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Blog Archive

Higgins wins Irish Presidential election by AV

Submitted by editor on Sat, 29/10/2011 – 19:10

Congratulations to Michael D Higgins, who won this AV election against six rivals. With 39.6% of the 1st preference votes compared with 28.5% for Sean Gallagher, the runner-up, he would probably have won if the election had been by first past the post. However, that would have been unsatisfactory. We would not have known how the other 31.9% would have voted once it became clear that their preferred candidates could not win. Under the UK’s first past the post system, he would have won despite 60.4% of voters having voted against him. This would not have been a real mandate.

As it is, the election was held by the Alternative Vote (AV) system, which is so much more democratic than first past the post. As no candidate had at least half the votes in the first stage of counting, the losing candidates were eliminated and their votes were transferred as directed by the voters. Still no candidate had half the votes, so the process was repeated until only the leading two candidates remained.

The result of the final stage of counting was:

Higgins 1,007,194 (61.6%)
Gallagher 628,114 (38.4%).

Thus Mr Higgins had a clear overall majority and a real mandate for the presidency.

This proves the value of AV for filling a single vacancy.

I cannot show the full result in tabular form here, but you can see it at,_2011#Result.

AV for Referendums? Under no circumstances!!

Submitted by Edinburgh on Thu, 27/10/2011 – 22:52

AV (the Alternative Vote) should NEVER be used to decide among policy options offered in a referendum. Why not? Because the policy option that has the greatest overall support could well be rejected in an AV count.

Consider this simple example, where there are three options (A, B and C) and 100 voters. The numbers of voters marking combinations of preferences might be as follows (with irrelevant preferences omitted):
36: A, C
33: B, C
31: C.

None of the three options A, B or C has a majority of the first preference votes, so under the Alternative Vote counting rules, the option with the fewest votes, C, would be eliminated.
But it is perfectly obvious that C is the option that has the greatest level of overall support among the voters.

There are other counting systems that can be applied to such preferential ballots, but they all have their own problems, e.g. resolution of cycles in Condorcet counting. And there would likely be major political problems with some of the possible outcomes, e.g. a winning option which had very little first preference support.

Fortunately all of these problems can be avoided by adopting the “two question” solution. I have used this approach when a group of 146 Proprietors had to make legally binding decisions about the property they owned in common and they were faced with having to decide among three options for the particular aspect of the management of the common property: “No Change”, “Change A”, “Change B”.

These three options resolved into two simple questions, both of which could be given direct “Yes / No” answers.
In the property management case the questions were (in generic terms):
Q1. “Change” or “No Change”.
Q2. If a majority votes for “Change” in response to Question 1: “Change A” or “Change B”.

It was made clear that every voter could (should) vote on Question 2 irrespective of their answer to Question 1. By adopting this approach, clear and unambiguous answers were obtained to show the wishes of the voters.

There was no possibility of problems like those that can be experienced with the Alternative Vote (defeat of “everyone’s second choice”), there were no other technical complications, and there could be no argument about the interpretation of the results.

The options to be considered in the likely Referendum on EU membership could similarly be presented in two separate direct questions and this two-question approach is the voting method that should be adopted for any such Referendum.

James GIlmour

But certainly not FPTP

Submitted by editor on Fri, 28/10/2011 – 10:11.

We welcome comment and discussion and appreciate both James Gilmnour’s point and the anonymous response to it, but we can all agree that a FPTP ballot, which would let one faction win with only just over a third of the votes, would be completely inappropriate.

Ireland votes by AV today

Submitted by editor on Thu, 27/10/2011 – 09:59

Ireland’s voters go to the polls today to elect a President by the Alternative Vote (AV) – the voting system that UK voters rejected in a referendum earlier this year.

There are seven candidates. If the Irish used the first past the post voting system used in the UK, there would be a danger that the winner would have only just over a seventh (say 15%) of the votes; i.e. that nearly six-sevenths (say 85%) of the voters did not want the winner!

Fortunately, Ireland uses the much more democratic AV system, which will make sure that the winner is elected by over half the final votes and will thus enjoy the confidence of the majority.

The result is expected on Saturday afternoon (29 October).

AV for referendums?

Submitted by editor on Mon, 24/10/2011 – 18:41

We’ve had a referendum ON AV. What about referendums BY AV?

The Scottish Government is reported to be considering a three-way referendum on Scotland’s future in the UK and some UK MPs are demanding a three-way referendum on the UK’s future in the EU. In both referendums, the choice would be between:

• Retaining the status quo;
• Negotiating a new relationship within;
• Leaving.

Surely even the most adamant supporter of FPTP and opponent of AV in the recent referendum can see the danger of running a three-way referendum by FPTP.

Would supporters of compete independence accept the result if the status quo won with 33% of the votes with 32% for each of the other two options? How would supporters of the status quo feel about the opposite result? Come to think of it, how would any group feel about coming second in, say, a 44 – 42 – 14 vote?

Frankly, it would be unrealistic and rather silly to assume that the side that came second would accept any such result or that the public would have any faith in it.

The only sensible way to hold a three-way referendum is by AV. It would ensure that the result reflected the views of the majority of voters.

