STV and above-the-line voting for elected ‘Lords’?

The following is a guest-post by Alan Renwick, Professor at the University of Reading in the UK. It originally appeared at the Reading Politics blog.

I asked Alan if I could reproduce this essay here at F&V, figuring it would be of interest to this community.

All of what follows is by Alan. I will also copy over a comment that I originally posted at Reading Politics.

Electing the House of Lords: Should there be above-the-line voting?
Alan Renwick

The parliamentary select committee that has been examining the government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords will be publishing its report in a couple of weeks’ time. Rumour has it that they want an electoral system different from the one proposed by the government. Nick Clegg and colleagues argue that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of proportional representation should be used. But the committee has been interested in finding a system that will give voters a choice between voting for individual candidates and for a single party ticket (see the transcript of their oral evidence session last December, when the quizzed Iain McLean and me on this subject). According to the Guardian, the committee is going to recommend the form of STV used in many Australian elections, where voters can vote ‘above the line’ for a party or ‘below the line’ for individual candidates.

The Electoral Reform Society is crying foul over this. Calling the proposals a ‘dog’s breakfast’, they say that STV with above-the-line voting will return power to the parties, rather than allowing voters to determine who gets elected.

What should dispassionate observers make of this? I think three questions need to be considered. First, how much power would the inclusion of a party voting option give to parties and to voters? Second, how much power should parties and voters have in determining which candidates are elected? Third, are there any other considerations that we should take into account before deciding whether we think that possibility of above-the-line voting should be welcomed? Most of this rather lengthy (sorry) post will focus on the first of these questions; I’ll say a little about the other two at the end.

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Split voting results in the NZ referendum

Earlier this week, I reported the polling-place correlations of votes for various options in the New Zealand electoral-system referendum of 2011.

An analysis of the split-voting statistics, as compiled by the Electoral Commission, offers another window on the same questions addressed there. The advantage of these data is that they are based on the Commission’s examination of individual ballot papers, as votes in the two parts of the referendum were cast on a common ballot. ((The same page at the Electoral Commission carries out the split-ballot analysis in each district, although not in each polling place.))

As we already knew, most voters who voted to “Keep” MMP (Part A of the ballot) did not vote at all on Part B, where they could select among several potential replacement systems. In fact, 54.7% of “Keep” voters cast “informal” ballots (meaning blank or invalid).

What is most striking is that of those who cast a vote in Part B, a very large plurality voted for the old First Past the Post (FPTP or FPP) system. The percentage of valid Part B votes for FPTP cast by those who voted in Part A to keep MMP was 40.4%! I wonder how many of these were “insincere” votes, by voters who assumed that FPTP could never defeat MMP in the follow-up referendum that would have happened in 2014 if a majority had voted for change in Part A.

The next most popular choice for “keep” voters was STV, with 24.0%. This, of course, makes sense. Voters who prefer proportional representation ought to rank STV and MMP one after the other as their sincerely preferred choices among the systems on offer.

For third place among “keep” voters who chose any system in Part B, “Supplementary Member” actually edged out “Preferential Voting”, 18.7% to 16.9%. The choice here is an interesting one, as it indicates a preference for any sort of mixed-member system–Supplementary Member is actually a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system–over a return to all single-seat districts with ranked-choice ballots. (Preferential Vote = Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff.) In terms of sincere voting, it is not straightforward which of these “should be” preferred by voters whose first choice is MMP.

On the one hand, MMM (SM) retains a tier of nationwide proportional seats, but these would cease to be compensatory (and, under the specific proposal, there would have been many fewer of them). On the other hand, while PV (AV) abolishes all party-list seats, it gives voters for a losing party in a district the potential of determining on preferences which of the big parties wins the seat. Both systems would likely produce majority governments frequently, but those majorities and the campaigns that produced them would have been of a different character.

As for the “change” voters, there are no surprises. Only 3.7% did not cast a valid vote in Part B. Of the remaining voters who did cast a valid vote, just under half (49.8%) voted to go back to FPTP, and 28.0% voted for MMM (SM).

In the earlier correlation analysis of polling place results, I noted the lack of correlation between the vote for Part A and the vote for STV. As we saw above, 24.0% of “Keep MMP” voted for STV, and so did 12.4% of the “Change” voters (for whom STV came in third place, ahead of PV/AV). When the informal votes are included in the denominator, the percentages drop to 10.9% and 11.9%, strikingly close. It is not possible to say for sure from the available data, but maybe STV was a Condorcet winner in the wider electorate, albeit not an especially popular one overall. That would make some sense, as it provides the compromise features of all members being elected in local districts, yet offering a considerable degree of proportionality.

