Proportionality in Elections

Elections are the foundation of our democracy. A constitution should enshrine the principle of free and fair elections, ensuring that everyone has the right to participate (directly or indirectly), to vote, to stand as a candidate and to put forward their political views. But fair elections should also entail that everyone’s voice is heard, and that their votes translate directly into electoral outcomes.

The current political system is under strain. Fewer citizens are turning out to vote, our political institutions are not widely trusted and citizens’ faith in politics to respond to society’s challenges is waning. Our Victorian-era political system is failing to provide a place for citizens of today to engage and take part in the governing of their country. Far from being at the heart of our democracy, formal political institutions are being passed over as citizens choose other arenas to take political action.

Politics is changing. Citizens’ political choices are increasingly spread across a wider range of political parties, with a decline in support for the two major parties. There are fewer two-party marginal seats as votes have coalesced geographically, making it less likely that seats will change hands.

Correspondingly, the outcomes of elections under First Past the Post are failing to produce the single-party governments for which the system is designed. The electoral system for the House of Commons is failing by its own standards, and its operation is increasingly dysfunctional. Disproportionality between votes and seats is increasing, and individuals’ votes are effectively becoming more unequal. At the ballot box, votes are wasted and representatives are being elected on small percentages of the vote, bringing into question their mandate to govern.

 

Reforming the electoral system to provide fair elections must be a priority in a constitution for a 21st century democracy and beyond. The principle of proportionality in elections should therefore be enshrined in the constitution.

edited on Mar 17, 2015 by Noita Sadler

Daniel Gaunt Apr 5, 2015

First key issue that needs to be established before going further: which proportional system is going to be the constitutional one? 

BananaPlant Apr 7, 2015

I think it is stv is it not?

BananaPlant Apr 7, 2015

I have just remembered that we agreed to have STV as our voting system did we not?

Daniel Gaunt Apr 7, 2015

No. There were several variants of a proportional system made it through to stage 2. Personally I prefer the considered proposal set out by James Grindrod in 'A Vote that Counts'. 

https://constitutionuk.com/category/view#/post/98945

Tom Austin Apr 8, 2015

Yes JG did put a lot of work into it, I'm no nearer understanding quite what the vote is to get out of any degree of PR/AV.

James Grindrod Apr 9, 2015

Hi Degauntier - and thank you!

I know that a lot of reformers think that STV is a sort of gold standard. I once did too - and I can still understand its attractiveness - but the more I have read, the more I have questioned this.

STV is said to put politicians in the hands of the people and not the party machine. But this isn't supported by the evidence. Ireland has been dominated by the same three parties for most of its post-indepence history. Fianna Fail and, in the current Dail, Fine Gael, have been systematically over-represented. And people's votes only "count" if they use their lower preferences for one of the candidates who is actually likely to win. Furthermore, the choice of candidates is actually more limited than is often promised. For example, in Scottish local elections, most parties stand one candidate, with only Labour or SNP (and sometime both) putting up two.

Another disadvantage is that the outcome can vary considerably depending on such things as: how many seats there are in a constituency; where the boundaries are drawn; how many parties stand; how many candidates each party stands; how and whether voters "split their ticket" (i.e. vote for different parties); and, of course, whether a voter uses one of their preferences for a winning candidate or not. This means that whether someones vote counts or not depends on where they happen to live; and the outcome for parties is dependent not on their popular support, but on structural variables. This cannot be right - and it need to not be the case, if we just open our minds to systems outside of STV. (These defects are not limited to STV, by the way.)

An example: where I live, I could be in a three-seat STV council ward. The likelihood is that it would elect 2 Con and 1 Lab. If I vote Green or LD, my vote would not count. Unless, of course, I gave one of my preferences to Labour (or, more specifically, to the winning labour candidate). This would help Labour win, which might be better than a third Conservative from a Green or LD supporter's point-of-view, but it's a Lab councillor is not a Green or LD one.  But, in this example, I don't really want to vote Labour, I want to vote Green or LD. So how would this be empowering the voter and weakening the big parties? All it would be doing is more proportionally allocating seats amongst the dominant parties.

I chose the principles and systems that I did because I wanted my vote to count. Under them, my vote would count where-ever I lived - even if I didn't end up with a Green or LD representative if my three-seat ward.

I could go on - but I think I'll leave it here for now!

Thanks again,

James

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Daniel Gaunt Apr 11, 2015

This was why I proposed the transitional funding approach to developing smaller parties. Whichever firm of PR you adopt (STV, Open/Closed list, Biproportional Apportionment), you still need more than three parties or options to vote for. So there has to be a policy decision which says, "we will spend public money developing smaller parties, even ones whose policies many people will be very much against, because this is good and in the interests of good representative democracy". 

John Robertson Apr 11, 2015

I suggest "constituency may change to an approved system by referendum" somewhere in the text, with the Alternative Vote and perhaps others being spelled-out on an approved list.

(I can't get my head around the lobbyist role of an MP if elected in a multi-member constituency: which MEP or London Assembly member to you approach?)

James Grindrod Apr 13, 2015

It would not be possible to have different electoral systems in different electoral districts - is that what you mean?. If so, then apart from the practical difficulties, or impossibilities, of having different systems in different constituencies, there is the moral imperative to ensure that a fair electoral system applies to everyone, everywhere. And I believe it should not be in the power of my fellow citizens to deny me a vote that counts through a referendum.

If you mean that different local authorities should be able to have different systems, then the answer is similar: if we were in a position to implement our ideas, then we would start from the position of all local authorities having the same, proportional, system. And, again, people should not be able (through referendum or otherwise) to deny other people a vote that counts by choosing a less proportional system.

