Who should do electoral reform?

The Minister of Justice says she will seek consensus from the political parties about what aspects of the Electoral Commission’s MMP reform proposals to implement.

This was the process followed by her predecessor, Simon Power, in respect of electoral finance. That was much better than the ram-it-through-on-a-narrow-majority approach taken by his Labour predecessor. But it was limited in what it achieved because of the need for consensus in advance.

And it is the wrong process.

Elections do not belong to MPs. Elections belong to the people. MPs should be very wary of appropriating what belongs to others.

The democratically correct course for Judith Collins would be to get legislation drafted to implement the commission’s proposals as they stand. Of course, that legislation would be decided clause by clause by parliamentary majorities. But at least all the points would be on the table. By seeking consensus in advance, even if consensus is interpreted as “near-consensus”, the rule applying to Parliament’s business committee, Collins is as good as ensuring some points won’t be, notably the abolition of the one-seat threshold and the lower 4% threshold, which the National party opposes. Only if the National party submerges its self-interest in the national, that is democratic, interest can they be part of the consensus.

MPs have vested interests in the electoral arrangements, as John Banks quickly demonstrated within hours of the report being released yesterday. Nowhere is that better exemplified than in the gerrymandering of the United States House of Representatives electorate boundaries to suit incumbents, which produces some grotesque electorates. Also, Republicans in many states which they control have passed stringent laws on enrolling and on voting, which will in effect disenfranchise large numbers in the elections tomorrow (New Zealand time) and potentially distort the result.

Better here to develop an independent body (with more skill and depth and breadth of representation than the Electoral Commission) to review, write and administer electoral law. Of course, the law would still need Parliament’s approval. But MPs might be more circumspect about something that belongs to the people, not to them.