A proposal for Single Member Proportional Representation

The history of reform is replete with proposals for change, so it is with some trepidation that I propose yet another system: single-member proportional representation (SMPR).

All electoral systems have merits, and I did not set out to make (nor could I!) the academically ‘best’ system. Instead, I used only one criterion: maximum feasibility. I sought to design a system that would have a fighting chance of gaining a majority both in Parliament and with the people in a referendum, while also delivering true PR. The well-studied failure of the AV referendum (and general apathy to reform in general) indicated that complicated systems will suffer at the polls; AV, after all, is the first and easy step on the road to STV. SMPR is intended for: delivering truly proportional representation and being palatable.

The full details of SMPR are laid out in my white paper. In brief, every person in the country will have two MPs: a constituency MP (as today) and, a regional MP covering a single-member constituency covering an area of roughly (though this will vary by population) four of today’s constituencies. This maps conveniently onto regions; there would be, for example, an MP for Cornwall. Everyone’s ballot will feature candidates for these seats, so each person will know exactly for whom they are voting. The choice is simple, transparent, and easily understandable, and voters need check only a single box (no numbers required).

Now, we arrive at the proportional aspect, which involves the slightly unusual trick of SMPR. The votes for parties are tallied up nationally, rather than regionally, and the Saint-Lagüe quota is used to allocate additional seats to parties, taking into account the constituency seats already won. By calculating proportionality nationally, this maximises proportionality and keeps most seats relatively small and close to the people; this is known in the political science as the ‘sweet spot’ due to its desirability. The table (below) gives a rough indication of how well SMPR would justly compensate the Lib Dems for their votes, when 2019 vote counts are plugged into SMPR. (Note that as changes in electoral systems affect voting behaviour, it is likely more people would have voted Lib Dem in 2019 had PR been in place). SMPR is thus a highly proportional system involving minimal change from the existing system, which will increase its favourability among MPs (who like the current system because it got them elected) and voters (who are hostile to change).

The final point of SMPR, once seats have been allocated to parties, is to determine which of that party’s regional candidates will receive seats in Parliament. This is done quite simply: the regional candidate with the highest number of votes receives a seat, followed by the candidate with the second highest level of votes, and so on. Thus, a constituency’s voters directly influence which proportional regional member they will receive. For example, imagine a region (say, Cornwall), where there are four constituencies where the Lib Dems are (sadly!) in second place under First Past the Post. The combined high votes for the Lib Dems in those four constituencies would mean that it would be highly likely that the regional MP for Cornwall would be a Lib Dem.

I realise this system is far from perfect, which is why I submit it to LDV for discussion and consideration!

You can read my full white paper on the matter here.

* Elijah Granet is a Bar Vocational Course student at the City Law School (University of London), as well as an external PhD candidate at Universität Bayreuth in Germany.

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  • Jenny Barnes 4th Jan '22 - 3:45pm
  • I have just downloaded the full paper to read.

    At first glance, I find the proposal attractive for several reasons:

    – Although I am a fan of STV, I recognise that very many voters have great difficulty understanding the request to number candidates in order of preference instead of putting a X against a name.

    – It avoids the power given to poliitical parties by party list systems. Apart from the normal challenge of getting selected (as a constituency or regional candidate), it is the actions of voters that will determine which regional candidates become MPs, not the ranking decisions of party managers.

    – It avoid multi-member constituencies, albeit at the unavoidable cost of having regional MPs alongside constituency MPs.

    For too long, supporters of “perfect” electoral reform solutions have let the best be the enemy of the good. I still remember the purists who argued agains the AV referendum.

    Accordingly, subject to my reading the downloaded paper, I would support this proposal becoming Party policy.

  • Michael Hopkins 4th Jan '22 - 4:36pm

    I remember David Steele once commenting that a debate on different methods of PR was “Old Liberal”. [This was at the time that “New Labour” was a popular phrase]. I’m quite proud to be Old Liberal.

  • Brad Barrows 4th Jan '22 - 5:03pm

    I’m afraid I believe STV is the ideal system and the one we should be promoting at every opportunity. While is is not ‘pure’ PR, it is the system that maximises the power of voters to determine which candidates get elected, while delivering results that tend to be approximately proportional in practice. (Indeed, the degree of proportionality can be increased by increasing the number of candidates to be elected per constituency.)

