National supporters is minimal, and wouldn’t be able to hold the “Key coalition” together. There’s also a good argument that English makes more sense as Finance Minister, although if John Key is staying in Parliament post-election, they could potentially swap roles. While he hasn’t succeeded in the past, he’s also in the interesting position of probably being the most popular option with the general electorate- initial (non-scientific) polls have Bill English as a favourite to replace Key, although this could be driven by the perception that he’s also the most likely option.

Key has said that if English puts his hat in the ring, he will have Key’s vote, making him a natural choice for establishment supporters, however there’s a real risk that English would simply be a caretaker Prime Minister who doesn’t look appealing compared to Little.

The Compromise: Paula Bennett

One of the most senior MPs, Bennett has a lot of the same advantages as a potential leader that John Key does- she’s from a more modest background, she’s popular within the party, and she has support with various factions within National. In many ways she’s a middle-of-the-road choice: not too liberal, not too conservative. Not too popular with the general electorate, but popular enough with core supporters. Bennett arguably represents the best bet at continuing National’s current political strategy of populist neoliberalism, where they pair a right-wing core economic agenda with poll-driven social policy.

The Conservative: Judith Collins

Collins is a bit of an interesting case here. Previously booted from her ministerial position for conflicts of interest, Collins has long been eying the leadership position, and is a favourite of the faction most opposed to Key’s leadership style: Conservative voters. Like a lot of the potential options, Collins isn’t particularly popular outside of core National voters, unlike the others, however, she’s actually viewed very negatively in the public, possibly due to her aggressive conservatism, possibly due to her perceived corruption. Either way, Collins is something of a Trump option: an aggressive conservative populist who the opposition views as an easy road to victory, but could surprise us.

The Strategist: Steven Joyce

Joyce, also a conservative in the same faction as Collins, has largely avoided controversy in his career, but also inspires deep hatred among liberal New Zealand. He is most likely remembered as “Dildo Baggins,” for self-explanatory reasons. If you’ve been living in a hole, please go and YouTube it, the rest of us will wait.

Joyce has many of the upsides of Collins, but without her aggressive style or the stink of scandal. While he might be a more palatable option to the liberal wing of the party, he’s arguably a less effective conservative, too.

Others: Brownlee, Adams, etc…

I’m about 90% sure one of the four listed above is going to be our next Prime Minister, but there are others inside cabinet who arguably could put forward something of a case for selection. The National Party is usually pretty serious about seniority, so I expect the only other MP with a shot at the top job is Gerry Brownlee, who is honestly an objectively worse pick than any of the four listed above, and doesn’t have the social intelligence to be Prime Minister.

My money at this stage is on Bennett, as she seems the least objectionable option that is most likely to be able to duplicate Key’s strategy, and to hold their caucus together.

Whoever National pick, they’re in for a tough ride. They have eight months of actual Prime Ministering before an election campaign. They will get the benefit of Key’s experience given he’s staying on as an MP, but that’s a very short time to make any differentiations you need, get a grip on the polls and make sure you’re not losing political ground in the transition, and to ensure you have an effective political strategy that works without Key. (although if they’re lucky and smart in their pick, their current strategy will be portable to whoever their new Leader is)

Ultimately, the winner from this news seems to be Andrew Little, who has gone from anticipating a general election against a Prime Minister that was more popular than him and needed to be torn down, to a battle against a neophyte leader who might face similar issues to Goff or the pack of Davids that preceded Little as Leader of the Opposition.

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Our half-baked schoolyard bully of a Prime Minister has once again contracted a case of foot-in-mouth disease, saying it is a “stupid” idea to have a cabinet that includes a fair number of women1.

I have such a long list of arguments against ridiculous comments like this it’s practically an orbital ring.

The first and most obvious is that implying that you’re not capable of putting an equal amount of women into cabinet/ministerial positions and you “instead” promote by merit implies at least one of two things, neither of which is acceptable:

  • Either you can’t locate ten/thirteen women within your caucus who are qualified to be ministers.
  • Or you don’t think women as a category are inherently equally qualified to be ministers as men are, so it’s okay for you to have more men, rather than a recruitment failure on your part for not finding and mentoring enough women.

