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Blog Archive

South African reform?

Submitted by editor on Sun, 24/02/2013 – 22:48

South African, Eusebius McKaiser, queries in… whether South Africa should replace its party list PR system of voting with a constituency based system.

In brief, he says the list system should be replaced, but goes on to warn against some of the disadvantages of First Past The Post (FPTP) constituency elections, except that it does not seem to have occurred to him that constituency elections do not have to be FPTP. Consequently, he mistakenly ascribes all the disadvantages of FPTP to constituencies.

He points out the power the parties have with list voting and the advantage voters would have if they could directly elect their MPs, but he also warns against gerrymandering and other disadvantages that he perceives in constituency based systems including, “the sometimes anti-democratic influence party leadership wield in England [sic], for example, where constituency based elections happen”.

The disadvantages he sees in constituency based elections are mainly to be found in FPTP single-member constituencies and not in STV multi-member constituencies as I have pointed out in my comment on his blog.

He likes the idea of a hybrid voting system, but I suspect he has not considered STV; perhaps had not heard of it when he wrote his blog.

Gay marriage

Submitted by editor on Mon, 04/02/2013 – 08:37

The Conservative Party is divided in the country and the Commons on same sex (i.e. gay) marriage and it seems likely that there are similar divisions in the other parties although they may be less obvious.

Does the Commons represent the views of the country on this issue and do individual MPs represent their constituents on it? No-one really knows partly because it was not an issue at the last General Election and partly because, even if it had been, most people would have voted for their usual party even if they had to clench their teeth because they did not share the candidate’s views on same sex marriage.

Take the Surrey Heath constituency for example. The Conservative MP, Michael Gove, supports same sex marriage but the Chairman of the Conservative Association, Geoffrey Vero, opposes it. Who can tell which speaks for the local party, let alone the constituency as a whole, on the subject?

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) lets voters express their views on such non-party matters without voting against their party.

Suppose Surrey Heath had merged with neighbouring constituencies and the enlarged constituency had elected five MPs by STV. The Conservative Party could have nominated four or five candidates. As Surrey is very Conservative, three of them could have been elected but the voters would have decided which.

If the candidates’ views on same sex marriage were important to Conservative voters, those views would have influenced how they voted. Then they might have elected two who supported same sex marriage and one who opposed it or vice versa. Indeed, they might have elected three who opposed or three who supported. Whatever the result, the successful candidates would have represented their voters’ views on this controversial issue.

Short explanation of STV

Submitted by editor on Mon, 28/01/2013 – 11:20

“STV” stands for “Single Transferable Vote”. Each voter has one vote and may transfer it.

Each constituency elects a number of MPs (typically five). So that the House of Commons would not have to be any bigger than it is now, a group of (say, five) present single-member constituencies would be put together to make one multi-member constituency.

Voters have a single vote, which can be transferred according to their wishes from their first to second choice candidate and so on. They can express their choices for as many or as few candidates as they wish. They vote by writing “1″ against their first choice, “2” against their second and so on as far as they wish.

To be elected, candidates have to obtain a “quota” of the votes cast. The quota depends on the number of votes cast and the number of seats to be filled.

The first choice votes for each candidate are counted. If a candidate reaches the quota, then that candidate is elected. Surplus votes (above the quota) are redistributed in proportion to the wishes of the candidate’s voters and that process continues until all the seats are filled.

If not all places have been filled and there are no surpluses left, then the votes of the candidate with the fewest votes will be transferred to the next choices of that candidate’s voters. If necessary, this is repeated until all the places have been filled.

Please see  page 2 , 8 March 2013 for the main advantages of STV. You may also find FAQ, at the top of this page, useful.

Please e-mail “Subscribe STV News” to if you would like to receive irregular e-mailings about STV.

Europe – Change partners or no partners?

Submitted by editor on Sun, 27/01/2013 – 08:27

In trying to change the UK’s relationship with our European partners, David Cameron may well destroy his Conservative Party’s relationship with its Liberal Democrat coalition partner.

David Cameron has announced his intention, if he remains Prime Minister after the next General Election in 2015, of renegotiating the UK’s membership of the EU and then holding a referendum on the UK’s continued membership.

If, as Mr Cameron must hope, his announcement staunches the haemorrhaging of Conservative votes to UKIP, it must increase his chances of winning the election, but what then? To win outright and form a single party majority Government, the Conservatives must not only regain votes from UKIP, but must also win over Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters and there is little sign of that as yet.

Although anything is possible within the next two years, the best that the Conservatives can hope for at present is to retain their position as the largest single party and be in a position to lead another coalition government. If so, who would their partner be?