    I would also suggest that the way to advance STV is to prioritise getting it for local councils – this will allow voters to experience it, and realise its advantages, thereby making it easier to win a possible future referendum on changing the system for elections to Westminster. STV works well in Scotland for local elections and I would hope that we would see a move towards adopting it for the Scottish Parliament in the near future as STV is already supported by the SNP.

  • Richard Church 4th Jan '22 - 5:18pm

    What you are proposing is a variation of the additional member system, already in use for the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. Your system though would fail to produce proportionality if only one fifth of the seats are proprionally allocated. It woultake a much larger propotion, at least a third to produce proportionality. Take the example of Cornwall. All of the current six MP’s are conservative, one additioanl member for the whole of Cornwall might give on MP for the Lib Dems and nothing for Labour. In other places your might have to select the third or fourth placed candidate to achieve proportionality.

    Additional member systems to produce two classes of MP with different workloads, it also leads political parties to play the system, as the Greens do in Scotland, and as Alex Salmond’s Alba party tried to, to win seats that the SNP couldn’t win because they had reached their quota on FPTP MP’s.

    We need to promote and campaign for STV as a system which maximises voter choice while providing a far more proprtional outcome than FPTP, and more proportional than the system with only 25% of MP’s elected regionally.

  • The French system of ‘more than 50% or the top two go head-to-head’ is pretty simple…
    What seems daft is we already have three voting systems in Wales. Long queues on May 6 last year were partly due to Covid restrictions, but also voters getting to the booths and scratching their heads over the different systems for the Senedd and the PCC elections.
    One reason the AV referendum failed was because the ‘yes’ broadcasts just explained how it works (more head-scratching). While the ‘no’ broadcasts made it a referendum on Nick Clegg.

  • James Fowler 4th Jan '22 - 5:33pm

    It certainly looks interesting, though I wouldn’t fancy the workload of the regional MP and I’m not sure how neatly (outside Cornwall) the 4 MP format maps over onto established counties.

    In terms of simplicity there’s nothing wrong with AV – unless you think that people are too daft to rank their preferences.

  • Chris Moore 4th Jan '22 - 5:48pm

    The French system doesn’t pretend to be proportional. It’s like AV spread over two weekends.

  • Chris Moore 4th Jan '22 - 5:49pm

    Likewise AV itself is a complication on FPTP and not a system that aims for proportionality.

  • This system seems attractive, and as laid out has much to recommend it, though I’d be curious to know how it would affect the size of the House of Commons, which is already 650 MPs in size – about how many seats would need to be added for proportionality to be achieved, would you say?

  • I have now read the full 17 page paper, and encourage others to do the same.

    Having read it, I give the proposal my full support. I believe this should be our Party’s policy.

  • James Fowler 4th Jan '22 - 8:59pm

    @Elijah Granet. Fair points, and thank you for responding. Regarding the failed referendum, I think the overwhelming problem was the timing. AV would have cruised through in 97/98 – not doing so was one of New Labour’s major strategic errors as it would have cemented the Lab 1, LD 2 (and vice versa) habit that did so much tactically to get them into government decisively.

    I think your ideas are good, but there’s next to zero appetite for this kind of reform in a country mired in a state of defensive and fearful reclusiveness. Let’s hope for happier, more open times.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th Jan '22 - 9:20pm

    I’m not currently a member of the party, but I have been and am irresistibly drawn like a moth to the flame of these discussions.

    I agree with the propositions that: 1) STV is an ‘ideal’ proportional system and 2) that there are underlying assumptions around the mechanics and ‘principles’ (often reverse-engineered, as they are) of FPTP that make movement towards this ideal very difficult, and therefore a compromise between proportionality and what the British public thinks it has learnt from FPTP worth serious consideration otherwise we are stuck with the most crude voting system.

    However, I think your acceptance of two kinds of MP and regional lists deviates from these pragmatic principles to an extent that even the simplicity of one-mark-in-one-box won’t resolve. It also makes any future progress towards STV more difficult.

    I’ve been toying with a different system based on a sequential reweighting model, whereby constituencies are grouped in threes and voters in each group have three votes, one for each seat, with votes cast for a voter’s own seat being weighted double those cast by the same voter in the two neighbouring seats. I can explain at greater length if anyone is interested. (I haven’t explained the counting method fully in this synopsis).

