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Opinion

Could flexible lists quell opposition to the closed list system for Senedd elections?

04 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Polling station. Picture by the Welsh Government

Jessica Blair, director Electoral Reform Society Cymru

In two years’, time voters across Wales will enter polling booths and be met with an unfamiliar sight: a ballot paper on which they won’t be able to vote for a named candidate.

This will be the first election that voters will use the proposed ‘closed list’ electoral system due to be brought in as part of the reforms currently making their way through the Welsh Parliament.

In some ways, it is a relatively small change, as voters have already been using a closed list system to elect their ‘top-up’ MSs for the Senedd.

However, the current Additional Member System (AMS) voting system also allows people to vote for a named candidate to represent their constituency.

The move to an exclusively closed list system will mean voters have no way to vote for their preferred candidate but will only be able to express a preference for a party. This will be a sea change for voters, and likely not a welcome one.

Proportional

One of the arguments for moving to a closed list system is that it is more proportional than the current AMS system. Proportionality is a vital part of any good voting system as it is important that parliaments resemble the way the electorate voted. In short, proportionality is about ensuring voters get what they voted for.

But there is a second element that is equally crucial for a healthy voting system: accountability. Voters have to feel they have a meaningful say in who represents them and that they have recourse to remove individual representatives they feel have let them down.

When it comes to electoral reform, we often debate how to make systems more proportional as that has traditionally been the deficit with our legacy voting systems.

For example, the First Past the Post system used in Westminster elections often produces results that don’t accurately reflect how the country voted. But sacrificing accountability for proportionality is like plugging one hole in our democratic vessel while boring into it.

Backlash

Losing the accountability that allowing people to for vote for a named candidate offers also creates an unnecessary risk to Welsh democracy. Firstly, as there is a risk that the change prompts a backlash from voters used to voting for people as well as parties.

Secondly, it is also not difficult to envisage a scenario under the closed lists where a candidate is caught up in scandal and refuses to step down, leaving voters with no mechanism to remove them or express their disapproval at the ballot box.

Situations like this lay landmines under Welsh democracy that could blow up and cause serious damage to voters’ trust in politics.

Yet this is a risk that could easily be defused. The closed list system was chosen by Labour and Plaid over others that were recommended. For instance, the electoral system that was recommended by an expert panel and Senedd committee was the single transferable vote (STV), which is the system ERS Cymru champions as it balances the need for proportionality and accountability.

Flexible lists

However, switching to STV would mean a serious re-write of the bill at this late stage. A much easier change, being proposed by the Welsh Conservatives and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Senedd this week, would be to move to a system of flexible lists.

This would keep the proposed system largely intact, with voters voting for a party’s list, but crucially it would enable them to express preferences for candidates within those lists if they would prefer to do so.

The Senedd reform package is a major reworking of the Welsh Parliament, and it is important we get it right. It presents a rare chance to futureproof Welsh democracy and the impact of this legislation will be felt for many years to come.

It is not often that there is a two thirds majority for a constitutional change in the Senedd, which makes it all the more pressing to ensure we get these reforms right and protect the precious bond between voters and their elected representatives.

Moving from closed to flexible lists would be a small change, but one that could avoid big problems for Welsh democracy in the years ahead.


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Richard E
Richard E
1 month ago

Dress it up how you want – still a chsrter for party hacks, politicos and placemen ( persons 😳)

Richard E
Richard E
1 month ago

A party hacks charter ! The nameless representing the voters ? I thonk not.

Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago

No, just because it’s an “easy fix” doesn’t make it right. Go for the option the Senedd committee advised – STV.

Keith Parry
Keith Parry
1 month ago

Any Member of the Senedd voting for this anti-democratic system is not fit to hold office in our legislature.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
1 month ago

If it’s something that needs to be done right, then the half-measure of flexible lists isn’t acceptable: a polished turd is still a turd. With that in mind, even at this late stage, STV is the way to go, even if it does mean a major re-write. Surely worthwhile in the interests of sound democracy?

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Major rewrite ? Surely not. They probably hold a huge bundle of template documents either on paper or on memory. Pick one or more of those and copy and paste into a new draft. Best pick a bright young school leaver to do the job or an older person with an interest in such matters to keep those with vested interests out of the process until there’s a document worth discussing. The crap we keep getting served up is a result of letting dodgy politicians and their equally dodgy servants work on these matters in secrecy.

Blegywryd
Blegywryd
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

STV is the Northern Ireland system. All that would be needed would be to transpose the relevant parts of the NI Act.

