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  1. 1. Module Three: Electoral Systems
  2. 2. Module Objectives By the end of this module you should be able to: Assess the relations between elections and democracy. Outline the main features of the British electoral system. Compare the British electoral system to alternative systems. Identify and describe the different electoral systems used in the UK. Discuss the implications of the usage of these systems. Identify the key arguments in favour and against retaining the Simple Majority System for UK General Elections. Outline the advantages and disadvantages of proportional and alternative systems.
  3. 3. The main function is to elect representatives for the UK and European Parliaments, local government, devolved assemblies and also the London Mayor. General elections determine who shall represent the constituency in Parliament. An election grants a popular mandate to representatives or to a government. Similarly they provide popular consent for the winning party to govern. Elections use different systems for converting raw votes into elected seats. It involves all or most of the citizens in showing preferences between candidates. The functions of elections in the UK
  4. 4.  Elections are an opportunity for citizens to deliver a verdict on the performance of the outgoing government.  It also gives them a choice between different political philosophies and programmes.  Elections also inform the public about political issues.  They are an opportunity for citizens to participate in politics and so can strengthen democracy.
  5. 5.  Elections are normally held at specific or at least semi-formal intervals. Referendums can be held at any time where they are felt to be desirable.  An election is to elect representatives and leaders whereas a referendum involves a single question over a specific issue. Elections deal with a wide range of issues.  The result of elections is binding while, in the UK, referendums are advisory rather than binding on Parliament.  While the result of an election may be complex, the result of a referendum must be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  6. 6. Two Main Types of Voting Systems Majoritarian/Simple Majority System An electoral system which tends to ‘over-represent’ larger parties and usually results in a single-party majority government. –Larger parties tend to win a higher proportion of seats than the proportion of votes they gain in the election. –Increases the chances of a single-party government.
  7. 7. Two Main Types of Voting Systems Proportional Representation Systems An electoral system that tends to represent parties in line with their electoral support, often described as proportional representation. –Guarantees an equal, or at least more equal, relationship between the seats won by the parties and the votes they gained in the election.
  8. 8.  Also known as simple plurality. The candidate who receives the most votes (known as a plurality) is elected.  In constituencies voters choose between different candidates and can only vote for one of those candidates.  Voters cannot show any preference between candidates from the same party but must accept the chosen candidate from each party.  It is not necessary for a candidate to achieve an absolute majority (50% plus) to be elected.  In general elections the party that receives an absolute majority or, failing that, more seats than any other party, is expected to form a government.
  9. 9. For example, in the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives won 306 constituencies or “seats” - this was not an absolute majority, so they negotiated with both the Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs to establish a coalition government. This is called “horse-trading”. Therefore, when the Conservative & Liberal Democrat MPs agreed to a coalition government, they added their constituencies together (306 + 57 = 363 seats), giving them the majority needed to form the government. As a result of this coalition, both parties (Conservatives and Lib Dems) have a mandate for government - the mandate is a compromise between the two parties’ manifestos.
  10. 10. First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) Most important voting system used in the UK. Used for elections to the House of Commons and, therefore, known as the Westminster electoral system. Has the following implications: –Disproportionality –Systematic biases –Two-party system –Single-party government –The landslide effect This is a summary of what we discussed last week. Remember?
  11. 11. What are the strengths of the British Electoral System/FPTP? •Voters are presented with a clear choice: they know the most likely outcome is that either the Conservative or Labour Party will form the Government after the election. •It usually provides a stable one-party government. •The party in power can govern effectively, and will usually find that it can get its legislative programme through Parliament. •SMP or FPTP is simple to understand and use. •FPTP is a system in which each constituency has just one MP. This means there is a “unique relationship” between the MP and his constituency. •FPTP tends to exclude extreme parties.