For the benefit of new readers, let’s explain how it works:

Voters would simply vote “1” for their first choice and “2” for their second.

All the first choices would be counted. If one of the three options had more than half the votes at that stage, it would be the winner.

If not, the losing option (in third place) would drop out and its votes would simply be transferred to the second choices of its supporters. Whichever of the two remaining options then had the more votes (i.e. over half) would be the winner.

Then we’d all know which option the majority of voters wanted. Don’t politicians want to know what the majority of voters think?

MP supports AV for EU referendum

Submitted by editor on Wed, 26/10/2011 – 09:59.

Actually he called it STV but it’s the same when voting to find one answer in a multi-question referendum.

Steven Baker (Wycombe, Conservative) in the Commons debate on 24 October 2011 about holding a referendum on EU membership:

“Surely my right hon. Friend must know as well as I do that preferential systems are used in this House for certain votes. Is it not equally the case that for some elections, first past the post is appropriate, and for others, a preferential system is appropriate? Why not have this three-way referendum on the basis of the single transferable vote, as we do in this House for other elections?”

Voter registration

Submitted by editor on Sat, 15/10/2011 – 08:41

Labour politicians may well be right that the Conservatives want to abolish compulsory registration because they (Conservatives) think that voluntary registration would give their party an advantage. However, it is equally true that Labour probably want to keep compulsory registration because they think that favours them.

It’s just like the argument about voting systems. Labour and Conservative politicians accuse the Liberal Democrats of wanting STV so there would be more Liberal Democrat MPs and Councillors but, of course, we all know that Labour and Conservative politicians want to keep FPTP because that gives them more seats nationally than STV would.

Politicians should no more decide such issues than generals should decide whether to go to war. An alternative for voter registration would be a period of public consultation (preferably with politicians keeping quiet, but that might be too much to expect) by the neutral Electoral Commission followed by a recommendation by the Commission.

Compulsory registration is wrong

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sat, 15/10/2011 – 09:29.

I think that voluntary registration would be right for individual registration. Of course, compulsory registration is essential for household registration in case the “head of the household” decides not to register members of the household. However, with individual registration, everyone should have the right to choose for themselves whether to register, just as they have a right to choose whether to vote.

Compulsory registration should be kept only if household registration is kept, but then an alternative solution would be needed to the perceived problems of household registration.

On the other hand, the electoral register is also the basis for jury selection. Jury service is a civic duty that should be unavoidable except in certain, clearly defined, circumstances; it should not be avoidable by simply refusing to register. A possible solution may be to make registration compulsory for jury service with an option not to be registered for voting.

Teenagers to decide on Scottish independence?

Submitted by editor on Thu, 13/10/2011 – 12:03

According to the Mail Online of 13 October, the SNP Government of Scotland proposes to allow 16-18 year olds to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 or 2015. It is calculated that this would add about 125,000 (3%) to the Scottish electorate. Apparently, Scottish teenagers tend to be more nationalistic than their elders so, presumably, the SNP hope that this move will boost the vote for independence.

I understand that a referendum held by the Scottish Parliament would be only advisory so far as the law was concerned but, of course, it could be persuasive and, if there was a majority for independence, the SNP would no doubt claim a moral victory and use it to press the UK Government for independence.

The UK Government, especially one led by the Tories who oppose votes at 16, might say that the result was flawed by the children’s votes and almost certainly would do so if the margin of victory was less that the number of voters under 18. The UK Government might even then hold its own referendum in Scotland for electors with a UK franchise (i.e. over 18) in the hope of getting a different result. Imagine the constitutional wrangling!

Purely from an electoral reform point of view, I believe that Scottish independence would be good for England. I think there would be tremendous pressure, not least from Labour, to introduce PR for what was left of the UK to avoid a permanent Tory government.

Nevertheless, STV Action should remain completely neutral on both Scottish independence and lowering the voting age in Scotland to 16 and I hope that other electoral reform organizations will also avoid taking sides on these issues. Whichever side they took on either of these issues, they would alienate loyal supporters of STV who legitimately held the other view.

STV by any other name

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Tue, 11/10/2011 – 20:03

In STV News 11/05 (the latest edition of my irregular e-newsletter), I mentioned that Alan Wilcox had suggested in that electoral reformers should change the name of STV and I asked for readers’ reaction. Those receive so far are repeated below. Please feel free to blog your own comments.

John Probert:

“Heaven Forbid! STV isn’t in any sense a “British” idea (unless maybe a Brit. was smart enough to invent it!).
It’s a universally valid concept and it would be very demeaning to pander to the baser instincts of nationalism by calling it “British” Proportional Representation.
And why gratuitously upset the Irish? Anyway – aren’t we all (except UKIP) Europeans now?”

Comment: It’s true that it is a universally valid concept but, actually, a Brit (Thomas Wright Hill) first proposed transferable voting in 1821 and another Brit (Thomas Hare) is generally credited with the conception of STV in the 1850s. I discovered very recently that it was once called “British Proportional Representation”.

