Archive

Tag Archives: Electoral Reform Society

If you don’t have proportional representation (PR) then some voters get representatives they did not vote for. Thus it isn’t very democratic not to have PR.

The last weblog criticised the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) for erroneously claiming that Single Transferable Vote (STV) was PR.

ERS namely adopts districts, which causes STV to lose the limited PR properties that it has.

A persons affiliated with ERS answered to this criticism:

“We are well aware of the tension between the desire for (overall) proportionality and the desire for guaranteed local representation.  This tension is apparent among British electors when opinion polls have asked relevant questions about the outcomes of voting systems.  British electors want both overall proportionality (of parties) AND the local representation provided by exclusively single-member districts.  That is just not possible, so we aim for a compromise between local representation and overall proportionality through appropriately-sized multi-member districts. (…).” (Personal communication)

This is an unsatisfactory answer since there simply is no such “compromise”. When one must choose between a square and a circle then the answer is not some other graphic with some measure of deviation. If there is no PR then there is no PR, and then ERS should not claim that they have PR. To express their “compromise”, ERS speaks about “STV-PR” but this is like speaking about square-circles, and comes with the grating sound from nails across a blackboard.

If n is the number of voters, s the number of seats, then q = n / s is the threshold or quota, of voters per member. A candidate can be elected when he or she meets the quota. When the district size is 2q, then the district representative must get 50%+1 of the vote to attain the quota. At best s / 2 seats can be filled in this manner, since s / 2 * 2q = n again. All unfilled seats can be allocated using overall PR. This shows that districts are not a key design feature, while PR is. (These formulas can be adjusted for turnout, when district size is defined in terms of the electorate and not actual voters. See here.)

By focusing on districts, ERS loses track of the key design feature, and it lets its logic be occluded by a less relevant issue.

Wikipedia follows ERS

Apparently the editors at wikipedia follow ERS rather uncritically. The wikipedia statement in red is what ERS claims falsely and what is adopted by wikipedia too. The statement in green is true. Since the statement in green is true, the statement in red can only be true by chance.

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems by which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result: not just a plurality, or a bare majority, of them. Proportional representation requires the use of multiple-member voting districts (also called super-districts); it is not possible using single-member districts alone.[1][2][3] In fact, the most proportional representation is achieved when just one super-district is used.

The two most widely used families of PR electoral systems are party list PR and single transferable vote (STV).[4][5] Mixed member proportional representation (MMP), also known as the Additional Member System, is a hybrid Mixed Electoral System that uses party list PR as its proportional component. MMP has the potential to be proportional or semi-proportional depending on a number of factors such as the ratio of first past the post (FPTP) seats to PR seats, the existence or nonexistence of compensatory seats to make up for overhang seats, and election thresholds.[6][7][8][9]   (Source: Wikipedia on PR)

ERS thus is confusing the world including wikipedia. My advice for the editors of wikipedia (and the ERS) is:

  • Maintain conceptual integrity.
  • Restrict PR to the notion that p% of the votes translates into p% of the seats.
  • For PR the first preferences are relevant and not what is done with the subsequent preferences. Thus do not label STV as a PR-system but as “potentially PR”, or as STV-PPR.
  • For PR it suffices when the electorate selects parties. A single candidate is a party with a single candidate.
  • The professionals in parliament can use more complex systems like STV. The use of STV (there) must be compared to other systems, like Borda Fixed Point.
  • Get rid of the hangup on district representation.

Unfortunately, the person affiliated with ERS writes to me, with an unrelenting hangup about districts, and neglecting that PR should hold nation-wide:

“Neither the ERS nor I would be prepared to label STV-PT as “potentially PR” or anything similar.  I have seen some academics describe STV-PR as “a semi-proportional” system.  That is just nonsense.  For the same district magnitude, STV-PR and party-list PR both deliver the same degree of proportionality.  The fact that some electorates are prepared to accept electoral districts that cover the whole country for party-PR but don’t like the idea of “large” electoral districts for STV-PR is completely irrelevant.  It is the district magnitude that is the determining factor, not the voting system.”  (Personal communication)

Scotland is an example

Scotland has four electoral systems, and I copy from Wikipedia:

Does this mean that Scotland comprehends democracy or that they don’t ?

