Ireland 2020

Ireland holds its general election on 8 February. I wish I could offer a good preview. But no time. However, given how much many of us enjoy elections under single transferable vote, it seems like the community might want to gather and do some fruitful plantings. So here’s the place for it.

One thing of note I am aware of is polling showing Sinn Féin doing well, possibly enough to break into the top two. In first preferences, that is. Given STV, of course, an important consideration will be if it picks up transfers (or where, if anywhere, its supporters go in districts where they have votes that don’t elect one of their own).

Apparently this is the first time Ireland has voted on a Saturday. Naturally, I am not a fan of that idea. (The link is to Charles Richardson’s blog, The World is Not Enough, which I just discovered thanks to a comment on another thread here by Tom.)

IRV-MMP

What do folks think of this idea, proposed by Mark Roth in the thread on open-list MMP?

I do not believe it is entirely necessary to have two votes; though I don’t oppose the idea. Essentially I would have IRV-MMP. An instant runoff determines which candidate wins the local seat in each district. First preferences determine who receives the at-large seats. If a voter wants the Greens, but knows that they won’t win locally, a vote 1 Greens 2 Labor has the effect of supporting a winnable local candidate and helping the Greens secure seats in general. I would allow transfers to second (or lower) ranked parties should the first choice(s) of parties not reach a threshold. I would also be inclined to allow a List Party that isn’t running a candidate to appear on the ballot anyway; probably marked to indicate that the List cannot win the local seat. The candidates who lose in their local race would be selected to fill the at-large seats based on their personal vote counts. List order would only be a tiebreaker.

Decoy lists would technically be possible, but they would stick out like a sore thumb, require voter coordination to ensure that the “right” candidate gets the vote in the district level races, and would still need to front candidates in local races to have enough warm bodies.

As I say at the other thread in a comment of my own, I like it much better than the “AV+” idea of having two votes (one ranked-choice for local candidates and the other for list).

Is rural-urban PR gaining on MMP?

In the British Columbia mail-in referendum, the most likely option to win, should change from FPTP be endorsed, has seemed to be Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP). However, a poll from Mainstream BC, released on Nov. 8, suggests that one of the other options could be gaining.

The one that looks close, at least in this poll, is Rural-Urban PR (RUP). I reviewed all of the proposals before, and so will only briefly describe the RUP system here: It would be Single Transferable Vote (STV) for most of the province, but MMP in rural areas. The proposal is meant to address concerns that rural districts (ridings) would have to be too large if STV were used in the entire province, while still giving the rural interior a reasonable degree of proportionality.

This poll shows that on the critical first question, whether to keep FPTP or move to PR, the BC Interior prefers the status quo, 53.3% to 46.7%. Metro Vancouver voters only narrowly favor PR (50.1%), while Vancouver Island favors PR by a slightly wider margin (52.7%). The regional samples are small, so should be treated with caution. Nonetheless, they are suggestive of skepticism of PR in rural areas, exactly what the RUP proposal is meant to address. Overall, it is way too close to call: 50.5% for keeping FPTP, 49.9% for PR.

It is on preference over PR systems that we see the most interesting divide. According to this poll, MMP leads by a wide margin in Metro Vancouver: 50.4% to 32.2% for RUP and 17.4% for the third option, Dual-Member PR (DMP). On Vancouver Island, it is similar, but tighter: 40.4%, 38.3%, 21.3% (this is just 86 respondents). In BC Interior, however, the poll gets RUP on 49.5%, then MMP 37%, and DMP just 13.5%.

Overall, this still puts MMP in front, given the greater population of Vancouver: 44.8%, 38.2%, 17.0%.

It could be that RUP is gaining, as earlier polls had it and DMP both far behind MMP. There is an on-line presence for a specifically pro-RUP effort (“YUP for RUP”). There is some expressed support for RUP, for instance by Andrew Coyne in the National Post. He says he favors it “mostly for the STV part.”

It would be very interesting if RUP ended up winning, but on the strength of rural voters who, were it chosen, would vote by MMP, while Vancouver voters (who would vote by STV) had majority-preferred MMP but would get STV. OK, that was convoluted, but that is the point. It is not a likely outcome, but it is at least possible, provided it is really close in Vancouver and there is a decisive turn towards RUP in rural areas. And would be interesting!

