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Wasted votes in “greatest democracy”

Submitted by editor on Mon, 05/11/2012 – 22:51

The vast majority of Americans who vote will waste their votes in tomorrow’s presidential election.

The system is similar to that used in UK parliamentary elections where each constituency elects an MP and, in effect, the MPs choose the Prime Minister. Americans do not elect their president. Each state elects members of an electoral college and the college elects the President.

Most Americans live in safe states, just as most UK voters live in safe constituencies. For example, there is not much point in voting in California, which is safe for Obama or Texas, which is safe for Romney.

Just as UK politicians usually concentrate on a handful of marginal constituencies and ignore the safe ones, so American politicians tend to concentrate on a handful of swing states and ignore the safe ones.

As in the UK, it is possible for one party to win the election with fewer votes than its main rival. Although less likely than in the UK because there is not a third party of reasonable size in the States, it is also possible for the winner to win with fewer than half the votes.

The solution, as recognized by some US reform groups, is two-fold:

• Abolish the electoral college and let the American people elect the President direct so that every vote can count.
• Vote by the Alternative Vote (AV), which the Americans call “Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)” to make it possible for every vote to count even when there is a strong third candidate and to ensure that the winner has more than half the votes in the last stage of counting.

Practical ERS resolutions to promote STV

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sun, 04/11/2012 – 20:55

Vote FOR ERS AGM Resolutions Nod. 17 and 18!

No. 17 (“Promoting proportional voting systems in 2012”) is an excellent resolution setting out exactly what the ERS should be doing – exactly what STV Action would do if we had the resources.

Mainly, the resolution calls on Council to explore modern, technological ways of promoting preferential voting. It also urges Council to promote preferential voting among civil society as STV Action has been advocating for some time: http://stvaction.org.uk/node/394. 31 Aug 2011, Page 9

I’m delighted that the ERS Council has recommended you to vote for this resolution and I hope you do. Passing it, especially by a large majority, will strengthen Council’s mandate to divert resources to these purposes.

Although Council is recommending you to vote for this resolution, it has expressed some concern about the likely cost of implementing it. Of course, one cannot ignore cost and it needs to be calculated, but I do not think that it would be a major problem if you tell Council that you want it done and Council sets its collective mind on doing it. There are other economies that could be made to help pay for it.

Incidentally, you passed a resolution last year by a large majority to promote STV within civil society, but there has been nothing to show for it. Perhaps, with Council supporting the resolution this year, something will be done this time. We shall see.

Resolution 18 (“Recommendations of the Siederer Commission”) makes good sense to me.

It is a short resolution that simply asks Council to campaign “in a way that is both lucid and intellectually robust”; “potential objections to STV (practical and theoretical) should be identified, critically discussed and counter arguments developed.”

Lack of this intellectually robust thinking contributed to the defeat of the “Yes” campaign in the referendum. Shouldn’t we learn from past mistakes?

I am more sad than angry that Council decided to recommend you to vote against this sensible and constructive resolution. Council has written, “We take on board the need to do more work in this area but we do not wish to undertake the kind of prescriptive study that this motion would entail.” Of course, I welcome the undertaking to do more work but, if you read the resolution, you can see that it is not particularly prescriptive.

If you pass this resolution, you will strengthen those Council members who really do want more work done on this.

When a Government or the Council of a voluntary organization asks the ERS what STV counting rules it recommends, the ERS (as the world’s leading authority on the subject) must be able to provide an intellectually honest answer. I believe we should campaign for STV in local government without specifying how the votes should be counted but, if – let’s say “when” – we win that argument, we must have an answer ready when the Civil Service wants our advice on filling in the legislative details.

Vote FOR ERS AGM Resolutions Nod. 17 and 18!

Mixed result

Submitted by editor on Sun, 18/11/2012 – 22:09.

Resolution No. 17 was passed and No. 18 was narrowly defeated, but Council stated regarding the latter, “We take on board the need to do more work in this area”.

Horses for courses – don’t relegate STV

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sun, 04/11/2012 – 11:11

Vote AGAINST three ERS AGM resolutions (Nos. 23, 24 & 25), which would reduce the priority for STV among ERS activities even more than it has been reduced already!

The proposer of these three resolutions, especially of No. 23 (“Single umbrella organisation for constitutional reform”) reminds me of the cricketer who joined a football club and then complained that the club did not provide facilities for cricket.

Although there may be some merit in having a “Single umbrella organisation for constitutional reform”, that is not the role of, or for, the ERS; Unlock Democracy perhaps, but not the ERS.