In terms of what who to go to in multi-seat constituencies: well, you choose the person you like most (probably from the party you like most - but that doesn't have to be the case). This is better than the current situation where you only have the choice of one person - whether you like them or not, and whether you like their party or not.

John Robertson Apr 13, 2015

Thanks for reading!
Personally, I think a way for constituencies to choose from an approved list of say two systems would break the log-jam of dis-interest. Interesting to see other opinions.

Personally, I found that Greater London Assembly members were not willing to spend an hour ushering-me in to a meeting with the British Fashion Council, dispite agreeing with my points enough to ask questions of the Mayor and dispite being paid double the average wage and having spare time for one or two other jobs each! If there were some other way for me to meet the British Fashion Council I wouldn't mind but I don't know of one.

In their defence, there is meant to be one physical constituency MP in the London system and mine is a bad person. The others just avoided contact, or in one case a keen new assistant fed back to me that "Darren Johnson asked if you were a constituent".

Thanks again and no need to reply.

14.04.2014-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Oddly enough I've made a similar point the other way headed "the right to national insurance", which is partly to protect our benefits from being devolved to the whims of local councils as social care has been without success. So my position is that I can relax about voting systems so long as the benefits system and major laws are controlled at the centre.

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James Doran Apr 7, 2015

I think my proposal, that there should be a principle of "one person, one vote" is relevant here.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 7, 2015

Does that rule out STV? One of the misplaced criticisms of AV (not in any way proportional) was that 'some votes would be counted more than once'.

 

James Doran Apr 10, 2015

My concern is with the word "person" - a natural person in contrast to a corporate body.

Rob G Apr 10, 2015

Would you care to expand on that? With the exception of the City of London local government elections, where do corporate bodies have any involvement in casting votes?

James Doran Apr 10, 2015

Nowhere. I wish to bind future governments, though. Not hard to imagine votes being allocated in proportion to economic worth, and thus allocated to corporate entities, under a future government.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 10, 2015

Surely that is an issue for the preamble? 

For the purposes of this Constitution a person shall be defined as an individual, living human being etc

 

James Doran Apr 10, 2015

In the context of voting, it may be necessary to repeat this, though?

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David Andersson Apr 7, 2015

An open list, or semi-open list system would be another alternative, which would give voters the opportunity to express preferences contrary to the party list. Another important point is whether there should be one national constituency or what the district magnitude (the nr of MPs elected in each constituency) should be? One national constituency could mean that they party system becomes very fragmented, while to small a district magnitude would not increase proportionality enough.

James Grindrod Apr 9, 2015

Hi Urbaniserad. Could I refer you to my proposal, 'A Vote that Counts' (https://constitutionuk.com/category/view#/post/98945), which gives the principles behind this in some detail. It is possible to combine the proportionality of a nation-wide district, with the localism of small-to-medium multi-seat districts.

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David Andersson Apr 10, 2015

Hi James,

I've had a look at your proposals and I think they look very interesting. The general principle seem fairly uncontroversial for any proportional system. With regards to the constituency size I would suggest, following an argument put forward by Carey and Hix (2011), that a district magnitude of somewhere around 5-8 would be ideal. This could then be somewhat supplemented like the Scandinavian systems with adjustment seats, although I would suggest a lower number to force parties to also campaign for the permanent seats.

I agree that it might be wise to have a threshold. While some people seem to view parties as inherently illegitimate they do serve an important coordination function. When the party system becomes too fragmented it becomes more difficult to build stable coalitions and narrow interest groups might get disproportionately influential.In the article I mentioned earlier they also talk about the effect of our (as voters) psychological limitations - it's hard to differentiate between party choices when they start to get much above 7.

I am a little bit confused with regards to your use of the d'Hondt method. What purpose does this serve compared to using the same method in the constituency as the national level?

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James Grindrod Apr 13, 2015

Hi Urbaniserad,

With regards to district magnitude: both of the systems I suggest have an optimum of 7-13, but there could actually be instances of smaller and larger districts to suit local circumstances (e.g. keeping a county or city as a single unit). The Danish system, (my model for Example A), has districts ranging in size from 10 to 21 seats (or 14 to 18 with adjustment seats). Turnouts of around 80% are the norm in Denmark(!!) so, whilst I doubt this is only down to the electoral system, the large district magnitudes don't seem to be putting people off voting (and the Danes are comparatively happy with it). The benefit of having largish magnitudes is that they can represent a very broad range of local opinions - and most parties have to field multiple candidates. There will almost always be someone from a party you voted for - and very often a candidate you chose too. So, whilst I am open-minded on the subject, my inclination is, at the very least, to not rule larger districts out just yet. Larger magnitudes are a particular problem in STV because ranking people in a meaningful way becomes less likely after the first three or four choices. (I will read the Carey and Hix piece you mention, by-the-way.)

With regards to d'Hondt: this is a direct copy from the Danish system. The reason for using it is to act as an alternative threshold to the 2% nation-wide one. As you probably know, it is slightly bias towards larger parties, so it is ideal in if you want to prevent party fragmentation, and discourage extreme parties, but allow for a local threshold as well as a national one. The Danes use it because, as I say above, they have large district magnitudes, so it might otherwise be too easy to get passed the threshold. I've adopted it too, as one of the two thresholds I propose. However, if it were decided that district magnitudes would be small, then Sainte Lague could be used in stead. D'Hondt would NOT be used as the actual allocation method for the final, overall, result. In all the examples I give, this figure is calculated using Sainte Lague, so that the overall result (of the parties that get passed the threshold) is entirely proportional.