    This system – whilst more of a semiproportional system than you propose – would have the advantage of enshrining the principle of local representation many have learnt from FPTP, whilst holding open the door to STV in the future. It also allows independent candidates to represent all three of the seats, rather than only 50% of them as in your system.

  • Peter Davies 5th Jan '22 - 7:37am

    One of the key arguments that we must overcome for any form of PR is the idea that single member seats represent a community. Cornwall is a community. St. Austell & Newquay is not. The current boundary commission proposals dissociate constituencies reduce the link between constituencies and communities even further. You need to win that argument to introduce one regional MP for Cornwall and if you can do that you might as well go straight for STV and have six MPs for Cornwall. That also means that your regions don’t all have to be the same size as they would be under this system. You could have a seven member Wiltshire and a single member Isle of Wight. The electors / MPs ratio wouldn’t be exact but they would represent real communities.

  • If you’d like a PR system that also preserves the single-member constituency link, then an even simpler one is “vote from hat”.
    1) Everyone votes for their favoured candidate in their local constituency on FPTP-style “pick one” ballot papers.
    2) In each constituency, one vote from all those cast (after discarding spoilt papers) is picked at random, and the candidate on that vote is elected.

    Everyone gets a local MP as now; the ballot papers are no more complex than the current ones; every vote could potentially be the crucial one which decides the seat, therefore increasing turnout; as with STV (and unlike AMS/list-type systems) independent candidates are not penalised over party candidates; there are no “safe” seats so even a candidate with 80% local support has a strong motivation to increase it further, improving responsiveness to constituents; there is no tactical voting possible – a honest vote is always the best strategy; at national level (given, as always, sufficient seats) the expectation is that each party will receive a number of MPs very closely proportional to its national vote share; the vote counting can take place extremely quickly.

    With so many advantages over both FPTP and more traditional PR systems, I think it’s definitely worth considering [1]

    [1] …not to actually adopt it. It just makes a good thought experiment to think about what’s *actually* valuable about a voting system and why VFH – despite its long list of advantages – isn’t appropriate, which might clarify what you really want elsewhere.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Jan '22 - 10:24am

    Isn’t strange that some people think that STV is too complicated for the electorate to understand! Voters have been using STV in Eire since independence and Scottish voters don’t have any problems with it for local elections either. Many trades unions use it for internal elections too. The party should stop pratting about with half baked proposals like this and go full heartedly for STV for all UK elections. It puts voters, not parties in control and, largely, ensures that voters get an MP of their persuasion. The small constituency argument is just an argument to stop PR.

  • Matthew Bedford 5th Jan '22 - 11:56am

    The big problem with this proposal is how you allocate the top-up seats.
    Using the example in your paper (based on 2019 and accepting that actual votes would not have been the same under a different system) only 4 parties are entitled to top-up seats: LD/Lab/Grn/APNI.
    There is a specific Northern Ireland problem – N.I. has 4 top-up seats of which APNI gets 2 – who gets the other 2? presumably Greens based on a handful of votes in N.I.?
    More significantly, Labour presumably win the top-up seats in all the places where they have most votes i.e. in general where they already hold all or nearly all the constituent FPTP seats, plus some top-ups in Scotland. Greens presumably win the top-up seats where their vote is most concentrated i.e. Greater Brighton, Bristol, a couple in inner London etc. LDs then win all the other top-up seats, including over half the top-up seats in England – everywhere except the strongest Lab or Grn areas, which by definition will include areas with negligible LD strength. I am not sure that it really makes sense for someone to become the MP for (say) Barking & Havering despite their party getting ~5% and coming third or fourth in each of the constituencies there??

  • Peter Davies 5th Jan '22 - 12:07pm

    Southend-on-Sea is indeed a community. It is not a constituency. Southend West and Rochford & Southend East are the two constituencies. The districts of Rochford and Castle Point are generally focused on Southend as the major urban centre and together they would make a reasonable three member seat.

  • My opinion is that we need to focus on our own party’s decision making process.
    We also need to work out the role of political parties if we are to agree that referendums are part of any system.
    I agree that it is very strange to claim that putting a list of people in order of preference is beyond people. If it is true we need to urgently update our education system.