I’m going to state the obvious and say that the former is definitely true. If you want to have ten women (or twelve to thirteen if you want equality for ministers outside cabinet, too) available for ministerial positions, you generally need to have twice that many women in your caucus so that you are mentoring potential replacements for your A-team. With 17 women in Caucus, National only has enough female “talent” to  comfortably maintain 8 women in cabinet. (which Key clearly recognises, as only 7 women are ministers inside cabinet) If you want fully equal number of ministers, you really need 25 women in your government, which is roughly a 42% ratio.

The phrasing of Key’s objection also seems to imply he believes the second implication of what he said, too.

And all of this is admitting to a poverty of talent not only in National’s female caucus, but its party leadership. Surely a competent party and a competent government should not only be able to pick 25 qualified women, but it should be able to pick at least 30, given you need 61 people to govern. And within those 30, there should not only be thirteen women qualified to be ministers, but you should have the ability to choose based on merit, and other less obvious qualities. (such as who wants to do what, affording appropriate seniority to various ministers, and managing the various political factions and personality conflicts) This isn’t like squaring a circle, for someone who wants to be Prime Minister, this is simply something you need to be able to do to be qualified. If John Key isn’t capable of adding “have I fairly considered all of the women in my party?” to his decision-making criteria, then the qualification question reflects back on him. And we understand he might need some time to get to the point that he can actually have a completely equal cabinet, that’s fair. He needs to recruit more women, and mentor the ones he does have in his caucus. But to dismiss the idea as silly without even trying smacks of arrogance.

One of the frequent objections I hear to this idea is “why do you feel people are ‘entitled’ to be represented at roughly the same rate as you are in the overall population?” To which my response is that women aren’t entitled.

They’re qualified. They’re talented. They’re hard-working, they’re smart, they’ll fight, and they’re effective, you just have to be willing to reach out to people who believe in serving their country and your values, and that’s something that even the National Party can do, and I’m not even complementing them to say so, I’m just saying that this is Management 101-level stuff.

The people who are entitled are men who think it’s okay for us to hog two-thirds of leadership positions. If I am ever acknowledged for some particular thing I did, or some honour, I want to know I’ve earned it by merit, not because someone gave it to me because they’re too sexist to acknowledge a woman who genuinely did better than me.

I have been told I’m simply arguing for quotas and don’t understand selection by merit. Really? Well, let’s have a look at what National thinks is selecting by merit in its 2014 list:

  • Simon Bridges, a slick-hair seat filler who can’t seem to give a straight answer on anything, is one rank above Nikki Kaye, the one woman in National’s caucus that everyone across Parliament acknowledges is an effective and compassionate MP, and one of National’s best, even if they don’t always agree with her.
  • Murray McCully, of Sheepgate fame, is ranked significantly higher than one Amy Adams, who is largely successful in her job of “not making the news,” unlike McCully, who seems to have a reverse-midas touch.
  • Chester Borrows, who is due to some fluke of birth a freaking deputy Speaker, despite trying to compromise on beating children, and having run over the feet of protestors because they were in his way, still manages to rank higher than Louise Upston, who debates better than he does and manages to not be a disaster.
  • Despite both of them being odious, Melissa Lee is also ranked lower than Sam Loto-Iiga. Whatever you wish to say about Lee, I doubt she could mix things up as badly as a Minister as Loto-Iiga has, although arguably such a comment is me inviting her to disprove it.

And lest you think I’m simply picking every woman on the list and saying they deserve to be higher, I can tell you that the two highest-ranked women on National’s previous list are rubbish that deserve to be much further down, preferably trading placing with the actually talented Nikki Kaye. Parata is out of her depth running education, and I think everyone outside of the National Party faithful breathed a sigh of relief on hearing that she plans to step down with the 2017 election, and Collins is a scandal magnet who’s lobbying to succeed Key as leader, despite the fact that she wants to be Prime Minister of a majority liberal country2 and couldn’t effectively campaign to liberals even if she starred in a hit musical about intersectional feminism. (While I won’t tempt fate by daring them to pick her3, I can’t see any effective political strategy for an odious insider like Collins to win the Prime Ministership in an actual election as leader. The best shot she has is John Key resigning mid-term)

There are complications to be sorted out to do this, however, and unlike National, Labour is acknowledging them. One of the problems is that even if you alternate your party list, the two largest parties win a sizable number of electorates, many of them predictably going to either Labour or National. Some ‘safe’ Labour seats will need to be taken away from senior male MPs, and given to female MPs so that other list winners will balance out. Some competitive seats may also need to go to women, so that the potential for surprise wins makes it likely that labour will still average out to roughly even representation.