  12. 12. What are the weaknesses of the British Electoral System/FPTP? •Governments have been elected with the support of less than 50% of the electorate. •Sometimes the winning party is not the party that has won most votes. •Turnout has been low in recent elections. •The third party (Lib Dems) is under-represented in the House of Commons. •Although FPTP generally excludes extreme parties, it also has the tendency to exclude all small parties. Eg. Green Party
  13. 13. What are the weaknesses of the British Electoral System? •There are a huge number of wasted votes under FPTP. Eg. 2010 Election had just over 70% wasted votes. •A wasted vote is one that does not elect anyone: either because it goes to a losing candidate or because it goes to a winning candidate but is “surplus” to what that candidate needs to win. •Most MPs are elected with the support of less than half of the voters in their constituencies. •FPTP depresses turnout because voters believe their vote will make little difference. •FPTP encourages elective dictatorship •MPs in safe seats don’t need to work to build a good reputation with their constituency.
  14. 14. Activity M1:1 Questions on the British Electoral System Take 15 minutes to answer the questions in Activity M1:1. We will review your answers after you have completed the activity.
  15. 15. Alternative Systems •Single Transferable Vote (STV) •Additional Member System (AMS) •Alternative Vote (AV) •Supplementary Vote (SV) •Alternative Vote-Plus (AV+)
  16. 16.  Constituencies return more than one member, normally between 4 and 6 (6 in Northern Ireland).  Each party may put up candidates up to the number of seats available in the constituency.  Voters may vote for any or all of the candidates in their own order of preference. They may use as many or as few votes as they wish.  Voters may place candidates from the same party in any order, whatever the parties may recommend. They can also vote for candidates from different parties.
  17. 17.  For a candidate to be elected s/he must achieve a quota of votes. The quota is calculated as the total votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one. Finally one is added to the total. That is the electoral quota.  A quota is a fixed, limited amount or number that is officially allowed.  Any candidates who achieve the quota on first preference votes are elected immediately.  Thereafter the spare subsequent preference votes of elected candidates are distributed to the other candidates until the required number of candidates have achieved the quota.
  18. 18. Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly The Single Transferable Vote System The Assembly consists of 108 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) representing 18 constituencies. Currently, there are 8 political parties represented in the Assembly who reflect the wide and diverse views and political opinion of the electorate of Northern Ireland. Elections are held every four years. Voting at an Assembly election is by secret ballot using a system of Proportional Representation (PR), known as Single Transferable Vote (STV). STV is also used in Northern Ireland Local Government and European Parliament elections and in elections in the Republic of Ireland.
  19. 19. What is STV? STV (Single Transferrable Vote) is a type of PR system. In an election using STV, constituencies elect a set number of candidates. In Northern Ireland this is 6. A party standing in an election can put forward as many candidates as it likes per constituency. Voters have as many preferences as there are candidates. They mark the candidates 1, 2, 3, etc in order of preference, with 1 for their first choice candidate, 2 for their second, and so on. Voters do not have to rank-order all candidates - they can choose as many or as few as they like. With STV, seats are awarded in proportion to votes cast, with later preferences expressed taken into account.
  20. 20. Questions so far? What is STV? What type of electoral system is it? Where is it used?
  21. 21. Advantages of STV STV has advantages over the ‘first past the post’ system used in Westminster elections: it increases voter choice (voters can vote for more than one candidate and can choose between candidates as well as between parties) it ensures that more voters have an effect on the outcome (over 80% of all valid votes are used to determine the 6 successful candidates) and therefore a result that is more representative of the views of the electorate.
  22. 22. How does STV work? Each voting paper is checked to see if it has been correctly filled in. Those that are not (known as spoilt papers) are removed from the count to give the number of valid votes which will be used to calculate the quota.
  23. 23. The Quota A quota is calculated for each constituency. This is the number of votes needed by a candidate to get elected. The quota is calculated using the formula below: Droop Quota = Total number of valid votes cast in constituency + 1 Number of seats +1 In Northern Ireland all the constituencies are 6-member, therefore the number of seats is 6. This means the quota is 1/7 of the votes cast plus 1 vote.
  24. 24. The Quota Example: In the 2007 Assembly Election, 41,822 valid votes were cast in the constituency of Lagan Valley. The quota of votes required therefore for a member to be elected was: 41,822 + 1 = 5974 + 1 = 5975 6 + 1 Thus, a candidate needed 5,975 votes to win.