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Tom Austin Apr 7, 2015

Is this idea to do with anything other than give those islands of Red in a sea of Blue constituency, and the islands of Blue in an ocean of Red constituency, an opportunity to add their, otherwise 'wasted', vote to the Nationwide vote count?

I must say, it strikes me as more of a cosy chat about abstracts and permutations. What possible place (Party) Political 'policy', let alone publicly desired policies, has in this escapes me.

Ian Hodgson Apr 8, 2015

A system of pr that still links a mp or mps to a constituency would be good as many people identify with their local mp. People in the UK are likely to know their local mp rather than their MEP chosen through a region party list pr system

 

James Grindrod Apr 9, 2015

Hi Ian. I'm not sure that many people really do know their MP, and, even if they do, a majority of them will never have voted for him/her. Whereas a multi-seat electoral district, based on units people identify with (such as counties, and cities), would ensure that most people had at least one representative that they elected, and who was from the party they most support. Counties were traditionally used as constituencies in the UK. And multi-seat districts are the normal form of representation in most democracies (at least those using PR rather than FPTP). Having a team of people represent a large population, has got to be better than one person, because there will be a more diverse set of world views represented from one area. And more people will have at least one person they fell they can go to. Even if you don't know every one of the 10 or 12 MPs, you will at leat know the one or two you most support/like/etc.

Tom Austin Apr 9, 2015

Oh, interesting. Now that I understand that this may not necessarily entail PR at all, and that we could just as easily - more easily even, do away with Political Partys all together.

We could instead elect local representatives upon the grounds of whichever Policy Menu they wish to adhere to. Instead of P-Party we could bring together, on an ad-hoc basis, groups of candidates that hold to the same Policy-Menu.

If as is said above, (in terms) that we have grown tired of Cod & Hake, and seek to have a wider variety of fare available, why plump for more and more separate outlets? Why not only three or four competing 'stalls' - each with their bill-of-fare published at street level, and if we desire to have curry on our pizza, with a choice of rice or chips, make up our minds accordingly? [I do beg your pardon for perhaps bringing to mind some rather unpleasant combinations.]

We don't need more Partys, we need more relevant Policies and more of an actual connection with those we send to Parliament and more of a part to play.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 10, 2015

What do you think parties are, if not formalised and long established groupings around common 'policy menus'? 

 

Tom Austin Apr 10, 2015

I'm sure there must have been actual instances where once an Idol stood, but over time; through weathering, earthquake or theft, the Idol was lost. Now pilgrims travel from far and near to venerate the 'spot' where the Idol is said to have once stood. Soon, a motorway will be planned, and a shovel-full or two of the soil of that place will be found a new 'permanent' home.

I neither visit that 'new home' nor do I turn the car-radio down and salute as I drive by that ancient spot. Instead I turn to the 'why' there ever was an Idol in the first place, and I look to renew its promise.

Vision! Policies; Policies both for the future and for the electorate.

Let's face it. Any young-blood that joins the Reds or the Blues is likely to count themselves as being on the path to power - policy free.

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Nicholas Charalambides Apr 9, 2015

Hi everyone and thank you for the debate thus far!

I can see we're throwing up a lot of different ideas for systems and somewhat going into specifics of constituency size, etc.

So we can focus our discussion would you all think it best to agree on one of the preferred systems that made it through to this phase, and then delve into discussing the specifics?

The three different voting systems are:

The Single Transferable Vote

Open List Proportional Representation

And James Grindrod's proposal, laid out in his idea: https://constitutionuk.com/post/98945

Hopefully you all agree that this is the best way forward (don't forget that we only have 9 days until the end of this phase) and I look forward to your responses! 

James Grindrod Apr 9, 2015

Hi Nicholas,

I think there are two options: 

a) We decide on a system to be enshrined in the constitution; or

b) We decide on a set of principles that any system would have to adhere to, and it would be those principles that would be enshrined in the constitution.

But even if we go for a), I think it is still important that a constitution say what the principles are, so that if an amendment or whole-scale change were to be proposed at a later date, the proposals could be measured against those principles.

The most important principle, in my opinion, being that a system should seek to maximise the number of votes that count, and count equally - with the important caveat that we do still want effective parties to be able to develop and coalesce. The reason for this principle's importance is that the power an individual citizen has is through their vote; so the voting system should seek to ensure that that vote counts, and is not unreasonably stronger or weaker than anyone else's.

 

Tom Austin Apr 9, 2015

I am all for 'b' James.

I am not in-considerably displeased to imagine, even for the briefest of moments, that we are set to go forward waving the PR banner - and all because of actions taken in the initial stage of the process. One may as well award the 'cup' to the team that scored the most goals during the first round of the competition. Preposterous!

Daniel Gaunt Apr 10, 2015

Or indeed, award the seat to the person garnering the most votes? 

This is what I struggle with from the anti-party types. You want something which is not a party, but which is the very definition of what a party is (a group around a common policy menu, otherwise known as a manifesto). You want people to vote for policies not parties, but then don't explain how it's ever going to actually work. 

Unless we're going to move away from representative democracy altogether (and so far in the challenge there's been no major backing for entirely direct democracy) then there needs to be a recognition that elected representatives stand on the platform they choose, and once elected we have to allow them to get on with it. So then we get back to the issue at hand - what is the best way of getting a parliament which best reflects the will of the people? Nothing comes close to PR in that respect. 