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already criticized Mr Cameron’s new EU policy so it is unlikely that either of them would want to be in a Government whose main purpose was to renegotiate with the rest of the EU. UKIP does not really want to negotiate; it simply wants to leave the EU. In any case, it is a fairly safe bet that UKIP will still not have any MPs after the next General Election.

Although of course there have been some strains between the coalition partners, the Government has held together, but Mr Cameron’s EU speech is likely to alienate the Liberal Democrats and make it very difficult for them to work with the Conservatives after 2015. He may well have driven them towards Labour, which many individual Liberal Democrats see as a more natural ally than the Conservatives anyway.

The key question for electoral reformers is whether, if no one party has an overall majority in 2015, will the Liberal Democrats insist on STV, at least for local government in England and Wales, as the price of their support for one of the two major parties?

One of the Liberal Democrats’ problems is that they have been too nice in the past. Some of them get quite embarrassed about pressing for electoral reform because they might benefit from it. They need to be more realistic. In any case, STV would be good for democracy, the people and the country as a whole. Liberal democrats need to stand up and say or, better still, shout that. Perhaps the reality of being in Government since 2010 will have hardened them and made it easier for them to proclaim their belief in STV, which is one of their core policies.

Labour and Conservative supporters show no embarrassment at supporting First Past The Post, which benefits them, so why should Liberal Democrats be embarrassed about supporting STV, which would benefit the people generally?

In the meantime, we fear the Labour and Conservative Parties will not suddenly proclaim support for STV, but their party managers must already be thinking about their manifestos for the General Election in 2015. If they could include a commitment at least to review the voting system for local elections in England and Wales, that would open the door to negotiations with the Liberal Democrats if there is another balanced parliament.

The Liberal Democrats may be disposed to support whichever of the two major parties shows the greater interest in introducing STV for local government.

STV in Jersey by 2018?

Submitted by editor on Sat, 26/01/2013 – 19:42

The Jersey Electoral Commission has recommended STV in multi-member districts for elections to the States of Jersey from 2018. You can visit to see the full report, which also covers other electoral issues.

The island of Jersey is a self-governing Crown dependency with a population of just under 100,000. Its Parliament is called “The States of Jersey”, which has 51 Members now. The island is divided into twelve Parishes which vary greatly in the size of their electoral rolls. At the head of each Parish is a Constable. This is an elected position, which at present carries an automatic seat in the States.

Among other questions, the citizens of Jersey are to be asked by referendum whether they want Constables to remain members of the States. The Commission has recommended that, if they do remain members, they should be elected by AV in single member districts.

We warmly welcome these recommendations for PR and preferential voting and hope they will be implemented. Supporters of electoral reform and their representative organizations may need to help those in Jersey to implement the suggestions.

We must all be very grateful to Derek Bernard (an ERS member in Jersey who first advocated STV and then gave evidence to the Commission), and to James Gilmour and the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, both of whom also gave evidence in favour of STV to the Commission. So far as we know, no other electoral reform organization gave evidence. Derek also wrote numerous letters to the Chairperson of the States’ Privileges & Procedures Committee for three or four years before the formation of the Commission of which she became a member.

So writing to representatives is not always the waste of time you may have thought it was!

STV threatened in Ireland

Submitted by editor on Sat, 26/01/2013 – 15:17

The Irish Times – – reported today that former Fianna Fáil minister Noel Dempsey has called for electoral “reform”, with a reduced Dáil of 100 single-seat constituencies. He also said the Seanad should be retained, with members elected on a list system.

This would not be the first time that politicians in the Republic have tried to ditch STV. Irish Governments have already asked the Irish people twice in referendums and the people had the sense each time to vote to keep STV. It is not untypical that politicians oppose STV because it empowers voters rather than politicians but informed voters, such as the Irish, like STV.

We understand that the voting system in the Republic cannot be changed without the consent of the people in a referendum and we expect that Irish voters will continue to support STV, but we must be vigilant and prepared to help in the defence of STV if necessary.

Electoral law reform

Submitted by editor on Fri, 25/01/2013 – 16:09

The Law Commission for England and Wales has announced –… – “a consultation to consider the reform of the UK’s fragmented and outdated electoral law” although it will exclude the elephant in the room of voting systems. Even so, you may want to give evidence on one or more of the many other issues, which the Commission is considering.

The consultation is not to start until late 2014, but the Commission has issued a Scoping Report, which you can see by clicking on the link above and then on another link. Although the Report is 94 pages long, a skim through will probably enable you to indentify those parts that interest you.

