Congratulations to Ryan Hamilton, our city’s new councillor representing the East Ward. This was Ryan’s seventh run for council and his electoral victory is a testament to his perseverance and determination to become a councillor. He follows in the footsteps of his mother Mavora Hamilton, who was a council staff member turned councillor.
This by-election result was also a reminder in the importance of electoral reform in Hamilton. While some councils have changed to the much fairer Single Transferable Vote system, Hamilton (the city, not Ryan!) has stuck with the brutal First Past the Post system.
How are the demographics of our city councillors so different from the population at large? It is largely due to this system. I won’t go into huge detail about the benefits of a preferential voting system like Single Transferable Voting, there are far more eloquent articles on this topic. But with the past two Hamilton City Council elections, there is a strong case to be made for a transition to Single Transferable Voting, based on the outcomes of the 2018 By-Election and the 2016 Mayoral Election.
While I don’t think a preferential system would have changed the outcome of the 2018 By-Election (I still believe Ryan would have won under Single Transferable Voting), I believe that the 2016 Mayoral Election would have had a different result.
As you can see from the final results of the 2018 East Ward By-Election, Ryan Hamilton won with 15% of all votes cast. A pretty standard mandate in democratic politics is 50% of the total votes. That’s the beauty of a preferential system – someone might have 15% at first count, but as the lower candidates are removed and votes are transferred to voters’ second, third, fourth or even fifth preference, you end up with an election result where more than 50% are happy with their elected councillor. As I mentioned earlier, I think Ryan Hamilton would have been elected with a more than 50% mandate if we had a preferential system. However, it is impossible to tell without a better system in place.
2016 Mayoral Election
When it comes to election results, it doesn’t get much closer than the 2016 mayoral race in Hamilton. Andrew King received 8728 votes, only nine votes ahead of runner-up Paula Southgate, who received 8719 votes. Both candidates received around 27% of the total votes, meaning that neither candidate would have had a particularly strong mandate of support from the city at large.
Under a preferential system, I think it is likely that Paula Southgate would been elected as mayor. But like the example with Ryan Hamilton, it is impossible to tell without a better system in place that takes into account voters’ preferences. There’s no accurate way to determine what a preferential result would be using voting data from a First Past the Post election. All you can use is your gut feeling, so my gut feeling here shouldn’t be taken as anything scientific!
How does the by-election result affect the balance of Hamilton City Council?
With Ryan Hamilton being elected, I don’t think there has been a major change in the political balance of Hamilton City Council. Over the last few months since Philip passed away, the council has been operating with one less councillor. Usually, there are 13 elected members (12 councillors and the mayor) which means you don’t often get a ‘draw’ when voting on an issue. However, when there is an even number of elected members (11 councillors plus the mayor) it is much more common to get an equal result when voting. There were several of these ‘draws’ on important issues during the Draft 10-Year Plan debate.
What happens when the votes are evenly split? The Mayor, as chairperson, gets to make a casting vote. Essentially, Andrew King is given a second vote as a tie-breaker whenever the initial vote produces equal support for and against.
With Ryan Hamilton being elected, the total number of elected members returns to 13, meaning there will probably be a lot less equally split votes that require a tie-breaker in the form of a casting vote. There are quite a few issues where I think Ryan Hamilton’s vote could determine whether a proposal is successful or not.
Hamilton Gardens Entry Fee
In the debate over the future of Hamilton Gardens in December 2017, the council was split over whether to introduce an entry fee. The vote was split 6 – 6, with the Mayor using his casting vote to approve the motion. This vote would not be a tie with an additional councillor voting, meaning that Ryan’s position on an entry fee to Hamilton Gardens is likely to have a big impact on whether this proposal goes ahead.
It is disappointing that Ryan did not participate in Kelli Pike’s Politics in the Tron questionnaire that she sent out to all candidates during the by-election. We might have a better idea of how he would vote on this issue if he had declared his stance on some of these hot-button topics.
If you want to see how each councillor voted and why, you can check out the voting record the my business website.
‘Reimagining Local Government’ programme
This was another proposal that was only approved by the thinnest of margins. The proposal is for $3 million to be spent over three years on a programme to find and deliver organisational efficiencies. Ryan’s vote here will have a major impact on whether the project goes ahead or not. If public feedback is largely negative about the proposal as well, it is safe to say that this project won’t be going into the final budget.
Central City Park and Garden Place redevelopment
The votes on the Garden Place redevelopment proposal and the Central City Park proposal were 7 – 5 in favour, with most councillors having a consistent stance either for or against. Several councillors voting in support indicated that they would support the project going out for consultation and that they want to hear what the public says before making a final decision.
Given that big-spend public developments are unlikely to be popular when coupled with a double-digit rates increase, I think both projects are likely to receive largely negative feedback through the 10-Year Plan consultation that is likely to sway the few councillors sitting on the fence. Ryan’s vote will also have a major impact here. If Ryan is not supportive of either proposal, I think it is highly unlikely that both developments will proceed.
So how do we fix this brutal electoral system?
In the 2013 election, 24,623 Hamiltonians (69.7%) voted in favour of First Past the Post and 10,682 (30.3%) voted in favour of Single Transferable Voting. This was a really disappointing result at the time, and it’s even more disappointing in the aftermath of some of the recent elections. To be clear, it is not a disappointing system because of the types of candidates that have been successful. It is a disappointing system because it produces winners with only 15% or 27% of the vote. We mostly ditched FPP from our central government elections (except how we vote for our local electorate MPs … but that’s a rant for another day!). It’s time we got rid of it from our local elections.
The Local Government Act requires local councils to conduct a representation review every six years. The 2013 electoral system referendum was intended to be binding for the 2016 and 2019 elections, so there is likely to be an opportunity soon for the council to make a decision on the voting system for the 2022 and 2025 elections.
A change to our electoral system could not come soon enough. The lack of diversity in our council is even more apparent with the tragic loss of Philip Yeung, a strong advocate for Hamilton’s migrant and ethnic communities. There is no strong tangata whenua voice at the table, and no willingness to introduce Māori wards despite Hamilton City having the second highest Māori population in New Zealand. Single Transferable Voting does not guarantee more diversity (that is still up to voters to decide) but it is a fairer system that gives better representation a chance.