 

Tom Austin Apr 10, 2015

"...but then don't explain how it's ever going to actually work. "

Just for the record...

""Under this Constitution there shall be no permanent or ongoing Political Party Groupings (PPGs). It having been established that the Sovereign Power lies with the 'Electorate'. [Electorate; Is as described elsewhere.] And that Prospective Members of Parliament (PPCs) shall stand in an Election only if they sign-up to one or other of the Running Manifestos published and freely available. For the purpose of offering the Electorate a clear choice, said PPCs may at their own discretion form an alliance with like minded PPCs to constitute an ad-hoc Political Party Group. The 'mark' of such PPGs shall differ from the common 'mark' designated to to each Running Manifesto so as to distinguish PPGs from Independent Candidates that have signed-up to the same Running Manifesto (RM)..."

A comment under...

https://constitutionuk.com/post/92520

My second; I am simply striving to find a way to bring Central Government and the local population together. There have calls elsewhere for various 'constitutional forums' to decide what powers should be devolved to local level , and much else; I think that an MP should have some say, and as their role is sure to change we are 'obliged' to consider this.

Point three; Expenses, pay and living arrangements are all set to change for MPs. I was thinking more about (I think his name is) Green, whose offices in Parliament were searched, and that I bemoan the absence of 'an MP' in Hottentot, prior to the riots, who could have brought the 'Duggan' family and the police together - MPs should have that sort of role too."

JimF Apr 18, 2015

I am not opposed to parties as such. Indeed, I don't think it would be impossible to get rid of them even if we wanted to. I am, and have been for many years, a member of a party. However, at present they have, in my opinion, far too much power to discipline their MPs, with the result that Parliament is unable to carry out the important function of holding government to account, with executive controlling Parliament almost completely. For that reason I oppose any constitutional recognition of parties, which would increase instead of reducing that power. STV would be a small step towards reducing it, which is why I prefer it and oppose any party list system.

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Gavin Russ Apr 10, 2015

Just jumping in here ....? Whilst admittedly, the voting system is vital to the electoral system in terms if democracy, the 'system' needs to evolve. All voters in a general election for Parliament 'have' to use FPTP. Some voters in devolved in insitutions use a form of AV. I am not sure that ' jumping' to STV enfranchises citizens in their ability to 'make' a valid decision. I would suggest that, a staged movement towards proportionality might need to be undertaken withn the consitiutIon. A 'flat' change might have the effect f 'mass' disengagement. Basically, voting systems aren't very engaging ... the nation needs to get out all shades of society voting. As a nation, we vote more for TV programmes than for Politicians. Cynical, but can one imagine 'X-factor' etc. via STV. and with a smile... 'Eurovision'! 

David Andersson Apr 10, 2015

Hi Gavin,

You're right that voting systems are unlikely to get the broader masses very excited. It is, however, crucial for the way in which democracy works. A few thoughts:

Changing the voting system will over time transform the party system - factions within the bigger parties are likely to see benefits of setting up their own separate parties when small/geographically dispersed parties are not punished as much. The first change would probably just be a change in the disproportionality, meaning that the Greens and UKIP would get a lot more seats. Only in subsequent years would the more substantial reshaping take place as the socially progressive, but fiscally conservative parts of the Conservative party get too uncomfortable with the socially conservative parts of the party. Equally, Labour would quite likely split along similar lines on the left between social democrats and socialists.

A wider array of parties to choose from would also mean that campaigning needs to change. Once the PM cannot rely on tactical voting it becomes more difficult to say not to TV debates for example. More choices will mean that people expect more information to base their choice on. This would hopefully lead to a more engaging public debate as well.

In the short term a change might actually increase the engagement and also the turnout as there are no safe seats where people who do not like either of the main contenders have no other option. A lot of disengagement I think is a result of a disjuncture between the public and the party system. FPTP cements the current party system and requires any cleavages to be absorbed by the main parties, while in a proportional system the party system is more responsive to changes in public opinion.

So, while I agree that voting systems per se are not very exciting for the general public, I am curious as to why you think it would be directly negative and result in disengagement?

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Gavin Russ Apr 10, 2015

Hi U,

Very thoughful and thank you. I agree absolutely with your idea that changing the 'core' voting system is llikely to see a 'core' change in how parties might be organised in tthe future. indeed, it may eventually lead a fundamental change in 'core' party organisatiIon. To be honest, I think this is already happening with the first truely multi party election in my life time. There is a shift is how parties organise, respond, and begin to work more locally with citizens. No longer can opinion polls 'suggest' what, or how or who to vote for. This point you make strongly and I agree. 

How ever, as to 'engagement' this is my point. E-democracy is one way but sometimes, one needs to see, speak, watch etc. there seems to be a general malaise with policies, politics, voting etc. I am sstrongly in favour of enhanced proportionally allocated sets at any level governance and agree with you that FPTP  can act as a political 'glue'. But it also has elements of the celebration of 'conflict'? My point is pprecisely that ... They sit, opposite each other, Watchng for faults, not congratulating strengths or responding to valid points for debate. Proportionality would assist but, my fundamental point is citzens cannot just jump from one system to another. 

David Andersson Apr 10, 2015

Thank you for your comment, Gavin. I am sorry, but I am not entirely sure I see your point. Is the concern that FPTP has an adversarial element that PR systems lack? And that this adversarial element engages people in a way that PR cannot?