  • Peter Davies 5th Jan '22 - 12:20pm

    Actually four member but a bit small. I’d allow rather greater variations than the current system. Better to have permanent boundaries that represent real communities and just change the number of MPs as electorates change.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Jan '22 - 12:27pm

    @Peter Davies
    “Better to have permanent boundaries that represent real communities and just change the number of MPs as electorates change.”

    And doesn’t the same apply to local authorities? Shouldn’t they be structured around communities also?

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '22 - 1:00pm

    It’s an interesting alternative to AMS/MMP, better in some ways, worse in others; I’ll be happy to join in academic discussion of the details at another time.

    But what is totally unrealistic is to think that tossing a new PR system into the debate is going to help the adoption of PR for Westminster elections. It will be much easier to get the public to accept a system that has been used in at least part of the UK than a new and untried one.

    Conservatives are implacably opposed to any change from FPTP, but support within Labour for PR is increasing, and in Wales they are even moving towards replacing AMS with STV for the Senedd. The Greens, SNP and Plaid are all in favour of PR. Let’s keep the debate simple: a pro-PR majority in parliament after the next election is a real possibility.

    We as a party have for long argued for STV, which combines voter choice, proportionality and local representation, while minimising wasted votes and safe seats. And it could be easily and quickly introduced – with natural constituencies such as Cornwall – see the suggestion at https://lder.org/en/page/the-single-transferable-vote

  • Laurence Cox 5th Jan '22 - 1:02pm

    It is good for us who prefer STV to be challenged, and this is certainly a challenge. You say:

    “I’ve said this before in the thread, but I will say it again, because I want to avoid confusion or division—SMPR is not anti-STV or constructed to exclude STV from becoming the UK’s national system. Precisely the opposite: once the UK has PR, it is easy to transition to one or another system of PR without much difficulty. ”

    I disagree with this. As far as the voter is concerned the system is the same as FPTP; you put an X against the party you want to vote for. In that sense, AV is much closer to STV because you have to express preferences. Living in London, I am exposed to four distinct voting systems: single-member FPTP for Parliament and my London Assembly constituency; proportional list for the Assembly List; Supplementary Vote for the London Mayor; and multiple-member FPTP for my local elections. In all it is the same X (although there are two columns for the mayoral election and in my local elections I can mark as many Xs as there are places to be filled in the ward).

  • Elija: I don’t accept your assertion that “SMPR” would be a step towards adoption of a better PR system i.e. STV. It’s good to try and get PR onto the ms political agenda but promoting a flawed system would help to muddy the water further. Prior to the Jenkins proposals our parties were clearly committed to STV. Even the ERS seems to have been dverted

  • contd. diverted sometimes in recent years.
    A strong selling point for STV which we should exploit is that it doesn’t entrench the power of party politics.

  • @ Elijah Granet. “I must respectfully say that that is as unrealistic as every other time in the past 100+ years of electoral reform that Labour has declined to do so”.

    Hang on just a mo, Elijah………. As far as I know (and do correct me if I am wrong) the few Labour MPs in the H of C in 1917 supported the introduction of what was regarded then as a form of PR during all the debates and negotiations leading up to the Representation of the People Act, 1918. It was rejected (in 1917) by a majority which included a rather larger number of Liberal MP’s – and by a Government led by someone who claimed to be a Liberal Prime Minister. [1]

    1. Stuart Ball (Ed)., The Advent of Democracy : The Impact of the 1918 Reform Act on British Politics, (Wiley for The Parliamentary History Yearbook Trust, 2018).

    Failure to get a form of PR back in 1918 could be regarded as a bit of an own goal if it ever featured in Match of the Day.

    PS. As usual I happen to agree with Professor Mollison who knows about these things, Elijah.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Jan '22 - 2:20pm

    “A strong selling point for STV which we should exploit is that it doesn’t entrench the power of party politics.”

    Which might be why tories and probably labour would remain implacably opposed to it? Both very controlling parties to whom the idea that the voter controls the order of a party’s candidates in a list might be anathema?