Despite all the sexist uproar about a “man ban,” Labour had actually worked this out reasonably well and agreed to the rule under Cunliffe, so unless it’s repealed in less than a year, you can expect to see a half-female Labour caucus in 2017, despite the difficulties. (the real question will be if they’ve managed to order MPs in a way that puts the minnows near the bottom and the powerhouses at the top and/or in safe seats. We need a lot less Mallards and Currans in Labour’s caucus if they want to take back the treasury benches)

In all, it’s 2016. We deserve to live in a country where not just the Left, but even the Right acknowledge that a cabinet with equal amounts of women in it is realistic, fair, and qualified, and anyone who said otherwise is desperately hanging on to outmoded ways of thinking.

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Those of you who are not particularly aware of the way electorate boundaries are drawn may not be aware that New Zealand actually has a quota for South Island electorates. Basically, regardless of the relative population imbalance, the South Island is always guaranteed to have at least 16 electorate seats. Essentially how they work is that the median electorate size is set to 1/16th the population of the South Island at the time electorates are reviewed, then the North Island seats are divided up relative to this so that they don’t vary by more than 5% from the median size. After that, Māori electorates are “superimposed” over the borders of the general seats in a way that divides them roughly by the Māori electoral roll population, and so that there’s a proper proportion of Māori seats to General seats.

Unless there’s a sudden exodus of North Islanders to the South Island at some point, or a mass immigration to the South Island to get away from Donald Trump, there’s likely to be a long-term issue with that. Why? Because of something I call “list seat parity,” which is the idea that parties with significant shares of the Party Vote, like National, Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First, should never have overhang seats.

MMP is intended to have a healthy proportion of list MPs- the original ratio was that just above 41% of MPs would be list MPs, presumably with the intention that the ratio would stay around 5 list MPs to every 7 electorate ones. We have added two new electorates to the North Island since we switched to an MMP system, reducing the number of list MPs to 49, assuming no Independents are elected. (independents elected at a general election remove a list seat vacancy rather than creating an overhang so that Parliament doesn’t inflate grossly due to independents being elected, a rule which hasn’t become relevant since like, ever, as every “independent” in our system has either been someone who quit their party, or a lone MP optimistically having their own political party, presumably on the theory that they’ll earn a second seat again sometime in the future. Not happening, Seymour and Dunne, not happening.)

It theory, there’s really nothing wrong with actually having less electorates than we do, but 60%-ish of MPs being electorate MPs isn’t unreasonable and doesn’t hasn’t threatened parliaments much larger than about 125 MPs in the past.

With 70 seats, there’s a reasonable expectation of list seat parity, but it’s not guaranteed. Almost all electorate seats are won by National or Labour. There are only five others likely to be in serious contention in the current political climate, (which as we know, can rapidly change, but this list is actually somewhat on the high side by historical standards) and those are Epsom, Northland, Ōhārui, Waiariki, and possibly Te Tai Tokerau. (As nobody polls for electorates, we have no real clue whether the Māori party agreeing not to stand there will matter enough to unseat Kelvin Davis in 2017. I’m assuming it’s within the realm of possibility until I have good reason to think otherwise) Let’s assume that small parties won’t take more than five electorate seats. That currently leaves 66 currently for Labour and National. Labour, with roughly 27.5% of the party vote, earned 27 seats in 2014.

That’s not currently a problem, but with some small changes to the way our elections work, and a small boost in North Island population, (ie. a few more electorates) it might be.