The Party List System as used for the EU Parliament generates proportional representation (PR), and this would be the criterion for representative democracy.

(Obviously, for the election of a local council, the norm for PR are the local votes, and not nationwide PR. Once the issue here is reduced to apportionment, then STV is one of the options and a choice depends upon one’s criteria.)

Let us look at the Scottish implementation Additional Member System (AMS) a.k.a. Supplementary Member System a.k.a. Mixed Member System (MMS). I would prefer the latter term, since there is nothing “additional” about an elected MP. Sometimes the term “Mixed Member Proportional” (MMP) is used but this is only warranted when there really is overall PR.

The current Scottish system

Scotland has 73 constituencies, in which the candidate is selected by FPTP. There are 8 regions with 7 seats per region, to a total of 56 regional seats. These “additional seats” are used to make the outcome more proportional. Brief explanations of the current Scottish system are by the Parliament itself and The Scotsman. The Scottish Parliament elections of May 5 2016 have these full data. The turnout was 55.6%.

Scotland like the UK has a hangup on the distinction between the local candidate and the party. It is claimed: “In the second vote the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate.” Indeed, when the first vote has a FPTP selection, then voters may be forced to vote strategically for a candidate of reduced preference, in trying to prevent that a worst candidate is selected. Thus the explanation about local representation may be a misrepresentation about what might really motivate voters.

When we compare the votes for the constituencies (districts) and the regions, then we don’t see much of a difference, except for the Greens and Others. (This are totals though, and there might be differences over districts.)

District

Region

Party

Votes

Votes

Con

501,844

524,222

Green

13,172

150,426

Lab

514,261

435,919

LD

178,238

119,284

SNP

1,059,898

953,587

Others

11,741

102,314

Total

2,279,154

2,285,752

We take the summed region vote as determining what the proportions for the parties should be. The additional 56 seats and their restriction to regions are not enough for correction of the error in the local vote. The SNP got 7% more seats than warranted under PR.

District

Region

 All
Party

Seats

Seats

Seats

%Seats

%Votes

%S-%V

Con

7

24

31

24.0

22.9

1.1

Green

0

6

6

4.7

6.6

-1.9

Lab

3

21

24

18.6

19.1

-0.5

LD

4

1

5

3.9

5.2

-1.3

SNP

59

4

63

48.8

41.7

7.1

Others

0

0

0

0.0

4.5

-4.5

Total

73

56

129

100.0

100.0

An alternative for Scotland

Let us consider a rough alternative for Scotland:

  • A local winner must get at least 50% of the vote of a district (constituency).
  • All 129 seats are allocated in proportion to the summed region vote.

The data file allows us to determine which candidates are elected now. This generates a quite different result. In the local vote, only 29 candidates manage to get at least 50% of their district (constituency). 95 candidates are selected via the Party List, which puts the ERS argument for locality into perspective. In this rough alternative, there are 5 seats that cannot be allocated due to rounding errors. But having 4% empty seats is not unfair given that 4.5% of the votes are wasted on the small parties.

District

Region

 All
Party

Seats

Seats

Seats

%Seats

%Votes

%S-%V

Con

1

29

30

23.3

22.9

0.3

Green

0

8

8

6.2

6.6

-0.4

Lab

0

25

25

19.4

19.1

0.3

LD

2

5

7

5.4

5.2

0.2

SNP

26

28

54

41.9

41.7

0.1

Others  0  0  0

0.0

4.5

-4.5

Total

29

95

124

96.1

100.0

A general observation

The quota is q = 2,285,752 / 129 = 17720. Above criterion of 50% of the local vote might be too lax. With 73 districts, the number or electors per district might be too small. If the number of districts is 129 / 2 ≈ 65, then the average district has size 2q, and the criterion of at least 50% of the votes would fit the overall condition of winning a seat via satisfying q.

A google showed this page by Andrew Ducker who also wondered about PR in Scotland. He mentions: (1) The region votes must be summed for nationwide PR indeed. (2) A 50%:50% distinction between local and national seats would be helpful indeed. In reply to this: why still allow FPTP when it may cause that a minority winner would become the “representative” ? It is better to require at least q and/or at least 50% of the district.

The UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS)

The UK ERS falsely claims that STV applied to districts would be PR while it is not. The ERS also criticises the Scottish system, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

In 2011, the current Scottish system was already in place, and the ERS advised a change. See the Guardian or the BCC:

One of the authors of the report, Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University, said: “The widespread expectation that the Scottish Parliament would be a multi-party parliament, in which no party would ever have an overall majority, has been dashed. “In truth, although the electoral system bequeathed to the Scottish Parliament by Labour was far more proportional than first-past-the-post, it was never one that was best fitted to the realisation of that original expectation. “It still favours larger parties over smaller ones, who, indeed, are actually being discouraged from standing in the constituency contests.” (BBC 2011-11-15)

A similar critique is given w.r.t. the 2016 outcome. Some changes like an “open party” list (i.e. the ability to vote for individual party candidates on the list) and the allocation of Sainte-Laguë may indeed be mentioned.

But this is small beer compared to the major critique on the Scottish system, that it still allows for the hangup on district representation.

While the ERS should warn voters and legislators about this hangup, the ERS suffers from this hangup itself too, and propounds STV for districts, which destroys PR.

The person affiliated with ERS writes to me:

I am not in favour of electing MPs (or other representatives) in two different ways. In Scotland we have experience of the Scottish Parliament where MSPs are elected by the Additional Member System (AMS = a regionalised version of MMP). Some of the worst problems of electing MSPs in two different ways (Constituency and Region) have abated over the years, but the tension remains and surfaces from time to time. It would have been much better if all the MSPs had been elected by STV-PR, but AMS was a political compromise as one the major parties (Labour) would just not accept STV-PR at any price. (Personal communication)

Again, this person at ERS suggests that STV would be PR, even calling it STV-PR, while the very application of STV to districts destroys the PR.

Missing Scottish voters

ERS Scotland director Willie Sullivan wrote a book about the structurally low turnout for Scottish elections: “The Missing Scotland: Why over a million Scots choose not to vote and what it means for our democracy” (publisher).

In an article, Sullivan summarises:

“If the working people wanted democracy, why do so many now not vote? Surely these are the people that should be most eager to flex their democratic muscle? In research for my book, Missing Scotland, I tried to find out why more than a million Scots choose not to vote. What I found is worrying. Most important of all, people don’t think voting will make anything better. They have tried voting, and they have tried not voting, and there is no difference. They think politicians are all the same, don’t understand their lives and they make promises they never keep. This is not a question of not caring. The people I spoke to care a lot about their families and communities. They are worried about losing their homes or their jobs. They even like the idea of democracy, they just don’t think we have it. Not voting is often a deliberate act.”

I haven’t read this book, but only find it relevant enough to mention its existence. My guess is that Sullivan hasn’t mentioned two elements:

  1. When the Scottish electoral system was changed, they didn’t adopt the PR system like in Holland, but kept their hangup on districts, and ERS itself was an agent in this. Potentially Sullivan might feel ashamed that he doesn’t quite comprehend what democracy is.
  2. Scotland isn’t aware of the failure of the Trias Politica model and the need for an Economic Supreme Court.

Conclusion

My finding is that major political distortions in the UK, France, USA and India arise because of lack of PR.  A lobby for STV for districts doesn’t resolve this, and it is falsely claimed to be PR. Thus I would tend to advice electoral reform in this order of priority:

  • first PR, like the system in Holland or the EU Parliament (Open Party List)
  • if this is up and running, secondly allow for an element of locality for half of the seats (s / 2, district size 2q, and the district representative is elected with at least 50% of the district vote, potentially corrected for turnout)
  • if this is up and running, improve the system by allowing voters freedom on how they vote
  • compare STV and Borda Fixed Point and other methods for the selection of the local representative.

The UK Electoral Reform Society hinders clarity on electoral reform since they show a hangup on districts. They better focus on establishing Proportional Representation (PR), while regarding the issue of districts as of secondary importance.

Given overall PR, one might even let voters determine on the ballot how to deal with the district representation, for the s / 2 seats available for district representation.