Colin Buchanan:

“Having sold STV for Council elections in an international professional body to which I belong (and acted as returning officer for 24 years for them), I am extremely doubtful about claiming it is ‘British’ (even if Mill and Hare have the initiating credit). One wouldn’t want to sell universal suffrage, or secret ballots, or scrupulous methods of counting as ‘British’ – they are clearly right, and in no sense sectional or partisan. So I urge retention of a name on the tin which describes what is in it.
We could perhaps redub FPTP this way (as you know, I am very doubtful about the usefulness of the existing title as a boo-word – the NO campaign even made a virtue of it). Suppose we dub them the ‘British Random Electoral System’?”

Comment: Or perhaps we could reduce some of FPTP’s apparent simplicity by using its more formal name, “Single Member Plurality system”.

Piers Milne:

“For what it’s worth, I absolutely hate the BPR mouthful and think it would be an absolute disaster as a name. STV in the short form may also have had its day. However, the full name, by containing the word Single, could still be a winner because it automatically thwarts the “people would get more than one vote” killer which the No campaign used to devastating effect against AV in the Referendum last year. Also STV was seldom mentioned during the Referendum, in either the short or full forms, except as a future goal, and no part of the AV Yes campaign made more than passing reference to it, so it didn’t attract the abuse and invective that AV did and might continue to be a “marketable product”. If it is actually effective to appeal to the traditionalists, how about: “The New Single British Vote”?”

ERS AGM & Annual Meeting overview

Submitted by editor on Tue, 04/10/2011 – 19:03

Despite the worst fears of many electoral reformers, most of the decisions at the ERS’s formal AGM and informal Annual Meeting on 3 September were sensible and none was totally unacceptable. Members strongly confirmed their support for preferential voting generally and for STV in particular.

A special resolution to remove STV from the Society’s objects was defeated comfortably.

Three resolutions expressing support for STV were all passed overwhelmingly.

A resolution to bring the Mission Statement more into line with the Society’s objects, by giving STV a little more prominence, was narrowly defeated at the meeting but passed decisively by post.

A resolution to campaign for the preferential AV, instead of the rather silly SV, to be used in elections for mayors and police commissioners was also passed overwhelmingly.

Two resolutions in favour of direct democracy were both defeated, one of them decisively. It would have been a contradiction for an organization dedicated to improve representative democracy to support direct democracy.

The only ambivalent resolution passed was one that called for an “Annual March for Greater Democracy”. This could be quite a good idea if – a big “if” – one could persuade enough people to participate to make an impression, but the main problem will probably be in the detail. There have been suggestions that the marches could be for all sorts of objectives that some people think are good democratic causes. Indeed the proposer of the resolution has suggested that the ERS Council should choose the issue(s) to promote each year.

This could dissipate the ERS’s resources and split the Society. For example, although we are all supposed to support STV and I am sure every one of us supports PR, we don’t all support establishing English regional assemblies, lowering the voting age or holding a referendum on leaving the EU each of which, to many, is essential to democracy. Of course, some members may support one or two of these but not all three while others would oppose all three. However, the march may be a good idea for an organization with broader aims than the ERS; e.g., Unlock Democracy.

Results of all the resolutions may be seen on and

Workshop on Irish STV election

Submitted by editor on Tue, 04/10/2011 – 10:21

The McDougall Trust runs a series of workshops on voting systems and related matters.

The next one may be of particular interest to STV Action readers as it is about the Irish General Election this year which, of course, was by STV. The workshop, “Voting Patterns and Public Opinion: Analysis from the 2011 Irish National Election Study”, will be:

on Wednesday 19 October 2011, 13.00 -14.30 (with a short break at 13.55)
at Lakeman Library, 6 Chancel Street, London SE1 OUX.

Please visit for more details.

Places are limited. If you would like to go, please contact the Trust’s Executive Secretary, Paul Wilder (telephone: 020 7620 1080, e-mail by noon on Monday, 17 October 2011.

Further workshops are planned for 29 November 2011, 27 March 2012 and April 2012.

The McDougall Trust is a registered charity that promotes discussion of all electoral systems and related representation and democracy matters.

Reducing MPs and boundary changes

Submitted by editor on Sun, 02/10/2011 – 22:11

This excellent letter from Martin Pugh appeared in the Hexham Courant on 27 September. It provides us all with a model that would need little adaptation to be made suitable for other parts of the UK.

“Reducing the number of MPs by 50 is wrong in principle. Why? Because this makes the ministerial ‘payroll’ vote effectively larger and thus makes it almost impossible to defeat any government policy however bad.

It is no use blaming the Boundary Commission. It simply implements the policy of the Conservative-led coalition, and in a county like Northumberland with undersized seats at both ends (Berwick and Hexham) drastic changes are inevitable.

In my estimation the effect of the proposed alterations is that the Conservatives will probably not return a single MP in the entire North-East.

Yet as the party polls about a quarter of the votes in the region it is morally entitled to more not fewer MPs. Only one answer to this dilemma is known to political science: ditch our crazy, undemocratic electoral system in favour of a proper scheme of proportional representation using the single transferable vote.

Conservatives who wish to work toward this end should join the all-party Electoral Reform Society.”



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