In any case, MMP is now clearly confirmed as the New Zealand electoral system, and so discussion shifts to the formal review of MMP, and how the system might be “improved”.

Ireland’s presidential election, 2011

Ireland has its presidential election today. The president is elected by an “instant runoff”–specifically, the same Single Transferable Vote system that is used for the Irish parliament, but given a single seat, the quota for election is 50%+1. Of course, this means it’s the Alterative Vote, electing the first candidate to reach a majority on either first preferences or transferred lower preferences of voters whose higher-preferred candidates have been eliminated from the count.

As noted in the Irish Times:

TODAY, FOR only the second time since 1938, a presidential election will ultimately be determined by the second, third and fourth preferences cast by voters…  

This year, unless the polls are seriously wrong, no candidate is likely to be within 10 percentage points of a simple majority on the first count. The election, with seven in the race spread out the way they appear to be, is certain to go to a second, probably a third, and possibly even fourth or fifth counts.

The Irish presidency is weak, within a premier-presidential system that is almost parliamentary. Yet I wonder if the current political upheaval could lead to a president asserting more influence for the office.

Ireland 2011: Big shift

While the results of some constituencies are not yet complete, the general shape of the Irish result is known.

Elections compares seats so far to seats at the last election. Out of 153 seats called thus far, it shows the top four parties as follows:

    Fianna Fail 18 (-60)
    Fine Gael 70 (+19)
    Labour 36 (+16)
    Sinn Fein 13 (+9)

Independents and others will have 14 seats, up by 8.

As expected, quite a debacle for Fianna Fail. Preliminary results show Fine Gael with 36.1% of the first-preference vote (up 8.8 on 2007), Labour on 19.4% (+9.3). Fianna Fail has fallen to 17.4% (from 41.5%!).

Independents combined for 12.6% (almost double last time). The Greens, who were coalition partners to Fianna Fail in the outgoing government, saw their vote fall from 4.6% to 1.8%, will not win a seat.

At the Political Reform blog, Eoin O’Malley poses the question of whether Labour should join a coalition (as expected) or support a minority Fine Gael cabinet.

A sampling of the argument:

By entering government Labour will stunt its own growth and the potential development of a left-right divide in Irish politics. If it were to stay in opposition it would displace Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party. …

…staying in opposition would protect Labour’s left flank. In going into government Labour will be opposed vigorously by a young, energetic and largely articulate Sinn Féin and ULA.

The Labour leadership will no doubt claim that it does not want to go into government but that the national interest demands it. … But it’s not even that clear that it is in the national interest to enter government.

The Fine Gael and Labour leaders have begun coalition talks.

Ireland: Election 2011

The polls are open till 10 p.m., Irish time. (How many jurisdictions keep polls open that late?)

Updates on the voting and, after polls close, the count can be followed at RTE, Irish Times, or Elections Ireland. Also, don’t miss the Political Reform blog.

Ireland, of course, is the land of the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

Indications are that turnout is high.

The Fianna Fail party, which has led the government during the current financial crisis, is expected to fall to third place. How often does a governing party in a democracy fall to third place? Not too often. Canada 1993, when the Progressive Conservatives fell to fifth place, with only 2 seats, must be the record.

Fianna Fail, which won 42% in the 2007 election, has been polling at around 15%. So, in terms of votes, if not seats, the party could challenge the Canadian record (where Conservatives fell from 43% to 16%).

The Donegal by-election

Regarding the Donegal South-West by-election, has this tidbit:

Polling stations opened at 7am this [Thursday] morning and remain open until 10pm tonight – though voters on Donegal’s islands voted on Monday, as is traditional, to account for any difficulty in bringing the votes to land.

The count begins at 9:00 a.m. Friday, Irish time.

The Sinn Fein candidate, Pearse Doherty, is expected to win rather easily.

A Red C poll commissioned by Paddy Power two weeks ago showed Doherty commanding a massive lead in the opinion polls, with 40% of respondents saying they were likely to give him their first preference vote, while another 17% said he would receive their second preference.

The electoral system, of course, is single transferable vote. But this election is for one seat, which means the system reduces to the alternative vote, where the quota to win the seat is 50% + 1.