  1. Some voters might vote for a party, and be done with that. Seats are allocated to the party in proportion to the total number of votes. (Closed Party List) Some voters might wish to select a party but also a particular person in that party, so that the party order takes over if the person would not be elected. (Open Party List) These approaches can be combined (as in Holland) when the Closed List voters vote for the party leader.
  2. Some voters might indicate where their vote would go, if their party of choice isn’t elected. (Remember that a single candidate is a party with a single candidate.)
  3. Other voters might wish to vote for particular candidates across parties, and then might want to indicate how votes would have to be transferred if the candidate doesn’t get elected. (Otherwise it is apportioned automatically.) There is still the comparison between STV and e.g. (repeated) application of the Borda Fixed Point method. STV runs the risk of eliminating a compromis candidate, who receives few votes in the initial stage, but who can collect support because of secondary preferences. This might not be relevant for the party proportion but be quite relevant for voters and the candidates themselves. This would not be an issue of PR but of Quality Representation (QR).

PS. Dan Hodges (Telegraph June 1 2015) has a very entertaining article “No, Britain does not want proportional representation“. The weak spot in his argument is that the 2011 referendum on AV was misrepresented as a referendum on PR while it actually was a referendum on AV. The strong point is that ERS cannot be convincing if its arguments are confused. There still is a case for sound arguments and good education.

PPS. The subtle relation between proportional representation (PR) and district representation (DR) shows also in the existence of a Senate or House of Lords, in which districts / States might be represented by 2 senators per State like in the USA. For a Senate the DR might be acceptable since the Senate has the role of guardian for the nation itself. The House would be sensitive to the preferences of the electorate, and in that case PR would be logical.

Advertisements

There is a bizarre incomprehension of democracy.

I was inclined to say in the English speaking world – UK, USA, India – but there is also France, with the upcoming elections for the French National Assembly 2017. Also France has a system of District Representation (DR) rather than Proportional Representation (PR). Examples of PR are Holland, Germany and to some extent the European Parliament.

Democratic theory favours PR above DR. It is a historical mistake that countries have DR.

The UK Electoral Reform Society (wikipedia) protests about the UK general elections 2017.

Electoral Reform Society, website June 2017

Indeed, there is this difference (wikipedia) between the UK system of DR with the better system of PR. While the popular vote gives a majority to Lab + SNP + LibDem, the majority in seats goes to Con + DUP.

Seats Votes
Con

317

48.8%

13,632,914

42.3%

DUP

10

1.5%

292,316

0.9%

Lab

262

40.3%

12,874,985

40.0%

SNP

35

5.4%

977,569

3.0%

LibDem

12

1.8%

2,371,772

7.4%

Other

14

2.2%

2,047,362

6.4%

Total

650

100.0%

32,196,918

100.0%

There is also the political dynamics of proportionality. Once a proportional system is in place then new parties will have a larger chance to get elected, and then they also have more scope to grow and to challenge the existing parties. We may observe that the UK 2017 outcome may be more proportional than in the past, but this still neglects the dynamics and the build-up of frustration amongst minorities that aren’t represented well.

The UK already has experience with the system of PR, namely for the European elections. While UKIP didn’t do so well within the UK system, Nigel Farage gained the limelight via the elections for the European Parliament.

The UK Electoral Reform Society fails too

Part of the bizarre situation is that the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) fails too. They favour the system of “Single Transferable Vote” (STV) and they call this a system of PR while it isn’t PR. It is rather bizarre that they do not comprehend this. The UK had a so-called “referendum on PR” in 2011, but this was actually on the system of “Instant Run-Off” (a.k.a. “Alternative Vote”).

Apparently, the UK has a hangup on DR. They think that districts allow voters to connect directly with the local politicians, and that this reduces the influence of the party bosses. This is a dubious argument. If a representative and party member is out of line with the party then the party might still sack him or her nevertheless. In PR it is easier to start a new political party and be elected (when the issue likely isn’t just local).

Thus the statements by the ERS about district representation derive from historical bias and not from clear theory and practical experience with PR.

Let me give an example how STV favoured by ERS is not PR at all, even though they claim that it would be PR.

Example that STV is not PR

Consider two districts with 30000 voters each. Each district has 2 seats, so that the Droop Quota is 30000 / (2 + 1) + 1 = 10001. Parties contending for these seats are Con, Lab, en LDP. In District 1, the Con are popular, and they present there a list with two candidates. In District 2 the Lab are popular, and they present there a list with two candidates. We consider a rather symmetrical situation as in the following table, also with the STV results.

