The First Proportional Election in New Zealand

11 Nov

Under the provisions of the Local Elections ( Proportional Representation ) Act of 1914, which remained on the statute until the 1960’s, Christchurch held a set of elections under STV in 1917. These Elections were observed by a George Hogben, who reported to Parliament on the proceedings. The elections covered 16 city councillors, 4 members of the Lyttleton Harbour Board and  7 of the Hospital Board. However the Mayor was elected by First Past The Post.  Over 17,000 people voted for the Council, 16,000 for the Harbour Board and Hospital Boards.

Local Newspapers had used a mock election to help voters understand the system, electing members of an Imperial Cabinet, which sounds so very Star Wars. Staff got to undertake a trial count, however staff came and went during this process much to Mr Hogbens displeasure. Two computers were used for the count though it is hard to see that these were anything other than calculators of some description. It was 1917 after all.

A complex system of pigeon holes with candidates names on them and cards for preferences. Hogbens report says that in the trial count a full set of directions were issued to computers, supervisors, sorters and counters. I am now at a loss as to what the computer(s) was.

There were 174 effective counts !32 of these counts saw no votes transferred due to marginal issues. Other counts were made to simply check the previous count. Even though Hogben said this was totally unnecessary, after all they had 2 computers. Distribution was done on the Clark method with a 3 stage transfer. Hogben felt this added about a third to the total counting time with little impact on the result. The final count took 33 hours, with 8 hours on top for the Harbour Board and another 13 for the Hospital.

Hogben felt the election produced proportionality in comparison to first preferences. There were nearly 5% of informal votes. Some marked papers with a cross, as they did for the Mayoral election, or crossed out the names of those they didn’t like ( which apparently was what they did in the previous election !)

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