Although the consultation is to exclude voting systems, it should do no harm if you gave evidence that the voting system should be changed. Even if the Commission will not make a recommendation to change the system, your evidence that there should be a change will have been recorded and perhaps all the evidence, including yours, will be published.

As the Commission notes in its Scoping Report, most of the basic law relating to elections is based on First Past The Post (FPTP) even though other systems are used for many elections now, so the basic law has had to be adapted on a somewhat ad hoc basis. The Commission hopes to clarify the law by replacing the ad hoc provisions with more codified ones appropriate to each system.

SV = Silly Voting; 15 November as Annual Wasted Votes Day?

Submitted by editor on Tue, 20/11/2012 – 16:11

A million wasted votes! More than half the winners may not have been the voters’ real choice.

The main complaint of the news media and some reform organizations about the Police and Crime Commissioners’ (PCCs’) elections last Thursday is the abysmally low turn-out; in effect that so many citizens did not use their votes, but what about the votes wasted – more than a million- by those who did vote? They deserve better.

Research by Dr David Hill, a former member of the Electoral Reform Society’s Council, has revealed that 1,078,987 were wasted in those of the PCC elections in

which there were more than three candidates and a further 20,540 were wasted in Bristol’s mayoral election on the same day, making a total of 1,099,527 wasted votes in one day.

Dr Hill treated as “wasted” the difference between the total number voting and those used at the final stage for the candidates who came first and second in the first round of counting and were therefore in the runoff count. Although some of the votes may have been wasted by voters themselves by not expressing a second preference, it seems likely that most were waste because of the way SV (Supplementary Voting) works. With SV, second preference votes for candidates who do not reach the runoff are wasted – not by the voters but by the system.

In 22 voting areas including Bristol for the mayoral election, the number of wasted votes was higher than the winning majority. In other words, if votes had not been wasted, the result might have been different; 22 of the 42 winners may not have been the real choices of the voters.

Among the worst examples were:

– Cambridgeshire where there were 31,849 wasted votes but the winner’s majority was only 6,526;
– Devon and Cornwall where there were 84,003 wasted votes but the winner’s majority was only 32,176;
– Essex where there were 47,220 wasted votes but the winner’s majority was only 3,686;
– Humberside where there were 51,665 wasted votes but the winner’s majority was only 2,231;
– Bristol’s mayoral election where there were 20,540 wasted votes but the winner’s majority was only 6,094.

AV (Alternative Vote) would solve the problem. Second preference – and, indeed later preferences – could all count. None need be wasted and the winner would really represent the majority.

It is curious, to put it mildly, that Mr Cameron and others, who championed First Past The Post (FPTP) against AV last year, have conceded so soon that FPTP is unsatisfactory but, rather than admit the merits of AV, they have forced the really miserable compromise of SV upon us. It acknowledges the faults of FPTP but fails to solve them.

If electoral reformers want an annual event to celebrate the reform movement – to give them a cause to march, hold rallies, write to the media and MPs etc – what about 15 November (the date of this year’s PCC elections) each year as Annual Wasted Votes Day?

SV reduced turnout from 14.9% to 11.4%

Submitted by editor on Thu, 22/11/2012 – 17:15.

In a leading article on 17 November 2012 entitled “Police and the People” The Times questioned the legitimacy of those who have been elected as Police and Crime Commissioners, because of the low turnout. Their legitimacy should also be questioned on the basis of the “Supplementary Vote” system used, which, once again, has shown its absurdity.

Ignoring the 6 areas where there were fewer than 4 candidates, there were 35 elections. In 21 out of these 35, the winning margin was less than the number of votes wasted by the system, because those voters had not mentioned either of the leading two candidates (on the first count) as either of the two choices they were allowed. The worst case was Suffolk, where the winning margin was only 1941, while 13217 voters (who took the trouble to vote) had their wishes ignored in the second count. How can the winner be regarded as having any mandate?

An alternative way of putting it is to say that the low turnout, of only 14.9%, was bad enough, but the SV system reduced the effective turnout to only 11.4%.

The same fault applies to the election for Mayor of Bristol, on the same day, whose winning margin was only 6094, while 20540 votes were wasted by the system. Is there any hope that this miserable system will be replaced by something better, namely “Alternative Vote” which remains a good system? The earlier referendum may have ruled out AV for the foreseeable future for electing MPs, but the (mostly false) reasons given against it in that campaign do not apply to Mayors or Police Commissioners.

(Posted on behalf of Dr. David Hill)

Non-transferable won!

Submitted by editor on Thu, 22/11/2012 – 17:08.