In STV, voters vote only once, but they can assign a rank order of the candidates.

In District 1, 7503 Con1 voters give Con1 as their first choice and Con2 as their second choice. Also 7501 Con2 voters give Con2 as their first choice and Con1 as their second choice.

  1. In the first round, no candidate meets the quota. LDP1 has the minimal number of votes, 7494, and is eliminated.
  2. In the second round, Con2 has the minimal number of votes, 7501, and is eliminated.
  3. In the third round, the Con2 votes are allocated to Con1, and Con1 meets the quota and is elected.
  4. In the fourth round, Lab3 is the remaining candidate and thus is elected, though the 7502 votes are below the quota.

The situation in District 2 is analogous.

District 1 Votes District 2  Votes
Con1

7503

Elected Con3

7502

Elected

Con2

7501

Lab1

7503

Elected

Lab3

7502

Elected Lab2

7501

LDP1

7494

LDP2

7494

30000

30000

Let us now join the two districts, and look how STV works for the national vote.

There are 60000 voters and 4 seats, so the Droop Quota is 60000 / (4 + 1) + 1 = 12001.

The Con voters put the Con candidates of their district in the first places, and then the Con candidates of the other district. For example, the 7501 Con2 voters have the rank order {Con2, Con1, Con3}.

Because of the symmetrical structure of this example, there are some ties. Rather than using a coin, we use the alphabetical order.

  1. In the first round, no candidate meets the quota, and LDP1 is eliminated.
  2. In the second round, the LDP1 votes go to LDP2, and it is elected.
  3. In the third round, alphabetically Con2 has the minimal number of votes, and is eliminated.
  4. In the fourth round, Con2’s votes go to Con1, and it is elected.
  5. In the fifth round, alphabetically Lab2 has the minimal number of votes, and is eliminated.
  6. In the sixth round, Lab2 votes go to Lab1, and it is elected.
  7. In the seventh round, alphabetically Con3 has the minimal number of votes, 10506, and is eliminated.
  8. In the eighth round, Lab3 remains, and is elected, though with only 10506 votes.

Thus now LDP2, Con1, Lab1 and Lab3 are elected.

Upshot:

  • As the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) states that STV would generate proportional results, both {Con1, Con3, Lab1, Lab3} and {Con1, Lab1, Lab3, LDP2} would be proportional results, which however are quite different results, which destroys the meaning of proportionality.
  • With a hangup on DR, there will be little scope for fair representation of the minority LDP.
  • PR would require party representation with {37.5%, 37.5%, 25%} of the seats. Admittedly, this is difficult to achieve with 4 seats, but if the situation persists then one might change the number of seats. This uses the PR criterion rather than the STV criterion.

In these considerations, the notion of PR dominates DR.

Confusing information from Holland

Holland is a small country with some 10 million voters. One might think that its proportional system might not easily scale up to a large unit like the EU. If the EU Parliament would be fully proportional, then Germany might have too large a weight. However, there are also divisions along party lines, and proportionality still would be a fair choice.

Holland had general elections on March 15 2017, and political parties are still negotiating about a coalition government. This is bad advertisement for the system.

There is a confusion in Holland about desiring the minimal majority coalition, that bargains for an agreement that would apply for the next 4 years. It would be more rational to look for a larger majority, and rather set for a flexible agenda, so that issues can be dealt with in varying manner. See this paper of mine. It may also be better to have elections every year, so that Parliament becomes more sensitive to the popular vote. (If you would replace only 25% of the seats, then the electoral quota becomes 4 times larger, and this might be too high again.)

Most bizarre is that the Dutch party D66 wants to change the Dutch PR system into more use of districts … see here. Thus the good news about democracy in Holland is killed again by the campaigners on the D66 hobby horse.

Conclusion

We observe that the UK ERS protests against the failure of the UK electoral system, but we can also conclude that ERS doesn’t comprehend democracy.

We find similar confusions all over the world. The best advice is to change your national electoral system to the PR system like in Holland (or to some extent the EU parliament), yet many campaigners ride their hobby horses of wildly confusing varieties, and calling it “democracy” while it actually isn’t.

PM. A paper of mine on comparing PR and DR is here.