The choice of PR model, if PR defeats FPTP in the first question, will be determined by province-wide alternative vote (the second question is a ranked ballot). So, it would be good to know what DMP supporters’ second choice tends to be. I would guess MMP, but that is just that–a guess. It probably depends on which feature of DMP that minority likes best–all members elected in local districts (for which STV would seem to beat MMP) or province-wide proportionality (for which MMP is clearly better than RUP).

A final note from the poll: It has 963 total respondents, but only 440 for the second question. So lots of voters may be planning to skip the question on choice of models. It is unclear whether that is because those who want FPTP are not weighing in at all, or because of pro-PR canvassers saying things like “if you are confused about the second part, you can skip it” (which I heard in my brief observation of campaigning).

NYT endorses a larger House, with STV

Something I never thought I would see: The editorial board of one of the most important newspapers in the United States has published two separate editorials, one endorsing an increase in the size of the House of Representatives (suggesting 593 seats) and another endorsing the single transferable vote (STV) form of proportional representation for the House.

It is very exciting that the New York Times has printed these editorials promoting significant institutional reforms that would vastly improve the representativeness of the US House of Representatives.

The first is an idea originally proposed around 50 years ago by my graduate mentor and frequent coauthor, Rein Taagepera, based on his scientific research that resulted in the cube root law of assembly size. The NYT applies this rather oddly to both chambers, then subtracts 100 from the cube root result. But this is not something I will quibble with. Even an increase to 550 or 500 would be well worth doing, while going to almost 700 is likely too much, the cube root notwithstanding.

The second idea goes back to the 19th century (see Thomas Hare and Henry R. Droop) but is as fresh and valid an idea today as it was then. The NYT refers to it as “ranked choice voting in multimember districts” and I have no problem whatsoever with that branding. In fact, I think it is smart.

Both ideas could be adopted separately, but reinforce each other if done jointly.

They are not radical reforms, and they are not partisan reforms (even though we all know that one party will resist them tooth and nail and the other isn’t exactly going to jump on them any time soon). They are sensible reforms that would bring US democracy into the 21st century, or at least into the 20th.

And, yes, we need to reform the Senate and presidential elections, too. But those are other conversations…

Early STV voting equipment

Voting technology is one obstacle to wider use of ranked-choice voting. Although groups like OpaVote have had open-source fixes for years, US jurisdictions tend to rely on commercial vendors. A decade ago, many of them resisited developing the technology. Now, of course, voters can “complete the arrow,” as is done in San Francisco, or bubble in a candidate-by-ranking matrix, as was done in Maine last week.

The challenges get thornier with STV elections. Due to the “multi-winner” nature of a race, there sometimes are very many candidates. That can result in confused voters and burdensome vote counts. Only in 1991 did Cambridge (MA) solve these problems by computerizing its electoral system. That could have happened as early as 1936, when many cities still were holding STV elections.

As it turns out, IBM had found a way to mechanize the voting process. George Hallett of the erstwhile Proportional Representation League writes:

Among the most persuasive arguments against P. R., in spite of their essential triviality, have been the objections that it required several days to get the result in a large election and that it required paper ballots and hand counting, both of which in plurality elections without the safeguards of a central count have acquired an evil reputation. In connection with the possible early use of P. R. in New York City, where these objectives would be stronger than ever psychologically, an effective answer to them has now been devised.

 

IBM’s system used standard, punch-card readers to count STV ballots at a rate of 400 per minute. According to Hallett, “the final result of a P. R. election in New York City can easily be determined by some time in the morning of the day after election.”

Voters would use a series of dials to rank candidates, one through 20. Then, as some will recall, the machine would record a voter’s votes when they pulled the lever to open the curtain. Opening the curtain punched the holes into the punch-card ballot.