As I put it in Cambridgeshire, Non-transferable won. The total first preference votes that didn’t count in the run off was 31843. The winner got 31640. The form of publication deliberately hides this information, another SV scandal.

(Posted on behalf of Colin Rosenstiel)

ERS AGM resolutions

Submitted by editor on Mon, 19/11/2012 – 23:05

The full results of the resolutions at the Electoral Reform Society’s AGM on 17 November are now available on

Overall, ERS members voted strongly for resolutions to promote STV and strongly against resolutions to reduce the Society’s commitment to STV.


Dan Snow, who made a brilliant video for the Yes team in the AV referendum campaign, was appointed as the Society’s first Ambassador.


The five resolutions (Nod. 3 – 7) calling on priority for STV in local government elections in England and Wales were all passed overwhelmingly with votes of over 91%. In particular, David Smith’s Special Resolution, “Top priority for STV in local government elections”, was passed by 92.1%. As it was a Special Resolution, it needed 75% of the votes, which it surpassed comfortably and it is binding on Council.

So many resolutions on this subject, all passed overwhelmingly, send a very strong

ERS Council & Officer changes

Submitted by editor on Mon, 19/11/2012 – 16:34

Arnie Craven and Jonathan Bartley (Vice-chairman) resigned from the Council of the Electoral Reform Society on 13 July 2012 and 15 September 2012 respectively, having both been elected for the first time in September 2011. They resigned because other commitments made it impossible for them to fulfil all their duties as ERS Council members.

Under the ERS’s rules, the independent scrutineer recounted the 2011 votes to see who the next choices were of the members who had voted for the two who had resigned. Keith Best (longstanding former Council member and former Council Chair) and Ben Lille replaced them.

Anthony Tuffin (Council member except for one year since 1999, Former Treasurer and former Campaigns Committee Chair) retired from the ERS Council on 17 November 2012. Under the rule explained above, he was replaced by Crispin Allard (longstanding former Council member, former Treasurer and former Deputy Chair (Group Relations)).

At a meeting immediately after the AGM on 17 November 2012, the ERS Council elected the following officers:

Chair – Amy Dodd replacing John Ault who had become Chair in 2011 but did not seek re-election.

Vice-chair (Management) – Jessica Asato replacing Jonathan Bartley who had become Vice-chair in 2011 but resigned in September 2012

Deputy Chair (Campaigns) – Andy May replacing Amy Dodd who had just been elected Chair

Deputy Chair (Group Relations) – Keith Sharp re-elected

Treasurer – Chris Carrigan re-elected

A full list of ERS Officers and other Council members may be seen at

“I’m a celebrity …”

Submitted by editor on Wed, 07/11/2012 – 21:27

You all know the story; Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid-Bedfordshire has flown to Australia to take part in the ITV “I’m a celebrity … get me out of here” show for up to a month. The Parliamentary Conservative Party has suspended her from the party, but she will still be entitled to draw her MP’s salary while ITV is paying her to take part in the show.

There are several facets to this story, but we shall concentrate on those of particular interest to electoral reformers.

Some commentators have called for constituents to be given power to recall an MP and then elect a replacement, but the power would have to be very carefully defined or every MP in a marginal constituency would be at risk of being recalled by political opportunists intent on capturing the seat. In a finely balanced parliament, that could even lead to a change of government.

How would the power be defined? It might well apply when an MP had clearly been corrupt or even very careless with expenses claims, but it would be harder to decide exactly where to draw the line with lesser misdemeanours such as absence without leave like Ms Dorries.

It would be nice to think that, even though constituents cannot recall an MP in mid-term, they could sack the MP at the next election simply by voting for a different candidate, but the old First Past The Post voting system does not work like that in safe constituencies such as Mid-Bedfordshire.

If the local party decides to renominate the MP, then it is almost certain that the MP will be re-elected because the party faithful cannot vote against the candidate without also voting against their own party. On the other hand, if the local party decides not to renominate the MP, then it is almost certain that the MP will not be re-elected even if the MP has a good reputation as a constituency MP despite the misdemeanour and stands as an independent.

It would be very different with STV in multi-member constituencies. Each party, or at least each major party, would probably nominate more than one candidate and voters collectively would make the final decision. They could vote against one of a party’s candidates without voting against the party itself.

Another advantage of STV in multi-member constituencies in these circumstances is that the Mid-Bedfordshire constituents would not be unrepresented while Ms Dorries was in Australia. The other MPs for the constituency would still be available.

Although STV would not solve every political problem, it would mitigate several problems as well as providing voters with fairer representation.


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