Features of a good voting system

This is a copy of the paper I sent on 30 April 2018 to Make Votes Matter (MVM) in response to its invitation to members to say what we would look for in a voting system:

The three most important criteria for a democratic voting system are:
• to represent accurately the views of voters;
• to represent accurately the views of voters;
• to represent accurately the views of voters.

I don’t need to tell MVM that FPTP fails the above-mentioned criteria abysmally in terms of representing voters’ party support.

It has also failed in the last two general elections to represent their views on EU membership. The 2015 Commons overwhelmingly supported remaining, but voters were divided almost equally in the 2016 referendum. The Prime Minister has pointed out that 83% of voters voted in the 2017 general election for parties that supported Brexit, although voters were divided almost equally in the 2016 referendum and probably still were.

This is a fault inherent in closed list systems including FPTP, which is a one-line, closed list system.

The voting system should enable voters collectively to decide on the composition of the elected body. Only they – not the law or political parties – should decide that. Anything else is undemocratic, even if it is because of good intentions; e.g., to ensure a certain level of representation of any group defined by ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, height, eye colour or in any other way. A good voting system will, however, enable voters to increase or decrease the numbers of such groups in the elected body if they so wish.

If the system does not empower voters to do that, the only way to increase the number of representatives from such groups is by law or party action, which is fundamentally undemocratic because it does not represent voters’ views.

The reference in the MVM consultation document to the need for good voting systems to “encourage and support the election of a parliament which broadly reflects the population” is deeply worrying, as it contradicts the need for a democratic system to reflect voters’ wishes rather than what they are. It implies, inaccurately and undemocratically, that a black MP cannot represent a white constituent, a woman cannot represent a male constituent, a Muslim cannot represent a Christian constituent and so on.

The document also refers to topping up STV by the so-called “Gallagher Index”, which I regret shows a fundamental misunderstanding of STV on three counts:

1. The Ministry of Justice reported in its “Review of Voting Systems on 24 January 2008 that STV was the most [party] proportionate of all systems used in the UK. Please see http://www.stvact.wordpress.com/2018/01/24/stv-is-most-party-proportional for more details.
2. Neither of the two main systems (STV and AMS) proposed for use in the UK is intrinsically more party proportionate than the other. The degree of party proportionality depends less on the system than on the detail, such as the number of MPs per constituency in the case of STV and the proportion of top-up MPs in the case of AMS.
3. A person, who gives a first preference vote for a candidate DESPITE the candidate’s party, will not want her vote used towards the election of another candidate from the same party. This could happen for any of several reasons; e.g. the voter wants more MPs of that candidate’s gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual persuasion or the candidate and voter may have similar views on a non-party national or local issue of importance to the voter, such as euthanasia or the route of a proposed new by-pass in the constituency.

Other important criteria are:
• Elections should be direct;
• Freedom of choice for voters when voting;
• Abolition of split votes;
• Minimization of wasted votes;
• Elimination of need for tactical voting;
• Abolition of seats that are safe for an MP regardless of the MP’s merits (which would remain with a closed list system);
• A high proportion of voters should be represented by an MP for whom they voted and with whom they feel a link;
• A choice of MPs for constituents to approach with problems;
• Direct accountability of MPs to voters.

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Corruption more likely with one-party Councils

A report completed for the Electoral Reform Society has found that one-party dominated councils are at much higher risk of corruption (51% higher) than competitive councils.

It also concluded that one-party dominated councils typically achieve lower price savings: 2.1% compared to 6.2% achieved by competitive councils in England.

It’s a picture Nathan Briant, local government reporter at the Oxford Mail, recognizes: “In my experience where councils are dominated by one party there is less scrutiny. They are much more likely to take the view of officers and go with it without asking as many questions. That is unfortunate, but it is the way a lot of councils do it.”

Robert Cox, of the Electoral Reform Society, commented that the reform that would have the biggest impact on the ability of local authorities to scrutinize themselves would be a change to the voting system.

Just as in General Elections, local councillors in England and Wales are elected via First Past the Post.

It means parties can secure a much higher proportion of seats than is warranted by their vote share, suppressing the number and influence of opposition voices.
If people’s votes were fairly represented under a proportional voting system, any given party which had control of a local authority would have to justify its decisions more frequently as a result of being monitored by a greater number of scrutineers who more accurately reflect the will of local people.