Here is the quotation in its context (albeit a bit blurry):

Other features of the system were:

  • Precinct-based error correction. A voter could not give the same ranking to more than one candidate. Nor could a voter skip a ranking.
  • Freedom of choice. A voter could rank as few candidates as they wanted. They also could rank as many as they wanted. Although the machine was built for 20 rankings, there appears to have been accommodation for write-in and additional candidates. Finally, a voter could go back and change their mind about a ranking.
  • Early “cyber-security.” Now we worry about nefarious actors loading malware onto touchscreens. Back in the 1930s, however, the worry was that poll workers might stuff a ballot box or throw out ballots they did not like. IBM’s solution was simple. Poll workers would not have access to individual ballots. Once a voter voted, the ballot fell into a sealed container, only to be opened in the central-count location.

Why the machine did not catch on remains a mystery. IBM appears to have been pitching it to New York City in advance of the November referendum, which put STV into place from 1937 to 1947. Those passing by 41 Park Row could see a demonstration model at the Citizens Union office.

It is a shame that New York (and other cities) did not go with the system. According to Mott (1926), the average invalid-ballot rate in 19 elections to that point was 9.1 percent. My data reveal invalid rates of up to 18 percent (Manhattan and Brooklyn, 1941). Part of this was abstention altogether. Another part was the lack of interest in discerning voter intent, handling skipped rankings with compassion, and so forth. IBM’s machine, however, would have addressed some of those issues, all while educating voters at the same time that they voted.

Lesotho (MMP) & Malta (STV) hold early elections on the same day

Lesotho and Malta will hold early elections this Saturday, June 3rd. Both have parliamentary systems and each one uses a different (and interesting!) type of proportional representation – each having a certain following among readers of this blog.

Lesotho uses a one-vote variant of MMP, with 80 single-seat districts in the nominal tier and 40 in the list tier. There is no threshold, and no seats are added in case of overhang, so a party can win a majority by taking more than 60 districts.

Malta uses STV, with a twist: if I understand correctly, in case one party receives an absolute majority of first-preference votes, seats are added to ensure that party has a majority, and that the majority is in proportion to its majority of the vote.

The elections were also called in different ways. Lesotho’s parliament (election not required before February 2020) was dissolved after the government lost a confidence vote in March – the prime minister could have handed over power to the coalition that ousted him, but chose instead to ask the king for an early election. Malta’s early election (originally not due until March 2018) was called by the prime minister.

Irish election 2016

Ireland’s 2016 general election will be held 26 February. The current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour is not doing well in the polls. However, neither is the main opposition party, Fianna Fail. The RTE seat projection currently has Fine Gael on 55 seats (based on just 28% of the vote), Labour on 13. Fianna Fail is barely holding off Sinn Fein for second place, 33 to 29 in the projection (20% and 18% in voters, according to the poll of polls).

The assembly size has been reduced. It was 165 in the last election (2011), but will be 157 in this one (not counting the seat of the Speaker). Fine Gael’s 2011 result was 46% of seats; they may not make it over 35% this time.

So worried is Fine Gael that it is “devising a risky battle-plan aimed at salvaging as many seats as possible,” according to the Independent. The plan is to ask senior members of the party to reduce their own personal vote by shifting votes to weaker co-partisan candidates.

 

Fine Gael is devising strategies in a series of constituencies, which involves divides of territory and asking loyal supporters to vote for one candidate over another in a particular area.

Although this tactic has often been used in the past, it hasn’t been employed in such large numbers before. And the decline in support levels make if far more difficult to pull off.

 

The article has a list of strong incumbents who are being asked to sacrifice voters, and notes that the party is attempting to use Facebook to target reliable voters who would shift.

Of course, all this vote-management reminds us that the Irish single transferable vote (STV) is not dramatically distinct from the old Japanese single non-transferable vote (SNTV). In either system, parties can be hurt, relative to the seats that their collective vote totals could deliver them under a list system, if their leading candidate obtains too large a share of the party’s total votes in a district. With votes overly concentrated on one candidate, the weaker ones could be eliminated too early to benefit from vote transfers from other candidates, including the co-partisan strongest one. (I assume this also implies that not enough voters for the leading candidate can be counted on to list co-partisans second. Otherwise there would be little need to manage first-preference votes in this manner.)

Meanwhile,

Labour is banking on “locking down” its traditional core vote of 10pc and its TDs coming ahead of the second Fine Gael candidate to benefit from transfers.

Yes, there is an advantage that small parties under STV have that is not available to such parties under SNTV. But for large parties, especially those with declining support, STV poses serious coordination challenges.