Steffan ap Huw
Steffan ap Huw
1 month ago

Alomst certainly the driving force for this change is diversity, brought about by the desire for equality of outcome, rather than opportunity. This means parties ensuring there is a 50-50 spread of men and women as MSs, regardless of what they bring to the table. Also, other persons of other minorities or “oppressed” demographics may have an easier path to representation. Merit will no longer be a factor, except the ability to toe the party line and do as one’s told. This is fascism by the back door. You will take your lumps, and if you complain, then you’re a… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Steffan ap Huw

You’ve been reading Labour and Plaid briefing notes and scripts for compliant members and candidates. Naughty that .

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Plaid Cymru should not be part of this Labour & Conservative electoral scam.

Plaid Cymru should support policies agreed at party conference.
Plaid Cymru conference voted for the Single Transferable vote.
They voted for the best workable system as recommended by the ERS.

….. Selling out did nothing for Nick Clegg and set back the cause of Liberal democracy and allowed fascists such as Ukip and abolish the Senedd in take hold.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

We need to engage with voters not alienate. I hope the Welsh Government will listen to concerns when this voting system is again debated in the Senedd chamber rather than proceed as it will be costly democratically to Wales in the long run. I want to vote for a candidate on merit not solely party colours. See, to listen to concerns and to change policy isn’t a sign of weakness or indecision but strength.

Last edited 1 month ago by Y Cymro
Dewi Jones
Dewi Jones
1 month ago

As I understand it, the Labour party gave Plaid Cymru an ultimatum. If we wanted a larger Senedd better able to scrutinise Welsh legislation (very difficult with the original 60 as there are far more bills to scrutinise now than between 1999 and 2016) then Labour would only agree to a closed list PR method. Whilst I agree with the increased in numbers (although surprised at how many as I was expecting up to 80 not 96!) we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in disposing of the current Mixed Member method. Dafydd Wigley correctly raised the alarm… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

We need to get rid of that ridiculous idea of having super-large constituencies too.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

“The second element that is equally crucial for a healthy voting system: accountability. Voters have to feel they have a meaningful say in who represents them and that they have recourse to remove individual representatives they feel have let them down.”

Accountability is a myth! While “safe seats” exist there is no chance of a meaningful say or ability to remove.

Adrian
Adrian
1 month ago

I’ll be copying what the people of Iran did yesterday and not be engaging in the rigged election of Ayatollah Gethin and his band of anonymous friends back into power for another 5 years of abject failure.
Wales needs a total shift in power with new ideas and policies. Interesting to see Drakeford blaming labour’s shambolic record on Thatcher on the 40th anniversary of the miners strike earlier.. Surely can’t be the 27 years of labour’s power in Wales… just under half of which was with the same party in power in Westminster.

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

If they’ve left it this late it’s their own faut. They’re not listening. STV is the way forward. Labour are self-destructing under their hubris. Plaid needs to pull out of this if they insist on party lists. It’s a stitch up and we won’t be forgiven for aiding Labour in putting it through no matter how laudible our intent is.

Guy Major
Guy Major
1 month ago

Have you read this? it’s a simpler, far more proportional form of STV, allowing better matches to preferences, more chance of electing small-party or independent candidates (but without excessive party fragmentation), better local links, and far fewer wasted votes than STV and most other so-called “proportional” systems, including 6-member d’Hondt, whether open or closed (within-constituency) list, which suffers from up to 2-fold discrepancies in votes per representative elected (between different parties in the same constituency), as well as an arbitrary number of wasted votes (since no transfers to lower preferences)

Guy Major
Guy Major
1 month ago
Reply to  Guy Major

STV is pretty good too, but this votes-weighted representation proposal is simpler (we only transfer the votes of eliminated (lowest-vote) candates to next preferences: elected candidates keep all their votes and use them as voting weights in the Assembly, a bit like proxy votes). It allows a number of other improvements over STV, minimising wasted votes and maximising proportionality, accountability, voter choice, local links, and the diversity of elected representatives and parties – without causing Weimar Republic style political fragmentation.

Last edited 1 month ago by Guy Major
Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
1 month ago
Reply to  Guy Major

At an initial glance, this looks very attractive. What does ERC think about it? Is it in use elsewhere in the world? And what is VWR in Cymraeg? Can it be tweaked by giving women a greater voting weight in the senedd if the electorate elect less than 50% of them?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Music to Virginia, Nuclear and Free Ports ears

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