Wellington Scoop

2010 Wellington election: a voter’s guide

By Hannah Hurley, Adam Roberts, Jimmy Ness and Hana Garrett-Walker

This year Wellington will hold its third local body election under the Single Transferable Vote system. A referendum in 2008 means the system will be used until at least 2013. The system is supposed to be simple and easy to use. But do voters get it? Are they interested?

With voting turnout for local body elections shockingly low at 40% in 2007, questions need to be asked about the electoral system.

Is the general public aware of how the system works, is voting too hard, or do we as Wellingtonians just not give a toss?

If you asked someone to name the electoral system Wellington uses to elect its mayor and councillors, would they be able to correctly answer single transferrable vote (STV)? The answer is probably not.

Aside from sounding like a certain other abbreviation normally discussed in hushed tones, STV is not well explained, and on the surface sounds incredibly obscure and off-putting. It does not even have a particularly strong mandate.

A referendum was held in 2008 to decide the electoral system to be used for Wellington local body elections. Based on 33.16 percent voter turn-out, 50.46 percent of voters preferred STV over the alternative First Past the Post (FPP). This means that STV will be used for at least two more elections until 2013.

At the time Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon said the result clearly confirmed that the community is deeply divided over whether STV or FPP is the better system. Wellington Electoral Officer Ross Bly said the 33.16 percent turn-out was disappointing, admitting that the debate between the two systems doesn’t create great excitement in the community.

But in the meantime STV is the system we are committed to for at least one more election after this year’s: so how does it work?


Voting under STV is easy to do. The hard part is understanding exactly what you’ve done.

Instead of placing a tick next to a candidate or a party as your sole choice – as in MMP – you must rank your candidates in preferential order from one to nine. [Correction: As Jarrod Coburn makes clear in his comment below, it is not required that all candidates are given a number, and it is not necessary to use all numbers from one to nine; voters are advised not to give any number to any candidate who they don’t support – Editor.]

For example: you would indicate your first preference for mayor with a number one on the ballot sheet.

The rationale behind STV is it eliminates the possibility of wasted votes being given to either an overly popular or particularly unlikely candidate.

If your number one choice has already amassed enough votes to win the category (what is known as a quota), your second choice is considered your first, and so on, until all positions within the local body have been filled. This means that surplus votes are not wasted, but are used to prop up other candidates, in order of voters’ preferences. (there is an easy to understand graphic at this link)

In practice this is extremely complicated for those calculating the results. This is why it takes about two weeks following the end of voting to know who has won.


Obviously, it is important to make sure the candidates you choose are the ones you prefer – in the order that you prefer them.

Do not put a number next to a candidate who you do not want to vote for, even if it is the lowest vote, it is still a vote, and could be counted as such if all your other candidates reach their quota of votes.

You may think there is not a huge difference between ranking a candidate as your sixth preference or ranking them as your seventh preference, but in a system such as STV, and in an election with such a large amount of candidates, such differences can be hugely significant in terms of results.


More practically – the local body election in Wellington is a postal ballot, so make sure you allow enough time to return your vote prior to voting closure on October 9, 2010.

The biggest potential problem with STV is the sheer number of candidates you may rank, and the margin of human error. For instance, given you can select up to nine candidates, you must list these without mistake in correct numerical order. If you make a mistake only the votes in correct order up until the mistake will be counted – all others will be discarded.

For instance, if you wrote one, two, three and five, only your first three selections will count as you did not enter the number four.

Even the simplest system can have its fish-hooks, and STV is no different.

We took to the streets and asked Wellingtonians what they thought of their local government elections.

Here at Wellington.Scoop we are interested in hearing your opinions. Will you be voting this year?

Tell us what you think in the comment thread below or email us at Wgtn.Elections@scoop.co.nz

Hannah Hurley, Adam Roberts, Jimmy Ness and Hana Garrett-Walker are students in the Massey University Diploma of Journalism course.


  1. Jarrod Coburn, 25. June 2010, 22:03

    “you must rank your candidates in preferential order from one to nine” NO! YOU DO NOT! Why are you telling people this? Even though the mistake is corrected further into the article the damage has been done.

    You do NOT have to rank your candidates all the way from one to nine… you can stop at 1 or any other number you want to. In fact, this is the only way you are likely to get the candidates you want into Council. Putting a number next to a person you don’t want could result in giving them a vote too. This is one of the KEY MISUNDERSTANDINGS of the single transferable voting system.

    I suggest readers visit http://guide.localgovt.co.nz/elect/stv.html or http://www.localcouncils.govt.nz/lgip.nsf/wpg_URL/About-Local-Government-Participate-in-Local-Government-All-About-STV-and-FPP?OpenDocument for a correct interpretation of the STV system.

  2. Jane, 26. June 2010, 1:02

    Great article Scoop! Would be good to have a list of candidates who are already campaigning (and updated for new candidates). In Lambton Ward you get to vote for 3 people as your representatives. One candidate who has already indicated he is standing is Mark Greening. His observations and opinions on our council can be viewed on his blog http://www.greeningwellingtoncity.wordpress.com or follow him on the “Greening Wellington City” facebook page. Make your voice heard, and vote.

  3. Dianne Buchan, 1. July 2010, 13:49

    Just to make things even more confusing, it is important to remember that the regional council, Greater Wellington, has retained the First Post the Post system so voters have to use STV for the city councillors and FPP for the regional councillors. The regional council election is also done by postal vote. Wellington has 5 seats n the council and I am standing for one of those seats. (The balance of the council includes reps from Porirua, Hutt City, Upper Hutt Wairarapa and Kapiti Coast). As Jarrod says, it is very important that you only tick the candidates you think would be good. You don’t have to tick the full 5. The regional council is a very important body for those of you who are concerned about the state of our environment and our public transport systems. This is the body responsible for the state of our waterways (including wetlands), our coastline, harbours, trains and bus services. They also have influence over what happens on the waterfront. Don’t forget it was the regional council who approved the Hilton Hotel on the Outer T. Time is running out for our environment. Use your vote to ensure only motivated and environmentally responsible people are elected to the regional council.

  4. Rosamund Averton, 2. July 2010, 13:13

    Only vote for people who have never served on a local authority but who have an understanding of their role to influence and set policies under the Local Government Act. Elected representatives are there to serve the people not to serve their single staff member, the Chief Executive and that person’s staff. Remember all of these people are paid for by us as ratepayers.

    Elections are our only opportunity to select those that we want to represent us. It’s imperative that those we vote for are people we feel will be strong enough to withstand the blandishments of those, however well meaning, who will seek to influence them.

    Vote for someone who is curious…in every sense…we don’t have to like those we vote for…its not a beauty contest or a search for a friend!!!!!!!

  5. Keith Flinders, 3. July 2010, 16:38

    Alas, Rosamund, most Wellington city voters lack the sophistication to vote for other than faces they recognise.

    Too many of the current councillors have been there too long, and they have far too much influence over the employed staff. We need representatives who question and speak out, rather than become part of the cosy establishment.

    The CEO should be asked to reapply for his job, and reappointed if found to be the best candidate. Many in central government have had to go through that healthy process.

    New faces, ideas, and a sense of current economic reality is what Wellington needs to progress.