How to elect a Mayor?

There is increasing focus on the election to the office of Mayor given new powers of appointment and policy leadership. New Zealand uses different electoral systems for local government elections. Celia won under different rules than Len and Lianne.

The 2001 Local Electoral Act says, “Every election or poll conducted for a local authority must be conducted using 1 or more methods of voting adopted by resolution of the local authority.” This results in a muddle.

In 2013 most Councils used first past the post to elect Councillors and the Mayor. But seven used STV: Dunedin, Kapiti, Marlborough, Porirua, Wellington City and Regional, and Palmerston North City Council. There is no overall rationale as to why one place should have a different system than another.

The type of voting system you are in appears to be random, but does it matter? Voters are confused by different systems on the same ballot papers. Confusion is the norm as all health boards are elected by STV and most Councillors are elected by FPP. This may result in voters not completing or posting their ballot papers.

So is it better to elect the most popular or the least unpopular candidate? Those who favour STV argue that it promotes more consensual politics, but it may not when it comes to the top position. Often in a Mayoral race there is a front runner, often the incumbent, and there is an initial contest for who is the main contender.

Under FPP, the contenders tend to turn their focus on each other initially. They do not unite in attacking the incumbent throughout the campaign. This results in more scrutiny on all candidates and a more balanced campaign.

Under STV, the second favourite can win and there is an incentive for all rivals to collude against the front-runner. This can lead to a lopsided campaign to cut down the tall poppy. This may damage the likely winner and add to the likelihood of conflict post election. And if the most popular does not win, they may be locked into opposition.

A traditional Mayoral campaign under first preference may result in a more convincing outcome under a less damaging campaign.