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '22 - 2:29pm

    @elijah (ref. @cim) –
    “If you will forgive me for being really pedantic..”
    Sorry, you’re not being pedantic here, just wrong.
    If the % votes were the same in each constituency, the numbers elected would follow a multi-nomial distribution. For a party with 40% of the vote, this would give a mean of 40 % of seats, with variability (standard deviation) of about 2 %. If more realistically the % vote varies between constituencies, the variability will be reduced: e.g., if that party got 60 % in half the seats, 20 % in the other half, it would still on average get its 40 % of seats, but the variability would reduce from about 2 % to about 1.8 % (from sqrt(156) to sqrt(130) in number of seats).

    The key point here is that this variability is small compared with the distortions of FPTP. And it would get rid of safe seats – even with 90% of the vote there’d be a 1 in 10 chance of losing your seat. So I’d definitely take cim’s system in preference to our present one!

  • @Elijah Granet
    Surprisingly it does even work out as proportional, *if* the constituencies are all collecting a similar number of votes each. Take a basic two party system where ten constituencies are 51-49 splits to party A, ten are 80-20 to party A, and ten are 40-60 to party B, all constituencies having about the same number of total votes. On average, A and B will win five of the first group each, split the second group 8:2, and split the third group 4:6, for a total of 17 A to 13 B, which near exactly matches their national vote share. So long as you assume identical per-constituency turnout the expected result is highly proportional.

    If there are substantial differences in the sizes of constituency turnouts which happen to correlate with voting patterns then it works less well, though the same is a source of disproportionality in any PR system which isn’t whole-nation.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Jan '22 - 2:48pm

    We will only get one chance at PR and that is if we get rid of the Tories and get a hung Parliament. We should have insisted on legislation in 2010 as a precondition of going into government. The Tories were desperate for power and would have agreed. A minimalist compromise like this gives away the principle before we even start talking. We know STV is the right solution and we should prepare a bill ready to go if we get the opportunity. Forget referendums. Look what happened with the last two! Put it in the manifesto and then implement it. No half measures

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '22 - 2:57pm

    @Mick Taylor
    Agree 100%

    A large part of the failure of AV in the referendum was that the electorate knew it was being suggested as second best (if that). Clegg himself had famously called it a miserable compromise. The voters need to know that we believe in what we propose.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Jan '22 - 4:36pm

    If a coalition or supply and confidence arrangement is possible after the next GE then Labour will be desperate to get into government. It needs to be made clear during the GE that the Lib Dem price is STV in all elections by way of a bill in parliament not dependent on a Referendum. All other matters can be negotiable but passing an Act for STV is not and it has to be done before any arrangement is made. We can quite legitimately point to the price we paid for the last coalition and that we are not prepared for a repeat of that. Also there us a history of Labour reneging on PR ( viz. LibLab pact) and we want to be assured of good faith. No STV no agreement to govern

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Jan '22 - 4:39pm


    I know you haven’t asked me but I would say that if there is a coalition or confidence and supply agreement favouring Labour after the next election it will probably be with the SNP, not the Lib Dems. This will require Labour to seriously consider a PR system as they will want an insurance policy if the SNP win an independence referendum. This might exacerbate Labour tensions about PR, or force Labour to find a system the party can compromise on.
    But I can’t see Labour getting SNP agreement to a system such as you propose where there is a UK-wide proportionality calculation. I suspect it would be in the perceived self-interests of both partners to look at systems with either local proportionality in multi-member constituencies (such as STV) or some form of regional MMP (probably based on D’Hondt whilst we’re being cynical), thus entrenching regional powerbases.

    My semi-proportional 3-vote 3-member semi-merged constituency system above (I think it got held up by screening) may also offer a model.

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '22 - 6:30pm

    @Elijah @Mick
    Prof Bogdanor may have his views, but I believe the constitutional position is that if there’s a commitment to PR in the manifesto(s) of a new government it can bring in PR.
    Given the level of debate on the AV referendum, it would make much more sense to offer one after the electorate has had experience of it.. There’s a precedent there – the first European referendum came 2 years after we joined.

    I think the debate you should be having is not within the LDs, but with Labour: if you can persuade them that your system is better than STV, MMP or list-PR, they may adopt it, and bring it to any post-election negotiations with other parties – hopefuly including ourselves. But I hope that we will stick with our preference for STV until we get into that negotiating room.

  • James Fowler 5th Jan '22 - 6:31pm

    @Mick Taylor. Very much agree that AV should have been legislation as it was such a minor change.

