It’s General Election time – and because we operate under an MMP mixed member proportional voting system, the concept of the “wasted vote” always comes up in discussion. Generally the statement is thrown around, something along the lines of, “If your vote is wasted, it goes to another party” – “Another party benefits”. But is this true? We explain how the wasted vote phenomenon works in practice – based on what happened in the General Election in 2020.
It still comes back to you though. You have a choice. They may call it a ‘wasted vote” but it’s not wasted if your goal is to send a message to both the party and to the public in general that you support the principles and policies of that party – even if they don’t get in – this time. On the other hand, you may decide that you don’t want the major parties to get extra seats because of wasted votes – as happened in 2020.
But at least you’ll now know how the system works.
[Please note that the animation is based on close approximations. It’s a rather complex system!]
It’s General Election time – and because we operate under an MMP mixed member proportional voting system, the concept of the “wasted vote” always comes up in discussion.
Generally the statement is thrown around, something along the lines of, “If your vote is wasted, it goes to another party”. “Another party benefits”.
But is this true. In the next 5 minutes I’m going to explain how the wasted vote phenomenon works in practice – based on what happened in the general election in 2020.
The share of seats a party wins in Parliament is about the same as its share of the party vote. There are 120 seats in Parliament
So here’s a basic example of one party winning 50% of the vote, and therefore 50% of the seats in parliament. So 60 seats, out of 120 seats.
The other 2 parties won 25% each and therefore they win 25% or 1/4 of the 120 Parliamentary seats available. The seats are then filled by each party firstly with MPs who have won their local electorate, and then topped up with List MPs to get to the exact number of their share of the total vote.
Now what is the wasted vote – and what happens to it.
The term “wasted vote” is used to describe a party vote at a general election which is discarded either because that political party did not Win at least 5% of the overall party vote OR they didn’t win an electorate seat in Parliament – and there’s 72 electorate seats around the country (65 General Electorates + 7 Māori Electorates) .
According to Wikipedia, a wasted vote is any vote that does not receive representation in the final election outcome.
If we look at the number of wasted votes since we adopted the MMP voting system back in 1996, you can see it’s hovered between 4% and 8% of the total vote that’s been wasted except for that very low result in 2005.
These are votes for political parties that didn’t make the 5% threshold or win an electorate seat to qualify for being in parliament,
Some argue that it is not a wasted vote, as it still shows support for that political party, or a protest vote against other parties
So how does it work in practice, and does a wasted vote get given to a successful party that does get into Parliament, or do those successful parties benefit in some way from those wasted votes.
Let me show you how it works – based on what happened in the general election in 2020 – and I pick that one because it’s a real easy one to get your head around.
So in 2020 when we voted, here was the % vote count
- Labour Party 50.0
- National Party 25.6
- Green Party 7.9
- ACT New Zealand 7.6
- Māori Party 1.2
- New Zealand First 2.6
- The Opportunities Party (TOP) 1.5
- New Conservative 1.5
- Advance NZ 1.0
- Legalise Cannabis Party 0.5
- ONE Party 0.3
- Vision New Zealand 0.1
Which adds up to 100% of the vote (not including informal or disallowed votes).
So let’s pretend that there is no wasted vote, no 5% threshold etc. Let’s show all of those in our Parliament based on their total vote
Now Labour got 50% = 60 seats in a 120 seat parliament. Easy to see and work out eh. Now you know why I used 2020 as an example.
National got 25.6% so they get 25.6% of the 120 seats which is about 31 seats.
And so it goes.
NZ First got 2.6% which is about 3 seats.
New Conservative got 1.5% which is about 2 seats.
Unfortunately for NZ First, The Opportunities Party, New Conservative, Advance NZ, Legalise Cannabis party, ONE party and Vision NZ, they didn’t meet the required 5% or win an electorate seat.
The Maori party only got 1.2% of the vote – BUT they won an electorate seat. Waiariki. So they qualify for Parliament because of that.
But all the other parties below 5% – their votes are removed – or “wasted”. They are taken out of the make-up of the Parliament. And all their votes go with them.
Let me reiterate – even though those votes do not receive representation in the final election outcome, some argue that it is not a wasted vote, as it still shows support for that party, or a protest vote against other parties. It’s a vote based on principle. It sends a message of support to the party and what the party represents or stands for.
Now, in 2020, 92% of all votes went to parties that made it into Parliament
8% – 225,182 – went to parties that did not make it into Parliament because they did not win an electorate seat or reach the 5% party vote threshold. Those ones we just removed.
So there’s our Parliament – but now there’s 8% of the seats that are empty – about 10 seats.
Who gets those seats. We can’t have a 110 seat Parliament. It has to be 120.
This is what happens
Remember that Labour got 50% of the total vote = 60 seats in a 120 seat parliament.
But because 8% of votes were discarded, Labour gets a bonus 50% of the wasted vote seats. Yep – half of those 10 seats. So Labour were bumped up by 5 seats to 65 seats.
That’s actually more than 50% – it’s 54%! But that’s the effect of votes being wasted or being disqualified. Labour benefitted, didn’t they.
National got 25.6% of the vote. Around 31 seats. Bumped up to 33.
Greens, ACT and Maori Party all received additional seats.
This is what Parliament ended up looking like.
Wasted votes were not “given” to other parties strictly speaking, but the effect is that those “discarded” votes help bump up the number of seats for parties that do get into parliament.
Understand how it works now?
It still comes back to you though. You have a choice. They may call it a ‘wasted vote” but it’s not wasted if your goal is to send a message to both the party and to the public in general that you support the principles and policies of that party – even if they don’t get in this time.
On the other hand, you may decide that you don’t want Labour to get extra seats or National extra seats because of wasted votes – as happened in 2020.
But at least you now know how the system works.