Software developed for complex voting system

The Department of Internal Affairs is (DIA) working on software to help local authorities deal with a move by many of them to STV, a new electoral system.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has been working on software to help local authorities deal with a move by many bodies to STV, a new electoral system.

All of the country’s district health boards and many local bodies are moving to the single transferable vote system and the DIA, along with a group of local government managers, has developed the software to help with the new vote counting regime.

STV is a preferential transfer voting based system, says DIA's senior policy analyst Gavin Beattie, and the version New Zealand local authorities are implementing is a particular breed of STV - Meek's method.

"You only need to achieve a quota to be elected and votes above that level are then transferred to other candidates."

Because of the huge complexity of counting votes, software plays a vital role in the electoral procedure.

"Meek's method is based on an algorithm, algorithm 123 which is a series of equations to deal with these transfers of votes. The key idea is that each candidate retains a proportion of all votes received."

The department has hired a developer, Wellington-based Information Power, to work on what it calls the STV calculator, which may become available to local bodies depending on a policy decision that is still some weeks away.

Beattie says there are 74 territorial authorities that also conduct elections on behalf of district health boards (DHBs). DHBs must use STV in 2004.

“They all have their own systems [for elections] and will continue to use them and it's a decision we're going through at the moment to see whether we provide the calculator as part of that package or whether we allow them to develop their own within our guidelines."

Although other countries have STV elections (Australia uses it for federal elections), this would be a first for the Meek variation.

"The application of Meek's in the New Zealand environment would be interesting given Meek hadn't been used in public elections anywhere."

Dairy company Fonterra has announced it will be using STV in its board elections in the future.

More information can be found on the DIA website.

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