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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