Imagine for a moment that the Greens start eating into Labour’s party vote but not their electorate vote. Let’s assume in this calculation Labour can hold on to a similar number of electorate MPs- it only takes about a 5% shift to the Green party for Labour to start getting overhang MPs, compared to current polling, and that’s without any extra North Island electorates, and assuming Hone takes back Te Tai Tokerau. A roughly 4% shift to the Greens from Labour will start giving them overhang seats if the 2020 election adds a new electorate seat again. (note the link shows all of Labour’s seats as electorate seats with no overhang, that’s because the Commission’s calculator doesn’t allow for us to award more than the current 71 electorates. I take it you’re capable of using your imagination)

I would much prefer that instead of having a South Island quota, we simply set the number of electorates to 70 in legislation, and the South Island get its share based on how many 70ths of the population live on the South Island and are part of the General Roll. This will limit the chance that either Labour or National (but most likely, Labour) will end up with overhang seats in the future. This should limit the likelihood of overhang seats for Labour in the future, especially as we’re approaching the point where certain Wellington electorates like Wellington Central might actually spontaneously decide to elect a Green candidate even though they’re not campaigning for the electorate vote. (In terms the party vote, most Wellington electorates are three-way races between the Greens, Labour, and National)

If we don’t adjust the South Island Quota, however, we’re in for an interesting problem in the long term. Until relatively recently, about .5% more of the population would live in the North Island every census, but that rate’s actually increased a little bit recently. Assuming that trend continues, it won’t take too long for us to end up with nearly 90 electorates, (it only takes a population growth of just over 1 million in the North Island, if you assume the South Island population stays static) which would make breaking list parity the rule, rather than the exception. (in fact, it was actually one of the potential “reforms” to MMP that Labour had been talking about at the time of the MMP review was to add another 20 or so electorates, because they knew that the party most likely to get overhang seats that way would be Labour) This could actually happen in 20-30 years time, depending on migration numbers, so I hope I’m not the only one noticing that the South Island Quota is a terrible way to determine how many electorate seats we have.

God that’s a technical name, right? Anyway, it’s time to discuss voting systems again. I’ve been looking around to see if anyone is advocating further electoral reform in New Zealand, and it looks like there’s no active organisations, which is a shame, as there’s some improvements we could do to our council elections at the very least. (I’m thinking maybe I need to help co-found one if anyone’s keen)

Re-weighted range voting is an interesting system that could suit our ward elections. (or even be used instead of FPP for the electorate vote in MMP, potentially) It’s a district-based system, but like STV1, it uses at-large districts and is semi-proportional. (that is, you have big wards which typically elect at least three winners, and it’s proportional for each district, but when all the districts are taken together as a larger whole, it generally works out less than ideal in terms of representing the entire city/country/etc… because of the limited amount of winners in each district amounting to “rounding errors” that multiply through the number of districts to a degree)

It is a multi-winner variant of Range Voting, which in my opinion is probably the ideal voting system to use when you have three or more candidates running for a single vacancy. Most Range Voting proponents don’t advocate it as a multi-winner system because in that environment it is beneficial to clones, (that is, normally the best strategy to win one of the additional vacancies is to imitate the best winner from last time, “cloning” them, and eventually leading to one-party rule in each district, similar to US “blue states” and “red states”) however the re-weighting part controls for this effect to make the system semi-proportional2.

From the voters’ perspectives, Range Voting and its Re-weighted cousin are exactly the same, they just elect different numbers of people. They get a list of all the candidates in the race, and each one either has a series of tick boxes next to them (indicating a range) or a space where a number can be written, say between 1-99. Votes under 50 indicate a bad candidate, and votes over 50 indicate a good candidate, with 99 being the best choice available, and 1 being the worst, and with most variants allowing for candidates left blank if a voter doesn’t know enough to consider them either good or bad. (generally there is a quota requiring a certain percentage of valid votes not to have left a candidate blank for them to be a winner)

In vanilla Range Voting, a simple average of all ratings for a candidate determines their result, exactly like an approval rating. Whoever has the highest approval rating wins. Strategic voting does happen in this system, but it’s not too harmful- it mostly revolves around making a call whether to exaggerate certain candidates up to 99 or down to 1 instead of being honest, in which case the election isn’t too different to just being able to tick as many people as you like on an FPP-style ballot.