Icelandic constitutional assembly–elected by STV

Iceland will have a Constitutional Assembly “for the purpose of reviewing the Constitution of the Republic.” It will be elected by single transferable vote (STV), in a single national district with a magnitude of 25. The election will be 27 November.

The STV system will include a gender-representation provision:

There is a 40% sex-balance rule that is to be applied after the STV-PR election for the 25 places has been completed. If candidates of either sex do not have at least 10 of the 25 seats (“two-fifths”), additional seats will be allocated to the under-represented sex to bring representation of that sex up to “two-fifths”, subject to a limit of six additional seats. These additional seats would be allocated to the required number of the last eliminated candidates of the under-represented sex.

See more at the Irish Political Reform blog. And thanks to Tom Round for pointing this out in another thread.

Iceland’s M=25 is likely a record for size of an STV constituency.

Labor-Green agreement

Australia’s Labor and Green parties have reached a support agreement. The Greens won their first House of Representatives seat at the recent election. One seat, out of 150, on over 11% of first-preference votes.

One of the provisions of the agreement is that Green Senator Bob Brown will reintroduce as a Private Members Bill the Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008. The Labor party “will consider” the bill. Among other provisions, this bill would allow voters who vote for a party ticket in Senate elections, rather than rank their preferences across all candidates running, to rank the parties in order of preference.

The agreement also includes several proposed reforms to parliamentary procedure, including guaranteeing minor parties the right to ask questions of the Prime Minister no later than the sixth question during Question Time. It further stipulates that the parties acknowledge that any of the Green’s policies for the 2010 election can be brought forward for discussion in parliament. Greens will receive Treasury briefings. There will be a “well resourced Climate Change Committee.”

All in all, a very fine agreement. There is just one catch: the Labor and Green parties remain short of a majority in the House by three seats. There are four independents, whose votes could still give the Coalition (of Liberals and Nationals) a majority if they choose to swing that direction.

The Labor and Green parties appear to have combined for over 49% of the first-preference votes, compared to around 44% for the Coalition. Yet Labor and Greens have just under 49% of the seats, despite the use of a “majoritarian” electoral system (and one that is often taken as a model here in the USA), and despite the fact that the electoral swing from Labor to the Greens was greater than that to the Coalition.

(All claims about the partisan breakdown of first-preference votes need to be taken cautiously until all votes are counted, but the pattern of swing is clear.)

Compensatory STV?

On a theme that we discuss here from time to time, the third party in Malta (Democratic Alternative) is proposing a compensatory element to the country’s single transferable vote system.

we are proposing a double threshold, with a district quota of 16.6% that would allow an individual to be elected on her/his own steam, and a national quota with a threshold of 2 quotas for a party to be represented in parliament.

(Thanks to Rob R. for the tip.)

A new STV system for the Pacific?

Tonga, currently a monarchy in which the king and traditional chiefs wield all the power, may make the change to a parliamentary democracy. And, if the proposals of the official Constitutional and Electoral Commission are adopted, the expended elected parliament would use single transferable vote (STV).

We could certainly use another case! And this would be big progress for Tonga.

More links and commentary at No Right Turn. Thanks also to the tip by Alan in a comment to a different thread.

Too many legislators and too little efficiency

An op-ed in the Irish Times decries the “inefficiency” of Irish politics. About the Irish political system, Gemma Hussey asks:

Is it fit for purpose? Is our electoral system, which frames that political establishment, suitable for Ireland of the 21st century? […]

We have in Ireland an electoral system, multi-seat proportional representation, which almost ensures that a broad range of the best brains and achievers in the country will never see the inside of Leinster House, much less the Cabinet room. At the same time, we have too many Dáil members.

The electoral system imposes a lifestyle on politicians which is directly inimical to good government and is a considerable deterrent to potential participants.

The skills required to massage a constituency seven days and nights a week have nothing to do with running a small European country with an open economy.

Ministers have to spend 20 to 30 hours a week attending local functions, holding clinics, going to funerals – they’ll lose their seats if they don’t.

The solution? A party-list system and a smaller, unicameral parliament.

Actually, Ireland’s 166-member first chamber, the Dáil, just about nails the “right” size under the cube-root law, given a population of around 4.1 million. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of STV vs. list forms of proportional representation for the 21st century.

BC: FPTP forever?

The BC-STV proposal suffered a resounding defeat in British Columbia’s referendum yesterday. The electoral reform, originally recommended by a Citizens Assembly, won only 38.2% of the vote,* a nearly 20-percentage-point drop from what it earned the first time it was on the ballot, in 2005. (Then as now, it required 60% provincewide and majorities in 60% of the districts to pass.)

