Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


I don’t like the Single Transferable Vote

In Scotland we use different voting systems for every single election – First-past-the-post for Westminster, AMS for the Scottish Parliament, STV for Scottish council elections, and d’Hondt for the elections for the European Parliament.

I personally prefer d’Hondt and don’t mind AMS, but I really don’t like STV (the Single Transferable Vote).

On paper it’s a beautiful system. As Wikipedia puts it, “under STV, an elector’s vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or unused votes are transferred according to the voter’s stated preferences. The system minimizes “wasted” votes, provides approximately proportional representation, and enables votes to be explicitly cast for individual candidates rather than for closed party lists. It achieves this by using multi-seat constituencies (voting districts) and by transferring votes to other eligible candidates that would otherwise be wasted on sure losers or sure winners.”

However, this only really works well if voters remember to vote for all the candidates they would like to get elected. In practice, many voters will only vote for one or perhaps two candidates, which leads to a lot of wasted votes.

Even worse, because the political parties anticipate this flaw, they don’t put up more candidates than they expect they can get elected. This is because they fear that if there are two candidates from party X but only votes enough for one candidate to be elected, the two candidates will share the votes so evenly that none of them get through.

An example of this was the elections to Glasgow City Council in 2007: The SNP put up 22 candidates and got them all elected; however, in many wards they got so many votes that it’s likely they could have got more people elected if they had tried. Labour didn’t seem to suffer much from putting up a very large number of candidates, but if their share of the vote had been a bit lower, it’s quite possible they would’ve ended up with fewer councillors than if they had put up fewer candidates.

This way of second-guessing the number of candidates you can get elected is to my mind quite undemocratic and requires a solution. If STV cannot be abolished, I think it should be obligatory to rank all the candidates (but that would probably lead to a very large number of spoilt ballot papers).

However, to me the best solution would be to replace STV with either AMS or d’Hondt.

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