Resolution 23 is misconceived. It refers three times to the ERS’s “prejudice” in favour of STV. That’s rather like accusing W H Smith of being prejudiced towards selling books and newspapers. WHS was founded to sell them and, although it now sells other items as well, it still sells books and newspapers. The ERS was founded to campaign for a truly representative voting system and decided that STV was the only system that met its criteria. The ERS also does other things, but the promotion of STV remains, and must remain its core object. The promotion of STV is why many of us joined the ERS.

Of course, any one of several PR systems could provide party proportionality and if that was all we wanted, any one of those systems would do but the ERS exists to promote PERSONAL proportionality and voters’ freedom of choice and only STV does that.

The resolution asks for references to STV to be deleted from the Articles. The only way to achieve that would be to propose a special resolution actually to amend the Articles. Such a resolution was defeated at last year’s AGM and, only as recently as this July, ERS members voted to confirm STV as the Society’s main object.

Resolution No. 24 (“Reform of Democratic Governance as the Society’s greater end”) from the same proposer is similar.

As Council has responded, “The best way to deliver reform is to collaborate with organisations like Unlock Democracy not to duplicate their efforts.” I believe that Unlock Democracy (“UD”) and the ERS are both needed for different purposes; UD to campaign on a broad front for democratic reform generally and the ERS to provide the sharp point of the campaign for STV.

Resolution No. 25 (“ Proof of Concept”) from the same proposer is not as openly anti-STV as Nos. 23 and 24 and the idea is not bad in itself, but it would be a distraction from the ERS’s main purpose; a diversion of scarce resources. It is the kind of project that would be more suitable for UD than for the ERS.

Horses for courses. The ERS and UD should not compete with each other by overlapping on a wide range of issues, but concentrate on their particular main aims and co-operate where their interests overlap. The ERS should campaign mainly for STV and UD should campaign on the broader programme of reform.

Vote AGAINST ERS AGM resolutions Nos. 23, 24 & 25!

Anti-STV resolutions defeated

Submitted by editor on Mon, 19/11/2012 – 19:31.

These three resolutions were all defeated decisively. Together with the success of six specifically pro-STV resolutions, this confirms ERS members’ support for STV despite fears that a larger membership would dilute, or even overturn, that support.

Horses for courses – don’t relegate STV

Submitted by Peter Morley – … on Sun, 04/11/2012 – 21:11.

Absolutely right, Anthony. The Society was set up to promote better representation for individuals, people, not political parties. This country has had enough of party control so that our MPs cannot always represent our views. That is why the Irish had, and lost, two referendums to remove STV. The voters wanted to keep the power STV gave them to have an influence, whereas the Prime Minister wanted more power over the cabinet that he would gain without it.
You are also quite right in my case. I joined to get STV as THE system for public elections in this country. Without that as the Society’s main object, it becomes all things to all people. Keep ERS strong with STV at the front of our campaigning.

Save the ERS

Submitted by Anonymous on Sun, 04/11/2012 – 14:40.

I fully agree with you Anthony. Let the ERS do what it does best – campaign for STV – and let UD do what it does best – campaign for reform broadly. I’ll vote against these 3 ill-thought resolutions.

STV provides continued representation

Submitted by editor on Sat, 03/11/2012 – 15:00

At last, Denis MacShane has done the right thing by resigning from Parliament because of his expenses claims.

If he had not resigned to open the way for a new MP for Rotherham, his one-year suspension would have left his constituents unrepresented for a year. As it is, they will be unrepresented for a short while until there is a bye-election.

The same situation occurs when an MP dies, resigns or becomes a peer. It can be similar when MPs become Ministers because loyalty to the Government may inhibit them from representing their constituents robustly.

This would not happen with STV because constituencies would be larger than they are now and there would be a number of MPs for each one. If one of a constituency’s MPs became unavailable for any reason, other MPs would still be there.

With STV, the people of Rotherham would not have been unrepresented at all. They would simply have had fewer MPs; say, four instead of five.

STV for local government

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sat, 03/11/2012 – 10:53

Vote FOR the five ERS AGM resolutions (Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7) to promote STV for local government!

• Scotland & Northern Ireland already have STV for local government elections. Why not England & Wales?
• ERS members passed three resolutions at the 2011 AGM calling for STV for local government, but you would not know it from the ERS’s website and briefings.
• The ERS Council decided this year that STV for local government would be one of its top three priorities, but you would not know it from the ERS’s website and briefings.

You can visit  5 April 2012, Page 6

for more on STV for local government.