  25. 25. How are Votes Counted and Preferences Transferred? Voting papers are sorted into bundles according to first preferences and counted. Any candidate reaching or exceeding the quota is elected. If they are elected with more 1st preference votes than the quota, their extra votes are called a surplus.
  26. 26. The Surplus Surplus votes from candidates who exceed the quota are transferred to the remaining candidates who were chosen as number 2 (second preference) on the elected candidate/s’ ballot papers (which show a second preference). All votes are transferred at a fractional value. The surplus is calculated as follows: Surplus = Number of valid votes received – Quota Example: The quota in constituency X is 4500 votes and candidate A received 5000 votes. Surplus = 5000 – 4500. Therefore, candidate A has a surplus of 500.
  27. 27. More Questions What are the advantages of STV? How does STV work? What is the Quota formula? How are votes counted and preferences transferred? What is a surplus? What happens to surplus votes?
  28. 28.  It is a hybrid system, i.e. a combination of two systems running side by side.  This system goes some way towards ensuring that the overall number of seats held by each political party reflects the share of the vote that the party receives.  A proportion of the total seats in the Parliament or assembly operate on the basis of first past the post. In Scotland and Wales this is about two thirds of the total seats.  The other third of the seats are elected on the basis of a regional list system which counteracts the distorting effects of the first past the post section. The result is a broadly proportional outcome overall.
  29. 29. The Additional Member System is a combination of the First-Past-The-Post system and party list voting The purpose is to retain the best features of First-Past- The-Post while introducing proportionality between parties through party list voting. Each voter has two votes, one vote for a single MP via First-Past-The-Post, and one for a regional or national party list. Additional Member System (AMS)
  30. 30. Additional Member System (AMS) Half the seats or more are allocated to the single-member constituencies and the rest to the party list. The percentage of votes obtained by the parties in the party list vote determines their overall number of representatives; the party lists are used to top up the First-Past-The-Post seats gained by the party to the required number. So if a party has won two seats in the constituencies but in proportion to its votes should have five, the first three candidates on its list are elected in addition. The new Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly were both elected by AMS in May 1999 and 2003 as was the London Assembly in May 2000.
  31. 31. Questions on AMS What does AMS stand for? What type of electoral system is it? What two electoral systems does it combine? How many votes does each voter get? Where is AMS used?
  32. 32. Arguments for AMS It results in broadly proportional representation along party lines while ensuring that there is a directly accountable MP for each constituency. It retains a number of single-member constituencies. It has produced strong and stable governments in Germany (but not single party governments). Each elector has at least one effective vote. Even if they see no chance of winning in the single member constituency, people can use their second vote for a party they support and still have a limited say through an additional member.
  33. 33. Arguments for AMS The separation of the vote, allows the voter to make an expression of popular approval or disapproval which is not possible under First- Past-The-Post. Because the first vote does not affect a party's total representation, a voter can use it to express personal support for a candidate without necessarily helping that candidate's party. It allows voters to make wider and more considered choices. For example, they can vote for different parties in the constituency and list elections. AMS would give people the government they wanted, keeping the link between MPs and voters as well as giving some value to all votes, via the additional members.
  34. 34. Arguments against AMS The retention of single-member constituencies reduces the likelihood of high levels of proportionality. The system creates confusion by having two classes of representative. It creates two types of MP, one with a constituency role and duties and one without a constituency. Constituency representation will be less effective than it is in FPTP, because of the larger size of constituencies and because some representatives have no constituency duties. Therefore, those who are under-represented today may not fare any better under AMS.
  35. 35. Arguments against AMS It combines many of the faults of First-Past-The-Post with many of the defects of the list systems of PR. Half of all MPs are not directly accountable to any voters, just to their party leadership, and have no constituency. To retain some constituency MPs, constituencies would have to increase in size. The parties would retain power over selecting candidates for constituency seats and would have complete control over choosing their Additional Members.
  36. 36. Questions What is an argument for AMS? What is an argument against AMS?