If so, I think this might be true for the people who feel well represented by the current cleavages. I do, however, believe that the majority of people actually feel that they are not, and hence, the growth of UKIP and the Greens (it might seem strange that I lump them together, but they are similar in that they address issues that the main political parties have avoided - the EU/immigration issue, and climate change, respectively). Those who feel well represented are likely to appreciate the accountability mechanism of FPTP, and therefore there needs to be a bit of a balance between accountability and representation. A swing to far to representation would, as I have said above, likely result in a more chaotic political system where no one is held to account.

The issue of political disengagement stretches beyond the voting system, and so cannot be fully addressed in this topic. I hope, however, that it is clear from our discussion that the electoral system plays a vital part and I think we should try to focus on what the electoral system should look like.

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Gavin Russ Apr 10, 2015

Hey U,

The problem lies around 'turnout' not the voting system applied. Turnout has shrunk frankly from 1945 to 2010. Does not this indicate a weariness with the 'style' of politics as you suggest. However, being blunt, neither UKIP or the Greens or Plaid Cymru etc. will be able to 'form' governments.

FPTP is system which is known and established. Personally, I think it has many, many flaws and I would prefer a more proportional system across Britain. My point was, quite simply, that any proposed change in voting system(s) would need a more 'considered' approach. I am confused about your two quoted examples of parties that seem to be benefitting from political confusion currently. Neither party you quote has policies that wouldmmediately attract me and I acknowledge however, that these parties might have a greater say in overall government policies and actions after the general election.  But without substantial support by citizens for electoral reform relating to elections at all levels, and careful 'setting out of stalls' by politicians, simply to say 'FPTP' gone ... Now we have a more proportional system' might be a recipe for electoral chaos? Which proportional system? For Y Senydd  in Wales, we have D'Hondt method of additional voting! It works, but we weren't asked! Which method will work with 'in/out' referendum on Europe as proposed for 2016 by part of the e present administration! Did the 'Yes/No' referactual in Scotland actually serve the whole of the Union? It seems that an avowedly nationalist party is now running away with the 'electoral system' because ... Apparently ... They will walk away with one part of the union of the general election and perhaps work with other parties who will have to work with the SNP? Voting systems don't make for power! I go back to my opening line ... How do we get all to 'turnout ' to vote. For me this is the key! Thanks

Bob Stammers Apr 11, 2015

I have to say chaps that if at this stage of the process we are having this level of difficulty expressing a simple view of what's required I hold little hope of ever selling it to the electorate.

FPTP has the rather attractive quality of everyone, even the irredeemably thick, understanding the way it works. When AV was proposed the opposition to it was telling: "let's keep one man, one vote!" - most people either didn't consider it at all or thought it too complex.

The change to PR will be a big change all by itself and that simple principle will need a great deal of salesmanship. If we can't back it up with a simple explanation of the voting mechanism and its expected benefits, we're currently engaged in a major exercise of futility.

In my opinion.

BananaPlant Apr 11, 2015

I stick with stv because I understand how it works.

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

The current state of play...

http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-...voting-systems/

I 'enjoy' SV for the London Mayoral Elections, and I do not like it, not one little bit.

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Gavin Russ Apr 11, 2015

I agree with Bob on this point. I am a fairly passionate supporter of PR but disagree with the notion that some form of AV is too complicated for the electorate. We have worked with this form of voting in devolved institutions since their inception as the whole nation does with Euro Parliament elections. PR does give a more balanced view overall of voter wishes but as Bob noted, a major campaign would be required to convince the electorate. I am not exactly sure that the exercise is entirely futile as how and when people vote has major implications. 

David Andersson Apr 11, 2015

I am not sure the public would struggle that much to understand a PR system. The mechanisms and calculations might be a fair bit more complicated, but as long as they are fair (reflecting the election result) it is not necessary to understand the exact seat calculation to cast a vote. The benefit of PR is that the electorate can be less concerned with strategy and tactical voting, meaning that people just vote for their highest preference. Mixed systems or systems based on ranking suffer from that it is less clear conceptually how votes translates into seats, while FPTP cannot be said to be built on a principle of proportionality (which is what this proposal wants to enshrine in the constitution).

James Grindrod's proposal (above) looks very promising and maybe we should move to discuss different proposals more in detail, unless the constitution should only commit to proportionality in principle?

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

I can only repeat, that for me the Constitution would best served by its commitment to 'proportionality' in principle.

In answer to jhackett below. I use this 'crowdcity' site without any understanding of its inner-workings, BUT I find that it fails to deliver even with its oft-repeated assertions.

I am told, that I can vote anew, yet I see no way of so-doing.

David Andersson Apr 11, 2015

I would suggest the following clause:

"The electoral system shall be based on a principle of one citizen, one vote. It shall also seek to ensure that the distribution of seats in the Parliament reflects the total distribution of the votes cast."

I would welcome more suggestions on how we can best formulate such a clause.

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

We have already run into one problem with fixing voting right to Citizens only, and why "'total' distribution"?

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John Hackett Apr 11, 2015

Urbaniserad is right, the public wouldn't struggle with proportionality; as it stands, when it is pointed out to people who aren't interested in voting systems that ours isn't proportional, many are incredulous. Establishing the relationship between people voting for something and getting something is the most important thing here: the counting can be complicated as long as the result is simple.

For example: we're using a piece of software called Crowdicity to have this discussion, but we don't need to know where the datacenter is, what relational database system it uses (or indeed, what a relational database even is) nor even the name of the programming language it is written in. What is important is that we are able to use the system, not that we're capable of describing its inner workings in detail.

I've given my vote to biproportional representation here, although I do wonder about recall: I wonder is JamesGrindrod could explain how to make that system work with the ability to recall a candidate, or more generally how a byelection would be conducted?