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '22 - 6:55pm

    @Elijah @cim – “fun with probability”
    You are right that, trying not to over-complicate, I was assuming equal numbers of votes in each constituency. cim’s proposal treats each constituency as of equal weighting, so the expected numbers of MPs will be proportional to the national vote with contributions weighted in that way. That may be biased towards one party rather than another – arguably weighting to make each constituency equally important is fairer than taking differential turnout into account, because turnout is typically socially biased – but I would be surprised if it makes more than a % or two’s difference to the parties’ overall vote %s – we could look at data from (e.g.) the 2019 election to test this.

    With that clarification, I stand by what I said, that taking one vote at random from each constituency will give a sample with mean equal to the population mean, and standard deviation of around 2% – and that variation in party votes between constituencies will (a) not affect the mean, but (b) will reduce the standard deviation.

    Best wishes, Denis (please note only one `n’)

  • Matt (Bristol) 5th Jan '22 - 10:54pm

    Elijah, thanks for your comments. I do agree that any government’s policy on voting reform and proportionality is going to be shaped by tradeoffs and political choices.

    In many ways I don’t want the Lib Dems to stop banging on about STV, but I am sceptical, as you are, about the ability of the UK to get to STV from FPTP in one single jump, because of the additional political and cultural baggage we have loaded onto FPTP as the system has evolved.

    I agree with Denis Mollinson to an extent that if Labour adopts a clearer policy of options for reform (or even part of Labour adopts a clear policy) the shape of a future compromise may firm up.

    I’m not overly attached to my system, although I think it has something to commend it, but it was based around listening to what non-poitically minded friends feel instinctively about the voting system — proportionality is seen as good, but they don’t want to entirely trade away having single-person local representation, they want to vote for individuals, not lists, and do find the prioritisations of AV / STV a barrier.

  • Steve Comer 6th Jan '22 - 10:24am

    I really don’t think the cause of getting a democratic electoral system will be aided by getting into yet another protracted debate about voting systems, let alone inventing new ones!

    In many ways STV is the system that is easiest for the UK to change to, it maintains the supposed “link between MP and consituents” that incumbent MPs hold dear, and it also delivers a result which is close to proportionality.
    The downside is that the Tory and Labour parties are unlikley to agree to it as it weakens the power of the party machine, as is illustrated by the number of Independent TDs in Ireland – many of whom left their original parties.

    I would accept an AMS/MMR system for Parliament – a vast improvement on FPTP, but would want to really push to achieve STV in Local Government. In some ways this is an easier sell as most Councils already have multi-member wards, and NOC is common at local level. This balance of systems seems to work in Scotland, so there is precedent in the UK, and of course Northern Ireland has used STV for decades.

  • @Denis
    I ran a bunch of simulated VFH elections with the 2019 results to see how much difference differential turnout makes … and it’s really not too bad. It does tend to slightly favour Labour over Conservatives by ten seats or so, but anything other than whole country list PR or very careful grouping of urban and rural seats will do that on current voting patterns … the Gallagher Index obviously jumps around a bit depending on how “lucky” you get with the simulation, but almost always is in the 0-4 range which is better than most PR systems in actual use manage in practice.

  • While a big improvement over FPTP and virtually anything would be. This system comes down in two ways.

    In these seas of blue representation across the Home Counties for instance, both constituency and regional top up MP would likely remain Tory, giving people a choice of representatives of randomised Tories who might be a one nation MP, but more likely these days a dry extreme free marketeer or little nationalist.

    Having been corresponding over the vagaries of post brexit trade with my trade minister MP, Prentice. I am astonished how ignorant and ill informed these supposed representatives can be.

    The other issue is that compared to Multi Member constituencies, many people would be unable to find a representative who could offer sympathetic or effective representation.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jan '22 - 12:15pm

    “Northern Ireland has used STV for decades.”

    Given the arguments over complexity it would be helpful to know what was done when STV was first introduced in Northern Ireland.

    Can anyone point to any useful info please?