  37. 37.  Similar to AMS, the alternative vote system is composed of two elements, a constituency element and a top-up. Voters would have two votes - one for a constituency MP and the other from a regional list.  The constituency MPs are elected by the Alternative Vote (AV). The so- called 'top-up' MPs are elected from open party lists.  The system is not currently used anywhere in the UK. It is the system proposed by the Independent Commission on the Voting System (chaired by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead) to be put to the electorate in a referendum as an alternative to First Past the Post for UK General Elections.
  38. 38.  The same constituency boundaries are used and voters would elect one person to represent them in parliament, just as we do now.  However, rather than marking an 'X' against their preferred candidate, each voter would rank their candidates in an order of preference, putting '1' next to their favourite, a '2' by their second choice and so on.  If a candidate receives a majority of first place votes, he or she would be elected just as under the present system. However if no single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the second choices for the candidate at the bottom are redistributed. The process is repeated until one candidate gets an absolute majority.  The alternative vote is not actually a proportional system, but a majoritarian system. It looks most similar to the current electoral system. The system is used in the Australian House of Representatives.
  39. 39.  What is AV?  What 2 elements is AV composed of?  How are constituency MPs elected?  How are top-up MPs elected?  What type of electoral system is AV?
  40. 40.  In the constituencies, the winning candidate has the support of at least 50% of the voters. All MPs would have the support of a majority of their constituents.  The alternative vote retains the same constituencies and so the bond between members and their constituents is not lost.  People can vote for the candidates of their choice without fear of wasting their votes. A voter can vote for, say, the Green Party, knowing that if the Green Party candidate is not successful then their vote will transfer to their second preference. Tactical voting is no longer needed.  It is a broadly proportional system.  Everyone will have an incentive to vote, because their vote will count.  In the top-up section, voters will be able to choose the best candidate to represent their party.
  41. 41.  Constituencies will be slightly larger than at present.  As with AMS, there will be two categories of MPs.  Whilst it does ensure than the successful candidate is supported by a majority of his or her constituents, it does not give proportionality to parties or other bodies of opinion, in parliament.  It also does very little to give a voice to those who have been traditionally under-represented in parliament.
  42. 42.  What is an argument for AV?  What is an argument against AV?
  43. 43.  With the supplementary vote, there are two columns on the ballot paper - one for the first choice and one for the second choice. Voters are not required to make a second choice if they do not wish to. Voters mark an 'X' in the first column for their first choice and a second 'X' in the second column for their other choice.  Voters' first preferences are counted and if one candidate gets 50% of the vote, then he or she is elected. If no candidate reaches 50% of the vote, the two highest scoring candidates are retained and the rest of the candidates are eliminated.  The second preferences on the ballot papers of the eliminated candidates are examined and any that have been cast for the two remaining candidates are given to them. Whoever has the most votes at the end of the process wins.  The system is used to elect the Mayor of London.
  44. 44.  SV suffers from all the disadvantages of AV.  Unlike AV, SV does not ensure that the winning candidate has the support of at least 50% of the electorate.  SV does not eliminate the likelihood of tactical voting.
  45. 45.  What is SV?  Where is it used?  What is an argument against SV?  What other system is SV most like?
  46. 46. Alternative Vote-Plus (AV+) •The AV+ is a mixed system similar to AMS. •Voters have 2 votes, 1 for an individual candidate in a constituency and 1 for a party in a region. •The only difference is that in the constituency section AMS uses FPTP whereas AV+ uses AV. •Otherwise the 2 systems are identical. •AV+ is not used in any UK elections.
  47. 47.  What does AV+ stand for?  Is it used in the UK?  How many votes does each voter get?