James Grindrod Apr 12, 2015

I agree. The mechanism that turns votes into seats is always going to be complicated in proportional systems. It isn't the machine that counts: it's the outcome when compared input. That's what I stressed in my submission. If the proportions of seats (the outcome) are very close to the proportions of votes (the input), the it's actually very simple to see what's going on - even if the mechanism is complicated.

I'm not as concerned with recall as some people are - in fact, I have serious doubts about it. The reason is that mechanisms like recall and primaries are often used to compensate for the inadequacies of plurality (or majoritarian) systems. This is why we see recall and primaries in the USA. Most voters aren't able to affect the outcome of an election - and incumbency is a huge problem there. Primaries and recall are used to make people feel like they CAN affect the outcome. In reality they are hugely problematic mechanism. E.g. recall is often used by powerful interest groups to fix the system by forcing recall of representatives who are voting against their interests in state or federal congresses. 

However, there is nothing in my proposals that would prevent recall from being implemented if people wanted it - although I would prefer this to be statute law rather than constitutional law.  But I still believe that recall isn't necessary as long as there are open-lists, and votes that count, then people can affect the outcome of the election - and can rid themselves of a candidate by not voting for them - and this will count in way in does not now. 

By-elections are a different matter. I haven't gone into detail about them, but in the systems I propose, there would be no need for bi-elections. If a seat becomes vacant, then the next-placed candidate from the relevant party in the relevant electoral district becomes the new MP. This is already used is many countries with multi-seat electoral districts. However, the issue of what happens when an MP wants to change party is trickier. We could have a rule that says if someone changes party, they have to stand down. Then their seat could be filled by the next-placed person on their old parties' list. How does that sound?

Peter Davidson Apr 11, 2015

@Bob Stammers: "I have to say chaps that if at this stage of the process we are having this level of difficulty expressing a simple view of what's required I hold little hope of ever selling it to the electorate."

Here @Bob Stammers hits upon the dilemma faced by those who passionately believe in Electoral Reform as a core mechanism capable of driving radical transformation - this is precisely why I pointed out the central flaw in the suggestion made by others here, James Graham and James Grindrod for example.

Yes, of course STV is not ideal compared with their suggestions for voting systems capable of delivering a more accurate reflection of political preferences expressed by the electorate and that is what we should be aiming at - but (and it's a biggie) a carefully developed intellectually sound argument is useless if you cannot sell it to your target audience and that's exactly where the proposals put forward for better systems (than plain old STV) will founder - don't take my word for it, just try and explain it to average Jo Public and you'll find out the hard way.

Remember that reformers won't have a blank slate/level playing field in which they can explain their proposals. You'll have to endure the white heat of visceral hostility from incumbent large political parties, aided and abetted by their mates in the media all attempting to undermine your arguments and guess what; they'll win and reformers will lose, hands down - in the process setting back the timetable for meaningful improvements by at least another ten years or more.

So the compromise (and it is a compromise) has to be something you can graft (fairly) easily on to the existing constituency framework. You can do that with STV by merging existing constituencies into what will be more coherent localised political communities. You have a fighting chance of explaining how an Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester/Salford, Birmingham wide constituency might work - you haven't got a cat in hells chance trying to sell a 7 to 13 seat super constituency to a relatively ignorant public in the face of daily opposition on the front pages of the Torygraph, Express & Daily Fail!

@jhackett: "Urbaniserad is right, the public wouldn't struggle with proportionality; as it stands, when it is pointed out to people who aren't interested in voting systems that ours isn't proportional, many are incredulous."

Again I think this is naive - yes the public can understand proportionality and I believe they tend to equate it with fairness (in the overall election outcome) but people who don't appear interested in voting system methodologies suddenly become acutely aware of their minutiae when prompted by a mega font sized headline screaming "SAVE OUR DEMOCRACY" - the actual words appearing on the Mail's front page on the day of the AV referendum.

So I say good luck with ideal systems, they are fine for idealists (and I put myself amongst their number) but in the end a healthy dose of pragmatism will be more constructive for our cause.

 

Bob Stammers Apr 11, 2015

I reiterate my point because I don't think I made it clearly enough earlier.

"the public wouldn't struggle with proportionality" I agree but not on the basis that PR's easy to understand and they'll get it just like that but on the basis that many will simply choose not to engage and will vote 'no' for that very reason.

Consider the AV referendum in 2011. AV's not hard to understand and is clearly much more democratic than FPTP. It actually only has a small effect in most constituencies and a positively beneficial effect where it makes a big difference. It was used without complaint (except by a losing Conservative candidate) to elect police & crime commissioners and yet it was rejected 2:1 by a 42% turnout.

Non-engagement and resistance to change are the big hurdles here; what's needed is a brief, simple, statement of what's wanted.

I'm not particularly enamoured of PR as I would rather MPs were elected as individuals rather than apparatchiks and am consequently unable to offer a snappy suggestion but that's what's needed - a snappy, memorable, clear statement. It doesn't need the nuts and bolts of how the single transferable okey-kokey 2000 (version 'f') vote will work but it will need to say something about constituencies, lists and the other basics of PR

John Hackett Apr 11, 2015

AV was kicked out partly because a lot of money chased the "No to AV" campaign, and partly because it is difficult to sell based on its outcomes - it still throws away votes like there's no tomorrow. That and the fact there was never really anybody who really wanted it. The LibDems wanted STV, Labour offered AV+ with questionable sincerity, and the Tories wanted to keep FPTP. I don't think any system so profoundly unloved by its own supposed champions could win a referendum, in truth.