These five resolutions all vary in detail and emphasis but, if you vote against any of them because you don’t agree with all the details, you will be voting against campaigning for STV for local government elections. I urge you to think about the principle, rather than the details, and vote for all five resolutions.

Resolution No.3 (“Top priority for STV in local government elections”) is especially important and worth supporting.

David Smith has very cleverly spotted a provision in the new constitution that the Society adopted in July and has proposed this resolution under that provision. The advantage of it is that, if it is passed, it will be legally binding on Council. The disadvantage of it is that it needs 75% of the votes to be passed, so it also needs extra support.

Council, despite supporting the other four, very nearly advised ERS members to vote against this one because several Council members were unhappy that it would be binding. However, Council eventually decided to support it and, if it is passed with the necessary 75% of the votes, it will really strengthen Council’s mandate to campaign on this issue and make it legally impossible for Council not to prioritize STV for local government.

Accordingly, may I please ask you especially to vote for David Smith’s resolution (No. 3)?

Strong support for STV in local government among ERS members

Submitted by editor on Sun, 18/11/2012 – 22:26.

All five of these resolutions were passed yesterday with very large majorities.

As No. 3 was a Special Resolution and it achieved more than 75% of the votes, it is binding on Council.

It is to be hoped that Council will be influenced by this strong expression of support by ERS members for giving priority to campaigning for STV in local government, especially as three similar resolutions were pased last year and others in previous years.

It would be very encouraging to see STV for local government feature prominently on the ERS website.

STV for Jersey?

Submitted by editor on Thu, 01/11/2012 – 22:17

Jersey’s Electoral Commission has recommended in its Interim Report, available via www.electoralcommission.je, large multi-member constituencies with either 7 or 5 members and has said that it is considering STV:

“Expert advice received by the Commission suggests that
there is a strong case for the introduction of a transferable
vote system in relation to elections. It is said that, particularly
in multi-member constituencies, a “first past the post” system
can allow a less popular candidate to be elected. The
Commission wishes to recommend a system that is both fair
and simple, and intends to give this suggestion more careful
consideration”

Democracy for democrats (or Who guards the guardians?)

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Thu, 01/11/2012 – 09:43

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) must be an exemplar in democracy. Its internal democracy must be beyond reproach. Its members must have absolute confidence in the process and its staff must be beyond all suspicion.

Detailed regulations govern all the ERS’s internal elections. ERSL is the independent scrutineer to open and count all the votes for the ERS Council and there is an independent Elections Panel to rule on any complaints.

Some members were unhappy that ERS’s own staff opened the proxy votes for the poll on the special resolution to change the constitution in July.

I have proposed two resolutions for the AGM on 17 November so that:

1. ERSL will be the independent scrutineer of all polls on resolutions and open and count all the proxies and
2. The Elections Panel will be able to rule on complaints about such polls.

Chris Carrigan (the ERS’s Treasurer) is seconding these resolutions. You may remember that he and I took opposite views on the new constitution five months ago, but we are united on this issue.

I hope that all ERS members who read this will vote for both resolutions and try to persuade others to vote for them. They are numbers 10 and 11 on the list of resolutions, “Conduct & Supervision of polls on resolutions”.

Although a majority of Council members is advising ERS members to vote against the resolutions, they have not offered any substantive reasons for their opposition and I feel sure that most of you will vote FOR the resolutions to improve the ERS’s own democracy. Isn’t it a “no-brainer”? Shouldn’t ERS polls, just like elections, be conducted by ERSL and supervised by the Elections Panel?

But PLEASE don’t take it for granted that we shall win. Resolution No. 10 is a Special Resolution and needs 75% of the votes to win.

Even if you plan to attend the AGM in person, please – just in case you don’t get there – appoint the Chair of the meeting as your proxy and mandate him or her to vote FOR Resolutions 10 and 11, “Conduct & Supervision of polls on resolutions”. If you are able to go anyway, you’ll be able to vote in person instead.

I am also proposing three other AGM resolutions, all to improve ERS’s internal democratic arrangements. They are numbers 8, 9 and 14. I hope you will vote for them all, but I especially recommend number 14, “Council members’ attendance records” to you.

It would merely make the Society provide you with Council members’ attendance records at every ERS Council election like some other organisations, such as the Consumers’ Association, do and as the ERS used to do.

This would be good practice anyway, but the very low attendance at recent Council meetings has brought the issue to the fore. Of the 15 Council members, only 8, 9, 6 (this one a teleconference) and 8 attended the last four Council meetings.

Other Council members are opposing this, but I could not comment on their possible motives!

Vote FOR Resolutions 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14, especially 10, 11 and 14.

Please contact editor if you have any queries.

