Silly Vote for Police Commissioners

The Police Commissioner and Mayoral elections on 5 May will be by a voting system known as “SV”.

The late Dr David Hill, prominent ERS member and academician, wrote to The Times on 6 May 2012:

“The figures for the recent election for Mayor of London show, once again, the absurdity of the Supplementary Vote system that is used. There were 2,207,070 voters of whom only 2,047,084 were allowed to take part in the second round that actually chose the winner. In other words there were 159,986 people who took the trouble to turn out and vote who were disenfranchised by the system, while the winning margin was only 62,538. We can never know who would have won had those voters been allowed their say.

The system was introduced by the Labour Government but the present coalition, far from doing anything to put it right, have actually made things worse by adopting the same bad system for the election of police chiefs later this year.”

The absurdity of the Supplementary Vote (SV) is that its supporters admit the failings of First Past The Post (FPTP), aka “Winner Takes All”, but the system fails to remedy them. To have a chance of making their votes effective under the SV system, voters have to guess who will be the top two candidates in the first stage of counting.

Curiously, the Labour Government acknowledged the faults of FPTP when it introduced SV for mayoral elections and the subsequent Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition Government did the same when it introduced the system for Police Commissioner elections, but most of the politicians who supported SV, which allegedly solves the problems of FPTP, opposed AV in 2011, which really would solve the problem for filling single vacancies. (Electing representative bodies, such as Parliaments, Assemblies and Councils, is a different matter.)

One wonders whether “SV” really stands for “Silly Vote” instead of “Supplementary Vote”.

Regular readers of STV Action will know that the Alternative Vote (AV) would solve the problem. In the USA, this is known as “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV).
As well as being very effective, AV is also very simple.

Voters don’t have to guess who will be the top two candidates in the first round of counting. They simply vote “1” for their first preference, “2” for their second preference and so on for as many candidates as they like.

If a candidate has more than half the first preference votes in the first stage of counting, that candidate is elected.

If not, there is a second stage of counting. The candidate with the fewest first preference votes is excluded and his or her votes are redistributed, according to the voters’ next preferences. If a candidate has more than half the votes in the second stage, that candidate is elected.

If not, the process is repeated until one candidate has more than half the votes and is elected.

This ensures that the winner is always supported by more than half the voters in the final stage of voting.

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