The outcome with AV isn't easy to guess, either, because it isn't proportional. At the last election it would have changed very little, giving (if memory serves) the LDs ten or so more seats and making little difference elsewhere. No wonder it was so hard to sell.

If you say "24% of votes means something really close to 24% of the seats" then you don't really need to think about how it works - instead, you can think about how it affects you. That means people start talking about the difference it makes to the government and their lives, rather than how to fill in the ballot paper and the polling center staff - something which will get people out of the door. That's where engagement comes from, if you ask me.

More broadly, and on the subject of picking a system, I'd say it barely matters when promoting the idea. The idea is "your vote should count" or "the country gets what the country votes for and that's it, really - that we achieve PR is less important (except to geeks like ourselves) than the system used. Picking a relatively safe option makes it easier to defend, obviously, which is why so many people favour STV.

Padav, I think you're a little fatalistic. Scotland managed to fight through two years of the insanity of much of the press, and came away needing only a six percent swing to leave the union forever. The risks of electoral reform are basically nonexistant compared to the action of becoming an independent country - the press would have less firepower than they did then, and a lot less power than you seem to think. There will always be change resistant groups in society, but if we could get a referendum on something practical (as you suggest) we could win it.

 

Tom Austin Apr 11, 2015

OK, I'm a simple sort of chap so saying, "24% of votes means something really close to 24% of the seats", has my attention.

BUT!! In what way would such a system offer me something WORTHY of my vote?

It's a weak argument I know but, 'It's best to vote for either of the 'big' partys and then push for your particular favoured-policy from either one - one that is capable of forming the Government, than it is voting in a system that may yield one seat on the opposition benches for a fellow traveller." it is still an argument.

John Hackett Apr 11, 2015

Well, this is where our politics has to mature, but where we're doing surprisingly well already.

First of all, my response would be "well, you can vote for what you don't want and definitely get it, or you can vote for what you do want and stand a chance of getting some of it". That remains relatively simple, I think.

As for whether it's worth voting for any party at all, that's not something we can fix here, sadly.

As for supporting a big party in exchange for a policy, that's still a valid approach. The fact is, though, that it looks far more pragmatic to support a party that holds your particular policy dear, and to try to get them to extract it as a concession from a larger party. Either way could work, though.

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Peter Davidson Apr 11, 2015

@Bob Stammers: I'm not particularly enamoured of PR as I would rather MPs were elected as individuals rather than apparatchiks and am consequently unable to offer a snappy suggestion but that's what's needed

Then you want STV because that's exactly what it does!

STV is a hybrid system because voters can opt for either a party orientated or a candidate orientated choice, or a sophisticated blend of both elements, through the ranked preferences expressed on the ballot paper.

Proportionality is introduced through multi-member constituencies, the larger the number of seats, the larger the degree of resulting proportionality. The danger of course is too many seats and therefore too large an area, voters' perceptions of the fabled constituency link is eroded, or vanishes completely. With minimum 3, maximum 5 seat constituencies (the former in sparsely populated rural areas, the latter in dense urban areas) you can still achieve relatively cohesive localised political communities.

For example;

  • Edinburgh would have 5 MPs for the whole city instead of 1 each for Edinburgh North, West, South, South West and East
  • Manchester/Salford would have 5 MPs for the City rather than 1 each for Withington, Broughton&Blackley, Central, Gorton, Salford&Eccles
  • Leeds would have 5 MPs for the city rather than 1 each for Leeds North West, North East, East, West, Central
  • Cheshire East would have 3 MPs rather than 1 each for Congleton, Macclesfield, Tatton

That kind of change you might be able "to sell" to a still frighteningly ignorant (about voting systems and their role in shaping not just electoral outcomes but political/constitutional culture itself) public, in the teeth of ultra hostile media attention originating from the usual suspects.

And no @jhackett, I'm not being fatalistic at all - I'm simply being very realistic about the chances of successfully implementing what amounts to a huge potential change in Britain's political culture

John Hackett Apr 11, 2015

Nicely described. Also, yes, I suppose it is pretty big. Point taken!

Bob Stammers Apr 11, 2015

That sounds spot on to me and well done on being able to spell that out so concisely.

On that basis I've just altered my vote on this topic from down to up.

Mark Cooke Apr 12, 2015

I think there is a danger here of trying to include too much detail in the constitution;  this is not the place for a fine debate about the precise merits of a particular form of AMS over STV.   In fact there are reasonable cases to be made for different systems in different contexts (STV is critical in Northern Ireland to allow the communities to be fairl represented, for example, while regional lists are appropriate for the Eurorpean elections)

I would support including a general principle of proportionality in all electoral systems adopted,   but leave the specific system decisions to Parliament.

 

 

Fiona Condon Apr 12, 2015

I agree and it may well be that different systems would be apprpriiate for different tiers of governemnt.

BananaPlant Apr 13, 2015

I think there should also be a "non of the the above" option on the ballot paper what ever the chosen voting system.

Debra Storr Apr 13, 2015

Cough.

In terms of constitution, I think that the exact details of a voting system may be undesirable but the principles at least should be specified - and must include proportionality (thus ruling out AV and FPTP).  

In terms of some of the discussion above:

in Scotland we have both AMS used to elect our MSPs and STV used to elect councillors.  

People cope and parties adapt too, with it being very clear for example that voting intention for the 2015 Westminster and 2016 Holyrood elections being significantly different.  

