Support our Nation today - please donate here
Opinion

Choosing a new electoral system is not a politically neutral act

15 Apr 2024 5 minute read
Voting ballot box.

Mike HedgesMS for Swansea East

Choosing a new electoral system is not a politically neutral act because the system chosen has a huge affect on the number of seats won.

Proportional representation is an electoral system in which the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party.

For example, if a party gained 40% of the total votes, a perfectly proportional system would allow them to gain 40% of the seats.

Looking at the more discussed proportional representation systems:

For the nationwide proportional representation system which is used in Israel the electoral threshold is currently set at 3.25%, with the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset being proportional to the number of votes it receives.

Israel uses the closed party-list proportional representation system. People vote for their preferred party and not for any individual candidates.

The seats in the Knesset are then assigned proportionally to each party, provided that the party vote count meets the 3.25% electoral threshold.

The D’Hondt method is used for marginal votes, slightly favouring the bigger parties. This is the nearest to a fully proportional system, but it breaks the constituency link which both politicians and voters appreciate.

It also leads to a fragmented parliament currently in Israel with eighteen parties represented and a coalition government involving several parties.

STV

Single transferable vote (STV) is an electoral system promoted by many in favour of a form of proportional representation.

It is the electoral system used for Scottish council elections and election to the Irish parliament, the Dail.

It works by voters ranking candidates, instead of placing crosses next to their favourite candidates, voters are asked to rank as many candidates as they wish in order.

In the Irish General election of 2020, Sinn Fein, despite receiving the most first-preference votes nationwide did not win the most seats. Despite beating Fianna Fail by 535,995 to 484,320 they ended up with one seat less.

It took 12745 votes to elect each Fianna Fail member but 14476 to elect a member of Sinn Fein.

The 2022 council election result for Inverness south was: SNP 1949; Ind 1375; Con 936; LD 478; Lab 402; Green 299; Alba 104.

One seat was won by each of the SNP, Independent, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

This is not proportional, but it leads to lots of parties winning a seat which is why it is preferred by smaller parties.

With the alternative vote, voters rank candidates in order of preference by marking 1, 2, 3 and so on. A voter can rank as many or as few candidates as they like or vote for one candidate.

First preference votes are counted first. If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the first preference votes, then they are elected.

If no candidate reaches 50 per cent, the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated. Their second preference votes are reallocated to the remaining candidates.

Candidates

If one candidate has more votes than the other remaining candidates put together, that candidate is elected.

If not, the process is repeated until one candidate has more votes than the other remaining candidates put together.

The supplementary vote system is like the alternative vote, but voters are limited to a first and second preference choice.

A voter marks a cross in one column for their first preference candidate. They mark another cross in a second column for their second preference if they wish to do so.

If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the first preference votes, then they are elected.

If no candidate reaches the 50 per cent threshold, the two candidates with the highest number of votes remain. This eliminates the other candidates. The second preferences of voters who voted for eliminated candidates are re allocated.

Up until May 2023, elections for mayors in England and for Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, used this system.

These systems are not proportional and leads to the least disliked candidate or party. winning.

The Additional Member System is currently used by the Welsh parliament. Voters are given two votes on separate ballot papers. One vote is for a constituency member and one vote is for a party list with list members elected by region.

Constituency votes are counted first and the members for each constituency are elected using first-past-the-post.

List

Additional members are then elected by counting the party list votes in each region. The number of members elected from the list is based on the percentage of the votes cast but also considers the number of constituency members already elected in the region.

This is designed to make the result more proportional to the number of votes cast but is not fully proportional because of the number of first past the post seats Labour wins in south Wales but it allows smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats to win seats.

The system being considered for the Senedd as part of Senedd reform involves the joining of two parliamentary constituencies creating sixteen six member constituencies elected on a closed list system via the D’Hondt system.

This keeps the constituency link and will produce an election result roughly proportional to the votes of the three largest parties, but it will make it more difficult than the current system for smaller parties to win seats.

Voters have no control over who is elected for each party because the candidate order is set by the parties.

For a purely proportional system then the national list is used, STV favours smaller parties, the alternative and supplementary vote systems favour centrist parties, the additional member system allows for an approximately proportional result and allows smaller parties to gain representation, the six members per constituency favour the second and third largest parties.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
11 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

“STV is not proportional” Pull the other one Mike. A bold but false assertion. Your opinion or your bias? The d’Hondt method puts the power to select in the hands of party officials. We need only look at the manner in which Vaughan Gething won his leadership bid to see why we should be alarmed at such a profoundly undemocratic approach. STV is a COMPROMISE. It delivers far fairer and representative results. Yet again Mike, you come down on the side of what suits Labour best. You rarely seem to accept what is best for Wales.

mike hedges
mike hedges
1 month ago
Reply to  Annibendod

I gave two examples (Ireland Dail elections and scottish council elections) where it is obviously not. Can you give me one example of where it is proportional. Please let facts trump your bias.

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago
Reply to  mike hedges

Please tell me how an electoral system that produces the likes of the unelectable, bloviated oaf that is Andrew RT Davies would be your preferred option? STV is far more proportional than FPTP, far more representative of the electorate’s choice and allows the electorate to make their own choice. Let me ak you a question – how would the Vale’s electorates rid themselves of the fragile fantasist under d’Hondt? Undemocratic to the core – why not put it to a referendum?

Blegywryd
Blegywryd
1 month ago
Reply to  Annibendod

If “proportional” means that the proportion of seats won by a party’s candidates reflects exactly that party’s share of first preference votes the in that sense STV isn’t proportioal. That is because it enables voters to distribute their lower preferences amongst candidates of other parties. But the ability to do so, rather than having to plump for all the candidates of a single party, is precisely why STV is superior to closed party lists.

mike hedges
mike hedges
1 month ago

It would help if people read the article before commenting

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago
Reply to  mike hedges

We did Mike.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

Mike Hodges always writes very interesting articles and I love the detail he goes into. Diolch Mr Hodges. I like the sound of SV. To my mind, it keeps the constituencies smaller, thus keeping local links between elected ASau and electorate. SV ensures that winners get 50% of votes. I really don’t like the sound of 16 very large constituencies and closed party lists. The large constituencies sound to me like ASau would be very distant from the people they represent. My suggestion: Why not have 90 much smaller constituencies electing one member each by SV? This, to my thinking,… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

“Why not have 90 much smaller constituencies electing one member each by SV? ” You must be joking, Party managers and others hell bent on control, control, control would be scared out of their thin skins !

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

You are correct about party managers, that’s the sad reality of UK politics, the reason change is badly needed. Although I do think my suggestion is one worth considering.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Apologies for my misspelling, Mr Hedges (not Hodges).

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

FPTP disenfranchises a vast number of people throughout the uk. The existence of “safe seats” encourages people to stay away from the polling booth if they favour an alternative candidate. We have a situation where a “handful” of votes in a small number of “marginals” results in a change of government. The only voters that support the “constituency link” are those that support the winning candidate. These are the reasons why there is such a poor turnout for uk general elections. There should be 100% turnout for elections and that would only come about if every vote mattered; that can… Read more »

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.