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Opinion: STV – Making your vote count in local elections

Wednesday 2 October 2019 10:59am

Otago Politics Professor Janine Hayward offers some advice as you put pen to voting paper over the coming weeks.

Professor Janine Hayward urges everyone to vote in the local body elections. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

Local body elections are in full swing and the election is more visible on campus than ever before. The team at the Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) has put an enormous effort into getting students registered to vote and then getting them along to vote. A similar effort by OUSA during the local elections in 2016 led to a significant boost in the student vote, and the current campaign looks just as promising. Through various events, OUSA have registered 2,000 students to vote. Outstanding effort team!

Also helping to raise the profile of the election is the race for the mayoralty. We know that people are more likely to vote if they think there is a real competition underway and that their vote might make a difference in deciding who wins. The incumbent mayor’s decision not to run for election again introduced an element of uncertainty and competition that could also encourage turnout. Every vote will count: your vote could make the difference in electing the new mayor!

As you get busy with your voting papers, here is a quick refresher about Single Transferable Vote (STV), how we use it and why we use it instead of First Past the Post (FPP).

When you vote using STV, you cast a single vote by ranking the candidates you prefer, starting with 1 for the candidate you like most, 2 for second and so on. You don’t have to rank every candidate, you can just rank the candidates you want to help elect. (Some people encourage voters to rank all the candidates, but we know that this can put people off voting if the job of ranking them all seems too hard.)

STV is a proportional representation system which means that it is better than FPP (which is not a proportional system) at translating people’s votes into who actually gets elected. It reduces wasted votes so more voters affect the outcome of the election. In elections like the mayoral election, it also ensures that the winning candidate has a majority, whereas FPP usually elects minority mayors. There is also evidence that STV helps increase voter turnout when people think their votes will make a difference, and that is increases diversity in elected representation, when diverse candidates stand for election.

If you haven’t received your papers, you can cast a special vote and if you aren’t enrolled to vote yet it’s not too late! (But it will be too late after October 11, so do it now!)

Happy voting everyone!