In re-weighted range voting, once all the average scores are calculated and the highest score wins, they fill the first vacancy. In order to get a proportional vote, everyone who supported that candidate has the “weight” of their vote reduced for the purposes of subsequent vacancies, as they got a choice they like already, and you use an algorithm to determine whose ballots are weighted less, and by how much. (for practical purposes, this does mean that you would want to determine the winner using an electronic system, and would need to count each unique permutation of scores for an accurate result rather than simply tabulate averages, making variants with larger “ranges” difficult to count, and favouring single-digit variants where you rate candidates from say, 1-9) The system then shows you a new set of re-weighted approvals for round 2, and the second winner is the highest of these. Rinse and repeat for each additional vacancy.

Note that unlike STV or IRV3, your vote never “moves,” so at all times the full information you provided while voting is being considered. You moving a candidate from 50 to 75 can cause them to win even if you rated another candidate 99. In IRV, if you rank a candidate number 1 and they’re one of the top two candidates in the race, all your other preference information is irrelevant. Proponents of STV consider this a problem because they essentially consider that it’s a bad thing to be able to vote in such a way that you can compromise and “hurt” your first preference. In reality, isn’t it sometimes better that the winner be a compromise candidate that we all agree is above average?

The version of Re-weighted Range Voting I’ve seen advocated usually proposes that anyone who votes above the minimum for a candidate should have their ballot re-weighted as a fraction of the maximum score. The disadvantage of that algorithm is that it discourages people to vote honestly about candidates they think are below average, but not terrible, as their actually preferred candidates might not be elected due to the re-weighting if they vote honestly and a below-average candidate is selected in an early round. Let’s call this the distance-from-minimum model.

I briefly considered that perhaps the re-weighting should calculate a difference from the median possible score (ie. 50 in my example, which should intuitively mean that the voter believes the candidate is average) and use distance from that score that as a multiplier, so that people actively opposed to the winner of the first vacancy would have their chance of picking the next winner go up, while those who rated them average or didn’t rate them experience no chance, and those who like them have less influence on the second winner.

The really weird thing about that algorithm is that it could cause some perverse incentives for third-party voters, and actually does have some weird strategic voting implications. Say for instance there’s a strong Labour vote in your ward, so you’re sure they’ll win the first vacancy, and you support a Green winning the second vacancy. You know that your Green voters can’t bring the Labour candidate’s average down enough to cause them to lose altogether. In that case, you’re actually better off to rate the Labour candidate 1 (ie. the worst possible score) so that your Green candidate is more likely to get elected, even if you think the Labour candidate is well above average. If people misjudge the chances of who’s likely to get elected, that sort of strategic voting could muck up the winner pretty badly, or if voters’ inclination or ability to vote strategically this way is unbalanced, it could make the election very unfair, so that algorithm doesn’t make sense, either.

The best way to do the rating seems to me to be to weight down the scores of everyone who votes a winning candidate as above-average, that is, who rates them above the median possible score. This doesn’t introduce too perverse an incentive to highly strategic candidates, (at worse, strategic voters may reduce strong candidates that are their second-choice or less to the median possible score) it doesn’t punish people for honestly rating candidates they don’t like closer to the median possible score, and it still achieves proportionality by re-weighting the ballots of everyone who thought a winner was above-average, and in practice I would expect every vacancy winner to have an approval rating above the median possible score during the first-round tally anyway.

Re-weighted Range Voting has already successfully been used in organisational elections, such as winnowing the fields for certain oscar nominations, so I think it’s probably ready to be trialled in local elections and see how it works in practice. Bayesian statistical analysis suggests that in both strategic and non-strategic elections, the distance-from-minimum model performs very well, and I would expect the distance-above-median model to perform even better, however these are mathematical experiments and the real world sometimes differs from models in unexpected ways, so I certainly wouldn’t advocate RRV yet for national elections, even the relatively low-stakes electorate contests we have in MMP that normally don’t influence the makeup of Parliament by more than 1-5 seats in a 120 seat Parliament.

