10 Jun 2009

Voting Systems

Need to get to sleep? Then read on...

Its been widely reported that the government is considering changing the voting system, and one thing I am particularly geeky about is knowing about voting systems.

Gordon Brown is said to favour the Alternative Vote, or Alternative Vote Plus systems (a form of the latter (AMS) is used in Scotland and Wales for their parliament and assembly elections although without the preferential bit, and the former is used in Australia). Despite much reporting to the contrary, these are NOT proportional systems of voting but rather preferential systems, in that the voters state their desires in order of preference, rather than picking one candidate (1 for your favourite, then 2, 3 etc). Alternative Vote Plus is the same, but you also vote for one candidate from a regional list (like in the EU elections) and these 'proportionally' return 'top-up' MPs.

Why This Blows

When Tony Blair won in 1997, he won around 66% of seats in the commons with around 44% percent of the vote. It is suggested that if this election used the AV system, he would have won with an even larger (and unrepresentative) majority. This is not cool in my book - there would have been even less dissent in the years that followed.

My problem with AV+ is twofold:

1. In the regional lists, voters must vote for a party rather than a candidate, severing the link between the electorate and the representatives, and putting power into the hands of party apparatchiks (which I thought we were trying to avoid).
2. Having some MP's elected on one system, and other on a different one creates a two-tier system. The Top-UP MPs would argue that they are more representative of the will of the people, whilst the others would argue that at least the electorate chose them directly.

Its a crappy system with too many compromises. The UK already uses a good form of PR, and this has not been mentioned in much of the media coverage.

In Northern Ireland (and historically, twice in England in the 19th century) the system is the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The country is divided into multi-member consituencies (usually between 5 and 10 members - the more members, the more proportional). The electorate chooses candidates in order of preference (1. 2, 3 etc or just 1 if you only wish to choose one), and then the seats are divided using a formula that I won't go into here. Basically, it comes down to counting the first preference votes, then if a candidate gets over 50% they are elected. If not, you then add up the second preference votes, then the third etc until they reach the magic 50% mark (and until all the seats are filled).

Critics of this system say that it is slow - well, considering we don't get to vote very often and its kinda important, I'd rather it take a bit of time. Also I don't dig this argument about how great it is to have majority governments. I don't think politics would suffer from politicians co-operating more and learning how to be a bit more humble. STV is also the favoured system of the Electral Reform Society, and if you're as nerdy as me about these things, you can get a better explanation from their website.

Snore zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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