25 May 2015

All Voting Systems Are Crazy (Except Mine).

Currently with our voting system of first-past-the-post (FPTP), the number of seats a party receives bears little relation to their number of votes.

In the 2010 election campaign, the polls briefly showed the Lib Dems on the most support, yet they were predicted to finish a poor third in seats. The third placed Labour party were predicted to get most seats.

In this general election 5 million votes delivered just 2 seats out of 650 for the Greens and Ukip but 1.5 million votes delivered 56 to the SNP.

Not to forget we now regularly get "majority" government on 30 something percent of the vote. And FPTP is terrible at representing the population. There is a massive under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and the working class.

Most democrats would concede that this is unacceptable. Only the vested interests of Labour and Tory politicians perpetuate this system. It is a democratic disgrace.

Yet the Electoral Reform Society supports another seriously flawed system, the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

This is a system where a candidate can actually increase their number of votes, yet DECREASE their chances of election. Once again unacceptable.

I won't bore you with the details, but if people rejected the Alternative Vote for being too difficult to understand, STV has no chance of being understood!

STV is also (like FPTP) prone to have "wrong winners" (where 2nd in votes wins most seats) and STV is not even that proportional. (though admittedly it is fairer than FPTP). And like FPTP it doesn't lead to representative social groups being elected.

Then there are list systems of PR and I quite like these, as they are proportional and more representative of the population, but it does mean voters feel more distant from politicians.

Whatever the value of a "constituency link", it does allow voters to "link" a politician to a small geographical area. Perhaps this is an illusion of "accountability" when 75% of seats are "safe", but at least a direct link between voters and elected is there.

Finally there are systems that mix more than one of the above systems together but they create 2 classes of MP, with completely different levels of accountability and this mixed system still has the flaws of the systems it combines.

This is where my proportional "fairest" past the post system comes in (see previous post).

Like now, every voter gets one vote. Like now they vote for the candidate of their choice. Like now, the candidates with the most votes are elected. And voters can choose candidates for as local an area as now. The difference is, we get one vote to elect 16 MPs from the county. We can only choose one candidate from our preferred party. So this means each candidate has to appeal to different areas of the county or risk taking votes from their comrades and preventing their election.

The beauty is, my system is self regulating. Voters decide the size of constituency that politicians are accountable to when they decide who to vote for. These areas can overlap or "float" within the county boundaries. Candidates will respond to communities and their level of support to determine where to focus their campaigns.  Parties will try to evenly spread their candidates to achieve just enough votes to be elected but not too many that would split the party votes to thin and risk losing seats.

Parties will naturally target their candidates in geographic areas (although they could do it in other ways - e.g. policy differences) and they will only stand candidates with a good chance of winning to avoid splitting their own vote and losing seats. This automatically ensures proportionality and keeps the ballot paper to a manageable number of candidates.

And because parties stand more than one candidate on the ballot paper, it would be really noticeable if there were no women or minorities or if all the candidates were middle class. Much more pressure to "balance" their offer.

The results are easy to understand. Candidates have to finish high enough in the race to qualify for election. The voters decide who makes the cut.

People like the idea of a race. Our present system has 650 races with first place in each getting to parliament.

My system would have about 50 races, with the top 12 to 16 placed finishers in each race qualifying for parliament (depending on the size of county, counties or boroughs used).

But my system would also deliver fair representation for parties and independents in line with their number of votes. It would also not have arbitrary boundaries decided by faceless bureaucrats.

The big problem with our current boundary based system is, no matter how hard you try, the boundaries will be unfair to those parties who don't concentrate their votes "in the right places".

It is also open to abuse. You may have independent boundary reviewers, but the rules they abide by are written (and skewed) by politicians. Also officials are heavily lobbied by party machines and incumbent MPs.

It is perfectly possible to have drawn different boundaries at the last election (all equally sized) that would have given either Ed Miliband or David Cameron (depending on political taste) a huge landslide victory without changing a single vote. That's how much difference boundary reviews can make. The voters are almost irrelevant and that can't be right.

If you don't believe me, google "gerrymander wheel".

Finally, a party would have to get 50% of the vote (or very close to it) to govern alone under my system. But do we really want one party rule with 35% of the vote? And as multi party voting seems set to increase, how low can we go before this absurdity makes alice in wonderland look sane?


  1. You are mistaken about STV because you are looking at proportionality purely in terms of party. STV goes further than that. It takes power away from the party machines and places it in the hands of the voter, who can use it express opinions on issues within and across parties. STV produces a result that is broadly proportional in terms of opinion as a whole, on the issues that the voters themselves think important. If STV is too complicated to understand, how come the Irish have been coping with it quite happily for decades?

    1. My problem with STV is that it hasn't helped Ireland become a more equal country. It hasn't helped their parliament look like their electorate. It is still dominated by men and the middle classes. And party proportionality and simplicity do matter. We have to accept people rejected AV in a referendum partly because they didn't understand it. Now we may have an inept Yes campaign to blame for some of that. But I have struggled to explain AV to a layperson, how much harder to explain STV. Does it matter if voters don't understand the counting process? I think it does because we need people to fully trust what is going on. Preferential systems ask a lot of voters. Do we really have the knowledge to rank candidates in order. I mean do we know the candidates that well? Most of the time people vote by party afiliation because they haven't the time to find out about candidates. So party proportiinality is important and STV helps centrist parties but not those with more radical ideas. Sorry, but I've never been a fan of STV.

    2. I agree. I think the British people as the AV referendum showed have an aversion to any electoral system which uses preferential or transferable voting. The No to AV were able to very successfully play on that and if we have a future referendum on PR and STV is the only option it could well be lost and if the chance for reform is lost again then that is it FOR ALL TIME. It is essential, therefore, to get the Electoral Reform Society and others to stop their obsession with STV and to just they are in favour of a more proportional system.

  2. I agree we need to change the electoral system. We shouldn't choose STV. It's not proportional, it's too complicated to be inclusive or transparent.
    We should recognise that people vote for both Parties to form the Government and individuals to be the MP. They should have two votes so that they are able to do both.
    It should be a proportional system and the candidates should be known to the local electorate, so we should have an election for the MP based on the single member constituency.

    Other PR systems you may like to consider include AMS used in Scotland and Wales, or if you dislike the party list MP aspect of this system, consider DPR Voting – with simple voting, counting and a proportional system based on single member constituencies

    1. Yes, the Additional Member System as used in Germany (irony of ironies we designed this system for them and imposed it upon Germany so if it is good enough for the Germans then WHY is it not good enough for Britons to use?) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_Germany and the same system in New Zealand (where it is called Mixed-Member Proportional) are good ones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_New_Zealand

  3. I like the idea of a "card voting" system. But there is one problem I'm not sure people would accept. Do we really want Douglas Carswell outvoting 20% of MPs because UKIP got that in the party vote and he is their only MP? Is it really fair that one person wields that much power in parliament? It doesn't feel right to me. I like the idea of every MP having one vote in parliament. Much as I agree with your sentiment that it gives party proportionality. My system can deliver proportionality in a way I think voters could accept. They can see the results in black and white. MPs get the most votes in their county and are elected. Simple.