The seat projections, it should be noted, come with some grain of salt, because projecting seats under STV is hard.

M=1 is the endpoint of the continuum of M

The BBC reports that there is a debate in Jersey about a possible change in the island’s electoral system. “Deputy Montfort Tadier wants to introduce a mixture of single transferable and alternative vote systems.”

Of course, that actually would be the same system, but a mixture of district magnitudes. Single transferable vote (STV) simply reduces to alternative vote (AV) when moving from any magnitude greater than one to a single-seat district.

The article further notes that “Jersey currently has a mix of single and multi-member constituencies” and that “Jersey currently uses the first-past-the-post system, for all elections.”

It is interesting that when the rule for determining winners is plurality (first past the post), it is considered the same system, independent of magnitude. Yet when referring to a rule of transferable votes, applications to M=1 (single-seat district) and M>1 (multiseat district) are considered different “systems”.

Further, the article attempts to clarify: “The single-transferable-vote means a vote could be transferred to a second preference if the first does not succeed.” Yes, and so does the alternative vote, which is defined next as being “where candidates are ranked in order of preference.” Yes, and so is the single transferable vote.

Is MMP in Ireland’s future?

The Constitutional Convention of Ireland is considering proposing a new electoral system for parliamentary elections.

The 100-member Convention strongly favors a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, with 69% preferring it over other options. A “proportional list system”–not clear whether open or closed was specified–wins 29% support, and a paltry 3% would like FPTP. (And, yes, those numbers sum to more than 100.)

The news story does not offer information on preferences for keeping the current system vs. change, either in general or any specific replacement system. It does note that there will be a further round of deliberations next month on the exact model that the Convention will recommend.

Ireland is, of course, the main model we have of Single Transferable Vote (STV). MMP and STV are usually the two models most preferred by reform activists (at least in current FPTP jurisdictions) and by political science expert in electoral systems. It is very interesting to see an Irish process possibly leading to STV vs. MMP as choices for the country.

Does STV have anything to do with absence of “free votes” in Ireland?

The Irish Times states that “Ireland is now one of the few parliamentary democracies in which members of parliament are not allowed free votes on issues of conscience.” It cites many cases of free votes (also known as “conscience votes”) on issues such as homosexuality law reform, gambling, abortion, and numerous other matters in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Leaving aside the technicality that Ireland can be classified as semi-presidential–the presidency really is weak enough that we can call it parliamentary–is it possible that the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect the Dail (parliament’s first chamber) is a factor?

The editorial correctly notes that such votes occur “where views differ strongly within parliamentary parties”. What might STV have to do with this? It would be a whole lot more dangerous for party leadership to open up its divisions to be recorded on the floor in a system where the members could then compete for votes on precisely these internal divisions.

Whatever the underlying cause in variation in the use of free/conscience votes, one thing is certain: such votes are called when the government wants them. This could be when it prefers not to be held collectively accountable for some issue (let it pass but don’t call it your program), or when the government favors the passage of some measure that enjoys majority support in parliament but divides its own caucus (be sure it passes, but let your MPs claim credit for having tried to stop it). In other words, when there is conflict between the individual interests of MPs and their parties’ collective interests. If the electoral system reinforces such conflicts–as STV surely does, but FPTP, MMP, and closed-list PR do not–then we might expect parties, when in government, to do what they can to keep such conflicts from spilling into the open.

In any case, the usual agenda control of parliamentary cabinets means that we can understand these votes only by understanding governing parties’ decision calculus. What are the conditions under which free votes are seen as desirable or risky by those who decide to apply, or not, the government whip on a vote?

Party-preferential voting

I had missed most of the following discussion earlier, and as it occurred in a thread on Lower Saxony, it could easily have been missed by others as well.

I am going to reproduce two comments that describe interesting ideas for coping with thresholds.

Vasi:

there’s no reason you couldn’t make thresholds less discontinuous, by combining them with preferential votes.

The mechanics would be a tweaked STV, with the following differences:

1. Because of large district magnitude, a full preferential vote for all candidates would be impractical. Instead voters would list parties in order of preference, with the intraparty order being fixed as in List-PR.