My preference is for STV but not the restriction to 3 and 4 member wards in Scotland Council wards: it makes the proportionality too 'lumpy'.   Parties have also become adept as standing only the number of candidates they expect to get elected (or one) thereby removing one of the significant advantages - the opportunity for voters to pick between candidates of the same party.  I'd be very tempted to ask for a 'no by-election' rules to force parties to put up 'spare' candidates and just count back in case of vacancies.  

AMS with constituency and Regional MSPs means that effectively 2 parallel elections go one, with people sometimes splitting their vote.  The Regional Vote is used as a corrective to the constituency MSPs so the smaller parties tend to contest only the Regions (partly due to £500 deposit).   This produces oddities.  And of course there is the occasional 'fuss' about a defeated constituency candidate, getting in on the list.  

In in terms of people accessing their representatives, people go to whoever they prefer - geography, party, gender, known interests, - or simply shopping for a sympathetic ear.  It's fine.  

Mark Cooke Apr 13, 2015

How about the following formulation:

1) Parliament shall by law  provide for the electoral systems to be used for the election of office holders and representative bodies.

2) Any electoral system for electing a single office holder shall require the person elected to have the support of a majority of people voting.

3) Any electoral system for electing a representative body shall secure  representation broadly proportional to the votes cast for any parties or individual candidate in the election.

4) Any electoral system for electing a representative body shall enable each voter to choose between the candidates of any party, where more than one is seeking election from that party.

 

Fiona Condon Apr 13, 2015

I am in favour of not being too specific about which form of PR and I think this covers everything that needs to be said (though I'm sure someone will think of something else).

Mark Cooke Apr 16, 2015

No one has really commented on my formulation - does it encapsulate what is being said in principle?

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 16, 2015

Hi Mark,

On point 2) does you call for a majority mean simply winning most of the votes, or having 50%+1 of the votes?

Also, on point 4) I'd be against stating that citizens have to choose between candidates of a party, simply because that would automatically exclude those standing as independents.

Mark Cooke Apr 17, 2015

Happy to reword point 2 to say 'more than half' if that is clearer.

On point 4 ) that isn't what it says - it says IF a party has more than one candidate VOTERS must be able to choose between them i.e no closed lists. The point isn't  relevant where candidates are independents.

But I'm happy to take a rewording if you think it is unclear

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 17, 2015

My apologies Mark! I misread your point 4) and I'd agree with it, especially as the overall consensus seems to be for an open-list system.

View all replies (5)

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 15, 2015

Hi everyone, and thanks for the continuing discussion!

Following on from my last comment, and with respect to all the input so far, James was right in highlighting his option of deciding on a set of principles that our electoral preferred system would adhere to, as opposed to the electoral system itself - coming to an exact agreement seems to be, understandably, hard to come by, especially in the short window of time we have left.

We have had mentions of 'once citizen, one vote', and ensuring the seats in Parliament reflect the total distribution of votes cast as best as possible from other users, broadly outlining notions of proportionality.

Are there any other notions that you would like to see enshrined in a proportional electoral system? And do you agree with the above points?

 

Tom Austin Apr 15, 2015

That looks good Nicholas, I have one quibble, with the word 'distribution'. I think it unnecessary.

Mark Cooke Apr 16, 2015

I don't think one citizen one vote is a helpful formulation, as it doesn't really put limits on any democratic voting system.

If you mean each voter shall have, as far as practicable, equal weight in an election, that would be a better formulation. (AMS requires voters to have two votes,  for example,  but I don't imagine that is what you were objecting to?

JimF Apr 18, 2015

One aspect that hasn't, as far as I can see, been discussed concerns the working of any party list system (which I oppose anyway). The system advocated by JamesGrindrod includes mention of both D'Hondt and Sainte-Laguë systems. I fail to see why either should be used instead of a simple use of straight proportionality: 20% of votes gives 20% of seats, etc. Obviously rounding will often be needed, but that's perfectly straightforward. In a case where this leads to too many or too few seats being allocated because of accumulated rounding, simply adjust up or down the number of seats allocated to the party which needed the greatest rounding. That gives as near to perfect proportionality as is possible, which neither D'Hondt nor Sainte-Laguë achieves, and it is also simpler.

Mark Cooke Apr 18, 2015

You're mistaken about the maths - the d'Hondt and Sainte-Lague rules are just different standard methods for rounding in the way you suggest.   It isn't perfectly straightforward, as you'll find if you play around with some numbers.  Sainte-Lague is closest to what you are, I think describing. The reason it is not universally used is that it is generous to smaller parties, allowing parties that have not in one sense won enough votes to receive one seat to receive one through rounding up.

JimF Apr 18, 2015

I would have added another name tag to my comment just now, but thee system won't let me, so I'm tagging Debra separately here! Sorry Debra. Hope I haven't missed anyone else.

This afternoon has been my first opportunity to contribute to this phase, rather late!

Users tagged:

Gavin Russ Apr 18, 2015

I am still unsure of 'multi member ' constituencies based upon geographical areas? Presumably, the Electoral  Commission would have to decide but what would be the role of Parliament or devolved institutions. In assessing the 'potential change ' in the demographics of these seemingly rather arbitrary geographical areas? 'Straight proportionality ' does not allow for any 'shading' of the individual citizecn's vote ... Anotherwords, 'shading' however it is enacted, seems to be a better alternative! 

Debra Storr Apr 18, 2015

having experience of closed lits and STV, I'd still plump for STV over even open lists - in practise I doubt that the party default order is often overturned.  Examples anyone.  

But for the constitution, content to have choice between candidates and proportionality as requirements, alongside respect for communities.  

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