Variants of the single-winner system, Range Voting, are already used in all sorts of places. A version that discards extreme scores and doesn’t allow for blanks is used at the Olympics for judging performances, for instance, which is about as high-stakes as you can get for organisational voting, as the ballot isn’t actually secret so the judges can be criticised for getting it wrong. That would be an excellent system to use to determine who should be our mayors, and would make impossible some of the weird edge scenarios in IRV where an intuitively “wrong” winner is picked. (these usually involve some variation on a strong contender doing very well on second preferences, but being eliminated in an early round because of low first preferences. These scenarios have been observed in actual elections and aren’t exactly incredibly low probability given how often elections occur. In comparison, the nightmare scenarios applicable to Range Voting are much more unlikely in terms of actual observed voter behaviour, and are arguably desirable results)

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I realise I haven’t yet done a breakdown of the US election, and given the quakes hitting New Zealand, this is probably a welcome distraction.

If the US ran its elections like any other country that votes on their President, Hillary Clinton would have won. This is the fifth time this has ever happened, and the President-elect had some oddly prescient feelings about the electoral college about four years ago. Of course now he’s totally respecting the result of the election because he won the most electoral votes and isn’t the United States’ system of government great?

This is not quite the nightmare scenario, as with a close result, Donald Trump effectively has no mandate, is the most unpopular President at the time of his election ever, with close to 60% unfavourables, and looks poised to screw things up massively in a way that could hand Democrats the mid-term elections in 2 years and possibly even the Presidency in 4.

The Electoral College is an interesting system that made a lot of sense in the in the era of America’s founding, back when the most practical way to send a message was to put a chap on a horse and have them ride to a recipient. In those days, there was little practical difference between simply having riders bring totals, and appointing riders to go to Washington DC and simply vote for whoever won their district or state.

While small states get an outsized share of the electoral college votes compared to their population, it’s not actually small states specifically that the Electoral College is biased towards. Why? Well because some of those small states already have very strong opinions on which party should control the federal government, and are considered “blue” or “red” states because they have recently supported Democratic or Republican candidates. Other states, however, have softer opinions or decide in ways that aren’t wholly contingent upon political party, and these states are called “purple” or “swing” states. As they typically decide the election, most campaign resources are spent on swing states, and US citizens who live in states like California or Texas or New York, despite having large electoral votes to distribute, effectively don’t count because everyone knows which way their votes are going to go in terms of the presidency. This generally takes the decision-making power on electing the president away from the northeast and west of the country, and giving the northern southern states a hugely disproportionate importance.

Now, in the age of phones and the internet, there’s no real positive reason to maintain an electoral college unless of course you live in a swing state. There have been attempts in the past to abolish the electoral college, but it’s rather hard to amend the US constitution, which mandates the electoral college choose the President. (whoops! Maybe it should have just mandated that a fair election be held and then left to Congress and the Supreme Court to decide what a fair election was)

A lot of Hillary supporters have been understandably upset with this result. Some have pointed out, with some reasonable basis, that the electors ought to vote for the person who won the popular vote. While I agree in principle, in practice electors are hardcore party faithful, and so-called “faithless electors” have never swung a US Presidential race in the past, so I can’t see it happening now. If you really want to stop this happening in the future, however, there’s a more practical way than an amendment. The states individually can simply pass a measure signing them up to the NPVIC, which is basically an agreement that once there are enough electoral votes signed up to the agreement to guarantee they all determine the President, then all the states who signed will instruct their electors to vote for the popular vote winner. Because the constitution and existing case law says that states get to determine how their electors vote, it’s a perfectly legal end-run around needing an amendment to abolish the Electoral College.

Other Hillary supporters have been less constructive, to whit, this Sesame Street-style garbage bin grouch masquerading as a journalist, who argues that Sanders caused Hillary to lose, drawing an analogy with Nader in the race between Bush and Gore. This again goes to how poor a system the electoral college is, as it results in 59 opportunities for near-ties that are likely to be decided through court battles, gerrymandering, and voter disenfranchisement rather than legitimate campaigning. It is also worth noting that it is Clinton’s responsibility to earn people’s votes, a fact that Gil Troy does not seem to get.