  • Denis Mollison 6th Jan '22 - 12:42pm

    @Elijah – ref random sampling
    I’ve had a look at the paper you cite. I don’t think random sampling is used any longer in Ireland; perhaps that paper contributed to the change.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jan '22 - 4:25pm

    Re STV in Northern Ireland – I hadn’t been aware of its use in days of old – but this mentions it:

    I was thinking specifically about its use after the Good Friday Agreement. I have some vague recollection of a public information campaign at the time – might have involved a cartoon character who might have been called something like ‘P R Pete’ – but I haveni’t found anything about that so far…

  • @Elijah
    Yes, “last batch transfer” as used in Ireland and indeed in the Electoral Reform Society model ruleset isn’t something I’m aesthetically happy with either. I have hand-counted elections using a properly fractional non-sampling transfer, and it takes absolutely ages and leads to huge transfer path tables needing to be calculated and monitored, as well as very careful bundling together of votes. Not impossible but I wouldn’t want to try it for a 5-seat constituency on the UK scale! I wouldn’t be at all averse to computerised counting, though, with appropriate safeguards and accountability.

    It’s one of the weaknesses of STV, I think: sure, explaining how to cast a vote is straightforward enough; explaining how the votes are counted in a multi-place election is not because the precise details of how surplus transfers work can actually get pretty complex. For accountability I believe voters should understand not only how to cast a vote but what will happen to it afterwards – trivial for FPTP, still perfectly acceptable for AV or Borda or Range or Approval or the various List PR systems, a hugely complex process that I’ve seen plenty of people (including the occasional Returning Officer!) get wrong for STV.

  • Matt (Bristol) 6th Jan '22 - 7:15pm

    Whilst I respect your efforts here and I agree largely with you about your underlying assumptions. I think I want to make one last point about panachage.

    STV, AMS, and several other systems all allow a voter to either differentiate between a vote for a person and a vote for a party, or to mix their voting between persons of different parties.

    Obviously the current FPTP ‘closed-list-of-one’ system doesn’t allow that (eliding it into approval or disapproval of a particular individual … and having grown out of bloc plurality voting in the 19th century, where in theory this choice existed), and neither does your system, being effectively a ‘semi-closed list’ voting system.

    Whilst accommodating voter choice in this way does increase the complexity of any voting system, I think it is both desirable from an abstract point of view, and attractive to voters, to include it.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Jan '22 - 5:16pm

    If as is certainly Make Votes Matter’s policy the system used will be decided by a Citizens’ Assembly, then it must be able to be understood by them. Another top down system imposed by a coalition will be resented. It is time to treat the electorate that the CA will be respresentative of as grown up individuals able to come to a conclusion with the help of experts. To me voter choice in terms of preferential voting is as important as PR and a constituency link.

  • Denis Mollison 7th Jan '22 - 11:06pm

    @cim , @elijah

    Electronic counting has been used in Scotland since STV was introduced for local elections in 2007. It has caused no problems – indeed, election officials prefer it because it gives more reliable results. [When we failed by 2 votes to win NE Fife in the 2017 General Election, this was on the 4th count, with the result having changed each time.]

    The vote data (since 2012) have been made publicly available, so if you’re suspicious of the proprietary software you can rerun the count for yourself and check it out. I have done this for the 2012 and 2017 elections; the data and results can be found on my web pages – https://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~denis/ – together with my best efforts to display how the count proceeds.

    On the difficulty of understanding how the count works (“the precise details of how surplus transfers work can actually get pretty complex”), the answer is to use Meek STV. It’s now just over 50 years since Meek pointed out that with the use of computers it is possible to stick exactly to the simple concept of STV:

    (a) votes are initially assigned to the voter’s first choice;
    (b) calculate the number of votes a candidate needs to be elected (the quota);
    (c) if a candidate has more votes than needed, pass on the excess by transferring the same proportion of each vote to that voter’s next choice;
    (d) if not all seats are filled, exclude the candidate with fewest votes, transferring the whole of each vote to the voter’s next choice.
    Steps (b-d) are repeated, as necessary, until all seats are filled.

    For any sizeable election, you can’t do the count by hand, but Meek’s method has just about every other advantage you could want. One important one is that for a voter who wants to calculate what happened to their own vote, all they need to know are the proportions their votes that each elected candidate kept.

  • Denis Mollison 8th Jan '22 - 8:26am

    You’re confusing electronic counting with electronic voting!

    Electronic voting IS very hard to protect from fraud, and I agree that at present it’s only acceptable for voluntary associations and suchlike.