One needs only to look at the results of the concurrent general election to see why FPTP retains such widespread support: The first-past-the-post system is working well for the province. FPTP, in a parliamentary form of government, is expected to produce a contest between two principal parties, one of which will win a clear governing majority. And that’s what BC got out of this election, with the incumbent Liberals winning 46% of the vote (a small increase over the 2005 election) to the New Democrats’ 42.1%. The Liberal party’s strong plurality translates into an even stronger majority of seats–49 (57.6%)–just as is expected from FPTP.

That the STV proposal managed a majority in the 2005 referendum is likely attributable to the fresh memories of how a FPTP parliamentary system can fail to do what is expected of it. Two elections prior to that, it had produced a plurality reversal (NDP seat majority despite Liberal vote plurality), while in 2001, the Liberals swept almost every seat, depriving parliament of an opposition presence.

The 2009 election represents the second consecutive return to normal performance after those two anomalies. Presumably, roughly three fifths of BC voters are relieved that they had the opportunity to revisit their yes-but-no outcome of four years ago, and cast a loud-and-clear vote against abandoning their British electoral heritage.

BC results at and Vancouver Sun.

* Very marginally better than the MMP proposal crafted by a Citizens Assembly in Ontario performed in October, 2007.

The ‘no’ argument on BC-STV

I find it quite striking that the argument submitted by the campaign to defeat British Columbia’s referendum on adopting STV (and posted alongside the ‘yes’ at CBC) does not address the inter-party dimension. That is, it does not attack STV on the grounds that it would eliminate (or reduce) the tendency towards single-party governments or allow “extreme” parties into the legislative assembly.

In fact, the argument against STV is almost entirely directed at the intra-party dimension, that is the nature of the parties and the extent of individual legislator accountability one would get, buttressed by claims about the Irish experience. The core of the intraparty attack is:

STV replaces local representation with regional representation by a group of MLAs, who would be hard to hold accountable for their actions. Proponents claim that there are no safe seats with STV, but with STV many politicians in Ireland hang on for over thirty years.

Their parties run only as many candidates in each area as they think they can elect, thereby creating safe seats and increasing the power of political parties who determine who they nominate to be members of parliament. That reduces the choice available to voters.

Attacking the “vote management” incentives STV gives parties is a very smart strategy, as is arguing that members will be less “accountable” to local constituents.

Before the quoted passage, there is the usual line of attack on the alleged complexity of voting and vote-counting under STV, including a rather disingenuous claim about how transfers work. Rather remarkably, this attack is buttressed by a link to a video made by the Citizens Assembly that recommended the system.

No STV is confident that those who watch the short video (prepared by the Citizens’ Assembly) explanation of how the Single Transferable Vote count takes place will reject; so confident that it is posted on the top of the No STV website.

Nowhere are any inter-party arguments invoked. Indeed,

No STV takes no position on whether other electoral systems – such as Mixed Member Proportional – might be an improvement [on the status quo].

The Green Party, currently not in the legislature due to FPTP, is also invoked:

In this election the Green Party is supporting STV, but in 2004 it submitted a brief to the Citizens’ Assembly strongly opposing STV. They interviewed the Green Party in Ireland and reported to the Assembly on how it actually works.

(Of course, in the meantime, Ireland’s Green Party has become a member of a coalition cabinet–something that would not happen with FPTP, even if it might plausibly have happened earlier or with greater strength under MMP.)

By contrast, the ‘yes’ argument is almost entirely based upon the inter-party dimension (a preference for not having majorities that are manufactured by FPTP), as well as an appeal to BC voters to establish their province as “the foremost laboratory of electoral reform in Canada.” Their argument even acknowledges the “too complicated” objection to STV (thereby violating one of the principles of framing an argument). It invokes the majority vote in 2005 in favor of the proposal,” essentially admitting that vote was based on low information!

While I would certainly vote ‘yes’ were I voting in BC, I have to give the ‘no’ side the credit for a much stronger argument. They attack STV where it is most vulnerable, rather than attempt to defend FPTP and manufactured majorities. And the use of the Citizens Assembly video looks like a master stroke. Meanwhile, the ‘yes’ side fails to even mention the process by which ordinary citizens crafted the proposal, which was allegedly a selling point last time around.**

* When it won 57% of the vote. It required 60%.

** Is deliberative democracy dead?