A leaf out of New Zealand’s voting system
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A split voting system, such as the one in New Zealand, could allow voters to choose candidates based on merit while ensuring that their party preference determines legislative composition 

November 06, 2023 01:00 am | Updated 09:44 am IST

Voters pose for a photo showing their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting their votes. File

Voters pose for a photo showing their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting their votes. File | Photo Credit: PTI

At first glance, Odisha and Auckland seem worlds apart. They differ starkly in the Human Development Index, education levels, and socio-economic indicators. However, if we scrutinise their political behaviour, similarities emerge. Both regions exemplify the concept of split voting. This offers a nuanced understanding of voter behaviour and the efficacy of electoral systems.

Odisha’s unique set-up of concurrent Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections demonstrates the electorate’s differentiated political choices. Odisha held simultaneous elections in 2019. Voters cast both their votes on the same day, but split their voting patterns. Considering the Lok Sabha votes, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led in 88 out of 146 Assembly Constituencies. However, on the same day for Assembly votes, the BJD won 113 out of 146 Assembly Constituencies. The difference amounted to 25 seats and almost a 2% vote share for the BJD.

The MMP system

India follows the first-past-the-post voting system, while New Zealand uses the mixed member proportional (MMP) system. Under MMP, voters cast two votes: a ‘party vote’ that determines the overall composition of the 120-seat Parliament and an ‘electorate vote’ to elect a local MP for their geographical constituency. The FPTP method decides the local MP election. There are 72 electorate seats, and parties fill the other 48 list seats. Each party submits a ranked party list to the Electoral Commission of New Zealand before the polls. Parties then elect candidates from this list as list MPs. The electorate vote does not alter the overall party representation in Parliament. Voters can split their vote. Giving both votes to one political party is a ‘double tick’. Allocating votes to two different parties is a split vote.

The MMP system allows a voter to choose a candidate from a different party if they don’t like the local candidate from their preferred party. This choice doesn’t dilute the impact of their vote on their preferred political party’s final tally in Parliament. This was evident in the 2020 Auckland Central parliamentary election. Voters chose Chlöe Swarbrick, a Green Party candidate, as their local MP; yet, the same constituency favoured the Labour Party in their party vote. Such results confirm the electorate’s mindful, diverse voting patterns. As per the Electoral Commission of New Zealand, 31.86% of votes in 2020 were split votes, from 27.33% in 2017. Voters in eight out of 72 electorate seats created ‘switch seats.’ In a switch seat, voters pick a candidate from one party but give their party vote to another, meaning the elected local MP comes from a party that doesn’t secure the majority of party votes.

In the recent parliamentary elections, Auckland Central voters again exhibited the same split pattern. Preliminary results suggest that voters chose Ms. Swarbrick from the Green Party as their local MP but favoured the National Party in their party vote. Besides, the party vote share for the Labour Party and ACT party in the Auckland Central electorate was more than three times of their respective candidate’s vote share in the same constituency. There were 13 such ‘switch seats’.

Advantages

The MMP system has its own share of criticism. For instance, it may prompt tactical voting, where voters might support a party that they don’t necessarily endorse just to keep another party out of power. However, the benefits seem to outweigh these drawbacks. The first benefit is that the split voting system allows for more localised accountability for elected representatives. They can’t just ride a party wave. The second is policy focus. As parties don’t need to concentrate on individual candidate winnability, they can emphasise on policies and ideologies to garner party votes. The third is that MMP improves representation for women, indigenous communities, differently abled people, and other deprived groups. Before MMP’s introduction, New Zealand had only a 21% representation of women in 1993; now, 51% of MPs are women. Maori representation has also risen. Fourth, MMP enhances democracy by letting voters express a diverse range of political preferences without wasting their votes. Every party vote gets counted to determine how many seats a party gets. Fifth, the system provides flexibility, allowing voters to select the best candidate-party combination according to their beliefs. Both party and candidate are chosen by voters in a mutually exclusive manner with no effect on each other. Sixth, after introduction of MMP, the average age of an MP in New Zealand has considerably declined. It was 47.3 years in the 2020 elections. This has been possible because of the low entry barrier for young politicians thanks to split voting choices.

In the Indian electoral framework, compulsive voting often curtails the liberty of voters to express their genuine preference. Many hesitate to vote for candidates outside their preferred party or perceived winnable contenders, fearing repercussions on the broader political canvas. A split voting system could offer a solution by allowing voters to choose candidates based on merit while ensuring that their party preference determines legislative composition. The essence of democracy lies in offering nuanced and, if need be, diverse choices. The ability to distinguish between candidate and party signifies a mature democracy. Although historically, the Indian electorate might have been wary of split voting, contemporary political behaviour, as seen in Odisha, indicates an eagerness to embrace such nuanced choices.

Vipul Anekant is Deputy Commissioner of Police, Delhi Police

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