Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The least-bad voting system

Having given this a bit more thought and batted it back and forth with my Electoral Reform Minister, here's my final thought on the matter:

1. Multi-member constituencies are the way to go. So (for example) five existing parliamentary constituencies are merged into a five-member constituency, but to retain the constituency link, each of the original smaller constituencies ends up with one MP each.

2. It would be a one-man-one-vote system (preferably no postal votes).

3. The ballot slip would list each party's individual candidates, for whom you can cast your vote, but in case people want to vote for a party rather than an individual candidate, each party is listed as an option as well. So you can choose whether to vote for a specific candidate or a party generally. Obviously, if a smaller party is only fielding one candidate, it makes no difference whether you vote for the individual candidate or the party (as we will see below).

4. In the first round of counting, the individual candidates are listed in order of how many personal votes they received; and it is also announced how many 'party' votes each party received.

5. Each party can then allocate its party votes to its candidates in such a manner as to maximise the number of seat it wins, but it can only allocate votes to its second (or third) highest polling candidates once its highest polling candidate has enough votes (either individual votes or allocated party votes) to be ensured of a seat*. So there is an element of 'open primary' involved - a central party cannot just parachute candidates into safe seats.

6. The single candidate with the most votes can then choose which of the five original constituencies he would like to represent; the chances are it will be the one in which he polled most votes or in which he lives, but not necessarily.

7. It is clear than in our country, a white middle aged British man is at a slight advantage to other people in electoral terms, as he is the 'lowest common denominator' and probably best able to understand the concerns of the widest number of electors (an equation with two unknowns, that I grant you).

As a white middle aged English man, I'm not too fussed about that, but other people are. Clearly, as long as parties can only field one candidate in each constituency under First Past The Post, there is a tendency for all parties - across the political spectrum - to field white middle aged British men; and a tendency for the white middle aged British candidate to win the seat as against other candidates**. But as the larger parties would be fielding two or three or even four candidates in each MMC, the chances are that they would field an older or younger; female or non-white or non-Christian people as well to mop up extra votes on the side.

* This is simpler than it seems. If your best candidate has more than one-sixth of the votes cast then he's in anyway; if not, you top him up to that number and then allocate your remaining party votes to your next best candidate, and so on.

** Which seems fair enough to me, as this is the group least likely to have a particular grudge against any other group or any sort of hidden agenda.


Curmudgeon said...

Surely in practice the outcome of Irish-style STV will be little different from what you describe.

When I was at university I remember a "slate+quota" system being used for Student Union elections which basically does what you describe by averaging out votes cast for a particular party, but still allocating seats to those representatives of that party who got the most personal votes.

DBC Reed said...

Agree with multi-member constituencies or "county constituencies" as you may as well call them (again) out here in the sticks .(Imagine the spirit-sapping shame of being the MP for Kettering,or Wellingborough under the present arrangements.)
The rest of your proposals fly over my head.Wot's the matter with Borda?
BTW as well as getting rid of postal votes (a Prescott favourite)
you should take the opportunity to get rid of numbered voting slips to enforce a proper secret ballot for the first time.

Mark Wadsworth said...

C, I didn't say it was original! But it's 1M1V not STV, I like PR but I don't like multiple votes. Is it better or worse than your slate+quota system?

DBC, re Borda I don't like multiple voting. But good idea re numbered slips.

Rational Anarchist said...

A few quick thoughts...

This does still mean that a vote for anyone who doesn't rank highly is still wasted. Perhaps the party can reallocate a few (one third?) of the votes for members who definitely aren't going to get a seat?

I still think there's going to be some barrier to entry here - a small party that does incredibly well and gets 50% of all the votes of one member's-worth of constituency (which would guarantee a win in the single member constituency) would have only 1/10th of the vote in the 5 member MMC proposed.

Consider if two large parties get 1/3 of the vote each, and the remainder are split between smaller parties (including the 1/10th to the party that we're looking at) the large parties could simply give each of their top three 1/9 of the total vote, meaning that they'd have a fight for the top spot (likely going to whoever had a few more votes) and they'd end up with all of the seats between them.

This would be lessened somewhat if people voted for individuals instead of parties, but most tribal voters would literally vote for a plastic toy with a red/blue (delete according to taste) rosette on, so chances are they'd all be votes for the party directly. (although it occurs to me, you could make votes for the party itself worth less in comparison to direct member votes, as direct member votes have the risk that the entire vote could be wasted).

I would perhaps be a little more radical in electoral reform. We have ~60m population and ~600 MPs, why not just make it so that each MP requires a pledge from 100,000 people. They would then represent those people directly, rather than a geographical area. Each person could only pledge to one MP, of course, and for the avoidance of doubt you would not be able to change your mind instantly, perhaps a minimum term of 6 months or 1 year before you can remove or change your pledge? And if an MP got 200,000 pledges, he or she would get two votes in the commons. Simples. And under this system, every vote counts.

If we must stick close to the system we have now, I'd probably halve the number of constituencys and run the voting as we do now, then I'd add on a PR system that assigned the other half of the seats based on the number of seats each party should have got nationwide.

You could even question the need for parliament altogether. We have the technology now that we could build a computer system where everyone in the country (identified by NI number perhaps?) could vote online on our laws, giving a truly democratic result. Of course if it was built by the government the system would be very insecure, full of faults and likely have big gaping back doors so people could cheat, but it's an idea...

neil craig said...

However a white middle aged man is at a great disadvantage in getting selected by the 3 main parties.

DLW said...

A multi-member district with four seats per district could work with only one or two candidates per party and "one man [sic], one vote".

Let 3 of the seats be determined with a 3-seated LR Hare and let the last seat be determined with a FPTP(or AV). This would let people vote for the candidate in both elections. In the 3-seated LR-Hare, it's possible for a candidate to win two(or three) seats if they do very well. They would then get to pick a vice-candidaate to hold the second seat. Whether they announce who would be their vice-candidate before the election could be left to them.

But that would remove the complication of folks voting for either candidate/party or both... And it would increase the proportionality while also enabling the most popular party to do somewhat better so they can get things done while in office.