This has been the case for local government in Scotland where the Single Transferable Vote has been in place since 2007. Why not extend it to England and Wales too?

Please visit http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/The-Cost-of-One-Party-Councils.pdf for the Electoral Reform Society’s report.

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STV is most party proportional

This will surprise even many STV supporters.

Although opponents claim that a disadvantage of STV is that it is less party proportional than some other systems, the Ministry of Justice reported on 24 January 2008 that it was more party proportional than any other system used in the UK.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the Ministry of Justice’s Review of Voting Systems*.

Paragraph 15 of the Executive Summary states:
Continue reading

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Make votes MATTER for women and men this centenary year

This is the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave votes to UK women (over 30) for the first time.

But shouldn’t women’s (and men’s) votes matter wherever they live?

Wouldn’t it be nice if women’s (and men’s) votes Continue reading

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Three important electoral reform anniversaries are coming up for us to celebrate and the first and third of them are specifically relevant to STV:

1. STV is the most party proportional system (10th anniversary)

One criticism of STV is that it is less proportional than some other PR systems. Of course, the critics mean “less party proportional” and we all know that, among STV’s other advantages,
Continue reading

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Time for Real Democracy

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a very crude dispute resolution system to choose and change governments without resort to violence. Although it’s considerably better than coup, assassination or revolution, it could be much better. Most European democracies have better systems, but the UK has been left behind except that we have made a little progress with the devolved bodies and some other elections.

In a real democracy, Parliament would be a small but accurate reflection of the political views of the voters and the Government would reflect the political views of the majority of voters. FPTP does not achieve that. Without PR, the UK is only half a democracy – a demi-ocracy.

STV is the best kind of PR for many reasons, not least because it increases voter – not party – power and it can provide proportionality not only between parties but also between other groupings,such as Brexiters and Remainers.

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The truth about STV

The truth sometimes takes longer to explain than a short untruth. Someone posted on Make Votes Matter’s Facebook page, “STV is semi-proportional. If we want a true PR system, only the first choice vote matters, and constituency size is irrelevant. STV delivers F15PTP.”

He managed to pack four inaccuracies into those few words but their brevity makes them easy to understand and could misinform readers.

Although most STV Action readers will know the truth, you may find
Continue reading

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STV for Welsh local government

If you’d like STV to be used for local elections in Wales, please act before the public consultation ends on Tuesday 10 October.

If you want to respond to the whole consultation, you can fill in a form available online at https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/electoral-reform-local-government-wales

Section 4 asks about letting each local authority to choose between FPTP and STV. That would be a step in the right direction, but you may like to suggest using STV for all local elections, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you want to support STV generally, it is probably best to do this under the final Question 46 (“other related issues”).

Alternatively, you may find it simpler to write your own response as an email to RLGProgramme@wales.gsi.gov.uk

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PR debate 30.10.17

MPs will debate PR on 30 October 2017.
This is in response to a petition signed by more than 100,000 people.
If your MP already supports PR, please ask them to attend and support the motion.
If you don’t know your MP’s views or you know they oppose PR, please try to persuade then to support it now.
To pre-empt the reply many MPs will give, there was NOT a referendum on PR in 2011; that referendum was on the Alternative Vote, which is a non-propionate system.
PR is not to help or hinder any one party. It is to help voters and provide us with a representative democracy, which we don’t have now.
Please see https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/you-did-it-parliament-is-going-to-debate-adopting-fair-votes/ for more.

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Jack McGowan-Smyth

We are very sorry to tell you that “Jack” McGowan-Smyth died earlier this year, although we have only just received the sad news. He left a widow, Christine, to whom we extend our deep sympathy.

Here is an extract from his death notice:

“McGOWAN-SMYTH John (Jack) (Dublin / Luxembourg / Edinburgh) Jack passed away peacefully, on January 18, 2017, at the age of 94, in Edinburgh. Former Clerk of the Irish Senate, former Director-General of the European Parliament. Beloved and loving husband of Christine.”

Jack was a very staunch supporter of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system of proportional representation, which has been used in his native Ireland since it became independent of the UK.

He was a member of the Electoral Reform Society for many years, probably decades, and was for a while Chair of its Elections Panel, which oversees the Society’s internal elections.

He will be greatly missed and we are sorry he did not live to see STV introduced for all UK elections.

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