Back to Time’s “article.” Firstly, the analogy to Nader is a poor comparison, because if you ask anyone but the US Supreme Court, Gore actually won the 2000 election, and even if you do believe the Supreme Court was correct to halt the recounts, (in which case you don’t really believe in democracy, so why are you reading about election results?) not only were there multiple third party candidates in the race, each of which earned more votes than the margin between Bush and Gore, but there were also more registered Democrats that voted for Bush than the 560 vote margin as well.

But even ignoring that, Gore suffered from the same problem that John Kerry, who actually lost to Bush, and Hillary Clinton both suffer from. And that is that he wasn’t particularly good at connecting to voters. In Gore’s case he was able to squeak out a bare win in the electoral college, had the vote been counted fairly, and in Clinton’s she managed to hang on to the popular vote, but all three candidates were not good picks. (and this is an excellent argument against primaries, btw. It would actually be much better to use a voting system that allows people to pick between multiple Democrats and multiple Republicans without a spoiler effect) Gore was a technocrat who’s much better at making people think than making them feel, which makes him a great part of a leadership team, and arguably very good at governing, but a terrible Presidential candidate. Obama got things right in 2008 when he showed that you can make the public both think and feel, when he captured the progressive spirit of the US and won in a landslide. The Democrats unfortunately didn’t learn the lesson of 2012, where his support eroded significantly after it was revealed that Obama wasn’t a progressive, he just knew how to campaign like one.

Hillary didn’t campaign like Obama, she tried to pick up moderate Republicans, and effectively kicked the actual left aside. That done, it was actually suprising that many of the most progressive demographics worked out well for Clinton, (the BBC has an excellent article covering the demographics of the 2016 presidential race, the only thing it’s missing is a split of the “independent” vote, ie. people who weren’t registered as Democrats or Republicans, as I imagine they probably showed for Republicans and not Democrats a lot more than in 2008 or 2012) if not necessarily as well as they did for Obama. For that to happen, some of the new voters Sanders brought in to the fold must have come over, however she likely bled a huge amount of soft support from people who viewed her as emblematic of corruption, as a phony career politician, from people who dislike the idea of political dynasties, and of course from sexists and even racists who don’t like her strong ties to voters of colour.

Clinton’s vaunted electoral college “advantage” didn’t show up because the advantage was actually contingent on her popular vote performance being four to five percent above Trump’s like it was when his campaign was imploding, when it was instead bare fractions of a percent above his vote in the general election.

Arguably Sanders was less successful in bringing his supporters over with him when he endorsed Clinton than previous primary losers have been, but this is due to a fundamental misunderstanding much of the US establishment has had about both the Trump and Sanders campaigns. They were populist campaigns about two different visions of how to make the United States work for the working classes again. Sanders had a bold vision with further progress on healthcare, education, opposing pro-corporate trade deals, ending Wall Street fraud and misconduct, and fair taxation that refocuses on the wealthy instead of the middle class, who bear a disproportionate burden in terms of total taxation in the US, and of course, reforming the campaign rules so that candidates like him would stand a real chance again in future races, amending the constitution to get money out of politics. Clinton could never have kept all of Sanders voters no matter how he tried to bring them over without adopting those policies, and even then, some of them wouldn’t have trusted her to carry them out anyway. We saw this in action when she came out as against the TPP- her previous stance had poisoned the well for her in taking a populist position on trade, so all it did was limit the damage against her for that issue.

The one area where Clinton’s supporters are correct in apportioning a share of her blame is in directing their ire at James Comey for turning some additional emails uncovered in an investigation of Anthony Wiener into a political football against Ms Clinton. The re-appearance of email-related stories close to the election absolutely would have hurt her in some crucial states, although we can’t know by how much. I personally suspect she probably may have lost the Electoral College anyway, but we can’t know for sure. Ironically, this issue of emails is also a great counter-punch to Time’s stupid think-piece of pro-estabilshment propaganda: Sanders ran such a kind, issues-based campaign in the Primary that he deliberately refused to discuss her emails, because he actually wanted to talk about issues that mattered to the US people. If he managed to “hurt” Clinton in that primary enough to lose her the election, despite running such a positive campaign, she was obviously too fragile a candidate to ever be a serious contender for the Presidency. Any candidate that is hurt by more democracy doesn’t deserve to win anyway.