    What I’m talking about is electronic counting such as is used in Scottish local elections. The actual voting is done in the traditional way on paper ballot forms. There are then two stages:
    (1) The vote papers are scanned by machine, with the usual opportunity for candidates and their agents to query any dubiously filled in votes. If a check or audit is needed, the papers remain available (I think for a year), allowing checks that of any or all scanned votes against the paper original. The votes are stored in a data file which is made publicly available.
    (2) The count, following the election’s rules (e.g. STV with a precise specific algorithm) is then carried out by computer. The check on this is that anyone can do their own count, and query the result if they think it’s wrong.

    Electronic counting on these lines has now been used for 3 sets of elections across Scotland without significant problems, and I see no reason why it could not be used across the UK, whatever system of PR we adopt – it might even be worth adopting while we keep FPTP to avoid counts like the NE Fife one I mention which are clear evdence that hand counting is prone to error!

  • Peter Davies 9th Jan '22 - 10:09am

    The level of security achievable with dedicated voting tablets is much better than anything you can do with a paper system. The opponents of electronic voting generally give examples of internet voting (which is unsafe) or American voting machines (lots of different systems with a very wide variety of faults). Even then the theoretical vulnerabilities they give generally require a much higher degree of insider access and technical expertise than fixing a paper ballot let alone postal voting.

  • Denis Mollison 9th Jan '22 - 12:49pm

    I don’t think it’s “issues” preventing all those countries and organisations from updating what I would call old-fashioned versions of STV, just inertia/reluctance to tamper with a situation that has public acceptance.

  • Denis Mollison 9th Jan '22 - 1:30pm

    PS. It’s that inertia that makes me reluctant to settle for a second-best PR system. Even if it’s widely recognised as second-best, it will take a long time to change.

  • Denis Mollison 9th Jan '22 - 5:24pm

    @ Elijah
    If we have to go to a referendum, we should follow NZ’s example and have two questions, (a) shall we have PR”, (b) if so, which kind?
    If that happens, by all means promote SMPR as an option for question (b), but when there are already 2 or 3 well-established and each fairly widely supported options, I respectfully don’t see that adding in a new system as anything but muddying the water.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Jan '22 - 5:19pm

    Elijah, I’d go further and say I agree with a lot of your logic on coalitions but the situation where Labour perceives itself to be in a position of strength and the ‘weaker’ coaliition partner are asking Labour for PR is not going to be one where PR of any kind is a likely outcome, even if a referendum is an outcome of that arrangement.

    Therefore my scenario of a Labour-SNP coalition is actually more likely to produce PR — because the SNP create a situation of real jeopardy for Labour where Labour will need PR for a possible future without Scotland. That leaves the Lib Dems as onlookers at the feast they have helped to prepare, I realise.

  • The problem with electronic counting is that it is impossible, within the time allowed, for there to be hardly anything more than a check of the votes queried by the automatic scanning system itself. I accept that scanning systems used in businesses are very reliable, but it doesn’t take much to undermine the code so that what is scanned is not what is subsequently recorded for handover to the count.

    The advantage with the manual vote count is that it is possible to check (before the result is declared) that the result is clear and if not, a recount can be called for. It may take a number of iterations before the result does become clear and marginal calls may have to be resolved through the courts (and we should all know of dubious decisions being made on electoral matters there), but these mechanism a) work and b) can be independently verified 100% for all to see.

    Once things disappear into the workings of a computer, that is lost and lost forever. You only have to look at the US to see how easily trust can be completely undermined.

  • Denis Mollison 11th Jan '22 - 2:18pm

    @David Evans
    I think you should find out more about how votes are counted in the Scottish local elections before passing judgement – have you attended a count as I have?
    Electronic scanning is more consistent in picking which votes are dubious and need discussion (done as for paper counts in the presence of candidates’ agents).
    So I don’t see in what way there is better information available before results are announced than with hand counting.
    And as I said earlier, paper votes are kept for a year, so there’s plenty of time for any audit necessary – they are NOT just “disappearing into the workings of a computer”.

    Comparisons with the US’s problem of dodgy old e-voting machines is misplaced.
    [And bad as those are, they are far from the worst of the US’s electoral problems – it is barely a functioning democracy.]

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