  48. 48.  Turn to page 128 in your textbook. Spend the next 20 - 30 minutes answering the questions to Activity M3.2 Activity M3.2 Questions on Alternative Systems
  49. 49. Proportional Representation Systems There are 2 main types of PR systems in the UK: •The Single Transferable Vote (STV) •Used in Northern Ireland Assembly elections, Republic of Ireland, and local government elections in Scotland •The Regional List System •Used in GB for elections to the European Parliament
  50. 50. What are the advantages of proportional representation systems? •PR and mixed systems are far more proportional than Majoritarian systems. •There is a close fit between the way people vote and the representation of parties in the legislature. •They are fairer to 3rd parties and small parties. •Coalitions need not be unstable. Eg. Post-war Germany which has had a stable government using AMS. •If parties need each other as coalition partners this can improve the quality of the political debate. •FPTP encourages adversarial politics and polarisation of political argument. •STV has a further advantage: In STV voters vote for individual candidates. They are able to choose between candidates of different parties and between individual candidates of the same party; and they can even split their vote between parties. STV = “Voters Choice”
  51. 51. What are the disadvantages of proportional representation and alternative systems? •PR systems are much more likely to lead to a “hung Parliament” and to create either a minority or coalition Government. •Coalition governments give far too much power to 3rd parties, especially when they are needed as coalition partners by larger parties. Eg. Lib Dems •Coalition governments are often only formed after post-election “horse-trading” between the parties. Thus, the voters are not presented with a clear choice. •Coalition governments can sometimes be less stable. •Even where the government is stable, to govern effectively depends on securing agreement between coalition partners on a legislative programme, and this is more difficult than in a single-party government. •A “grand coalition” may lead to the same government being in power for decades. •PR systems break the unique link between an MP and his constituency. •The “closed list” system gives too much power to the party “selectorate” who draw up the party list. •PR systems are more difficult for ordinary voters to understand.STV in particular is a complex system.
  52. 52. Questions What is a proportional representation system? Give an example of a PR system. Where are PR systems used in the UK? What is an advantage of PR system? What is a disadvantage of PR system? Is PR better than Majoritarian system?
  53. 53. Criteria for Evaluating Electoral Systems The standard criteria for evaluating electoral systems are: •Proportionality: how good a “fit” is there between a party’s share of the popular vote and its share of seats? •Voter choice: do voters get to choose between individual candidates? •Stable and effective Government: is the system likely to produce and stable and effective Government? •The “constituency link”: does a system allow for constituency representation? •Simplicity: is the system one that ordinary voters can easily use and understand?
  54. 54. Questions What is a criterion used to evaluate a Electoral Systems?
  55. 55. It is important to remember…. •There is no one system that is best at all these criteria. •FPTP is good at all these criteria except “proportionality” at which it is very poor. •What is more important: “proportionality” or “effective government”?
  56. 56. Conservatives Conservatives in the current Coalition Government have agreed to call for a referendum on the introduction of the Alternative Vote System (AV). Perhaps this is because the FPTP currently disadvantages Conservatives.
  57. 57. Labour In 1999, the Labour government commissioned Lord Jenkins to recommend a new electoral system. The recommendation was for the Alternative Vote-Plus (AV+) system. However, the Labour government never called for a referendum on the AV+ system because they won big in both the 1997 & 2001 General Elections using the FPTP system.
  58. 58. Liberal Democrats The Liberal Democrats are the most committed of the three main parties to electoral reform. The reason is obvious: They are the party most disadvantaged by FPTP. They favour STV, but would consider AV a step forward. This would probably increase the number of Lib Dems MPs. The Green Party also favours electoral reform.
  59. 59. Questions What electoral system do Conservatives prefer? What system do Labour prefer? What system do Liberal Democrats prefer?
  60. 60. Quiz You will now have 1 hour to complete the Quiz. You may use your notes and book. We will review your answers after the break.
  61. 61. Homework •Read pp. 106 - 119 in your textbook •Read pp. 120 - 125 in your textbook •Read pp. 125 - 128 in your textbook. •Read pp. 130 - 136 in your textbook.
  62. 62. Revision Topics to revise for your exam: 1) Differences between direct & representative democracy. 2) The role of the Opposition in Parliament. 3) Functions of Parliament. 4) Whips 5) Functions of Political Parties. 6) Advantages and Disadvantages of PR systems. 7) Principles of Liberalism. 8) History of the Labour Party and New Labour. 9) Arguments for and against the British monarchy. 10) The purpose of the House of Lords. 11) The need for political parties to appeal to the middle class. 12) The impact of the Thatcher government on British politics. 13) Strengths and weaknesses of British electoral system. 14) Reasons behind decline in voter turnout.