2. To effect a threshold of T seats, a party would not be awarded its first seat until it has accumulated T quotas.

Chris:

Vasi, that sounds essentially like the NSW Legislative Council electoral system.

The election is by STV, with 21 vacancies at an election. One has the option of either voting below the line, by ranking at least 15 candidates, or voting above the line, by voting for one or more party tickets. Unlike federal Senate elections, voting for a party’s ticket does not result in a vote for a preset preference ranking of every candidate; instead, it only ranks the candidates of that party, in the order they appear on the ballot paper. Voters have the option of marking multiple parties above the line, unlike federal Senate elections. So, for instance, the Labor how-to-vote cards in the last election suggested that their supporters vote 1 Labor, 2 Greens above the line. That means they essentially ranked every Labor candidate, followed by every Greens candidate, and if all of them are elected or excluded, their ballot is exhausted.

The Australian group voting ticket essentially operates like closed-list PR, with the exception of in very large elections. The NSW Legislative Council used to use the same ticket style system that the federal Senate uses, but after the 1999 election resulted in a ballot paper the size of a tablecloth (almost 1 sq. m), and a candidate from the “Outdoor Recreation Party” got elected with 8,000 first preference votes (something like 5% of a quota), they changed the group-ticket system to the single party ticket system now in place.

Stephane Dion, the former Leader of the Official Opposition in Canada, also is advocating a version of party-preferential voting. though in ridings which would be only 3-5 seats (1 seat by AV in the territories). In a 4-seat riding, the threshold would be 25% + 1 vote. If all remaining parties are above the threshold, seats are awarded to them by largest remainder (I believe). If there are any parties remaining below the threshold, the party with the least votes is eliminated and their supporters votes transferred to their highest remaining preference. His system is OLPR, with each voter able to cast a preference vote for one candidate of his first-preference party.

I think the most proportional system possible would be party-preferential with a low threshold and a large district magnitude (the most proportional would obviously be a single national district). You could either exclude parties one-by-one (hopefully with block exclusions) until every party remaining was above the threshold, then distribute seats. Otherwise you could simply exclude all parties below the threshold and distribute their voters’ preferences to remaining parties. It avoids the huge numbers of voters wasting their votes by being below the thresold; for instance, even with a relatively low threshold of 3%, 19% of the valid votes in the May 2012 Greek election were cast for parties below the threshold. In this system, the only voters who do not have either a first preference or a transfer vote elect an MP are those who deliberately choose not to rank any parties that make it into parliament.

I also think a novel way to build a stronger government while remaining representative of votes would be to use preferential ballots, but with multiple thresholds. In a 120 seat legislature, 60 seats could be awarded to those parties above 2%, with voters below the threshold transferring to their highest placed remaining party. Then a further 30 seats could be given to those parties above 5% (including transferred votes), then a further 20 seats to those parties above 10%, and then the final 10 seats to the party which wins a majority by transfers. This means that even voters who vote below the threshold are represented, and parties with a decent amount of support have representatives in parliament, just not proportionally to their first-preference votes. You also get larger parties at the top, making a stable government more likely, but unlike supplemental member, or the Italian/Greek plurality-winner top up system, the larger bloc is distributed based on all voters’ preferences, retaining a much larger degree of proportionality than other semi-proportional systems.

I am not necessarily endorsing this concept, although I do find it very interesting. I would be interested in further discussion.

The thread has a lot of other interesting comments on the relationship of thresholds to democratic theory (particularly the last several comments posted as of 4 February). I re-posted the two comments above simply because they refer to proposals for an alternative way of coping with thresholds in electoral-system design.

(I did note the Dion proposal before.)

ACT general election

The Australian Capital Territory, which possibly has the worst acronym in the known universe, (the ‘ACT Electoral Act’ is an example that springs to mind) is having a general election on 20 October. There are 2 districts with magnitude 5 and one with magnitude 7. The electoral system is Hare-Clark STV.

The form of government is not Westminster. The legislative assembly elects and dismisses the chief minister directly.

I know I thought this about the Northern Territory and I was wrong, but this may end the 2 year run of unbroken Labor electoral losses.

And now that we know all about this minuscule election, the subject of capital districts is so chaotic that Wikipedia does not even manage a unified page on the topic.