Improved democracy within the ERS

Submitted by editor on Sun, 18/11/2012 – 22:03.

All of these resolutions except No. 10 were passed yesterday. Altough No. 10 received 67.2% of the votes, it failed because it was a Special Resolution that needed 75% to pass.

As a result:

– Future resolution polls will be conducted by ERSL and supervised by the Elections Panel. 71.1% of the votes were in favour.

– The Panel will report after each ERS Council election and after each general meeting at which there are resolutions.

– There are now mechanisms for removing inactive Elections Panel members and filling casual vacancies on the Panel.

– When Council members seek re-election, their attendance records will be sent to members.

The failure of Resolution No. 10 to attain the required 75% should not make any difference in practice. The resolution would have made it impossible for Council to change ERSL’s and the Elections Panel’s responsibility for polls on resolutions without the consent of members, but surely it would be inconceivable for Council to change something approved by 71.1% of the voting members.

EU President by AV

Submitted by editor on Wed, 31/10/2012 – 17:43

Tony Blair has called for a directly elected EU President http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20120745. No doubt that will delight Europhiles and anger Europhobes.

STV Action is neutral on whether there should be a directly elected EU President, but surely we can all agree that, if there are to be such elections, they should be democratic and the winner should truly represent most voters.

A First Past The Post Election would clearly not achieve that. A typical result would be A 38%, B 35%, C 20% and others 7%. In any case, no other EU member nation would accept such a crude voting system.

The French method of two rounds of voting would be a little better, but it has three major disadvantages:

• To cast effective votes, electors first have to guess which candidates will be the top two in the first round;
• As in France recently, the first two in the first round may represent the centre right and the far right so, in the second round, centre left voters have to vote for the centre right to defeat the far right candidate;
• Some electors will suffer from election fatigue and not turn out the second time;
• Two rounds are more costly than one.

The best solution is the system that the Irish use to elect their President. It is the much maligned Alternative Vote (AV) or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as our American cousins call it:

• It ensures that the winner represents more than half the voters;
• Voters do not have to guess;
• There is only one round of voting;
• Voting and counting are both very simple.

AV would be especially appropriate for an EU Presidential election. If you were a British member of Party X, your first choice could be a British candidate from that party. Then, for your second choice, you could select either a foreign candidate from the same party or another British candidate from a different party.

One Nation

Submitted by editor on Wed, 31/10/2012 – 14:09

Disraeli invented One Nation Conservatism, Cameron has revived it and Milliband (Ed) has declared that Labour is a One Nation party.

But how can this be?

Look at the Commons. Most of Scotland, Northern England and the inner cities are represented by Labour MPs although a substantial minority of people in those areas vote Conservative. Most of Southern England and the shires are represented by Conservative MPs although a substantial minority of people in those areas vote Labour.

This exaggerates political differences between areas and creates a Two Nations nation.

With few inner city MPs, the Conservative Party cannot be expected to appreciate inner city problems. With few rural MPs, the Labour Party cannot be expected to appreciate rural problems.

The only way for the party political map of the Commons to resemble the party political map of the country is to introduce proportional representation (PR).

Although any form of PR would achieve that, only STV could achieve a more accurate political map with, for example, fair representation for Europhiles and Europhobes as well as for the parties. Only STV would allow voters, rather than parties, to choose more women MPs if they wished.

Votes at 16 & Scottish independence

Submitted by editor on Mon, 15/10/2012 – 18:55

Sparked by the decision to let 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum, there is an interesting discussion on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19908031.

STV Action is neutral on whether the minimum voting age should be reduced from 18 to 16 and on whether Scottish voters should vote for independence.

However, reducing the voting age especially for one ballot could present a problem. If the majority is smaller than the number of under 18s believed to have voted, whichever is the losing side may cry “foul”.

Supporters of lowering the voting age claim that there would be a high turnout of under 18s fresh from studying citizenship at school and, having acquired the habit of voting while young, they would continue to vote as they grew older.

Opponents point out that 18 – 24 year-olds have a very poor voting record and suggest that lowering the minimum age would reduce turnout further.

The actual turnout for 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum and how it compares with the turnout for older electors may provide evidence for one side or the other and be a pointer to the likely outcome if the minimum voting age for UK elections was reduced. We shall watch the turnout figures with interest.

Quite apart from the arguments for and against reducing the voting age, we believe it is more urgent to reform the voting system itself. Although every vote can count in a straight yes or no referendum, most votes for over 18s are wasted in First Past The Post elections, so we see little point in giving votes, most of which will also be wasted, to under 18s. We should first change the voting system to STV.

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