Systems to improve voting

Friday, 10th June

Make Votes Matter

There is a number of options for PR systems

• MARTIN Plaut obviously does not like proportional representation, PR, (Proportional representation systems are problematic, June 2).

To support his case he relies on finding the most extreme examples of PR possible and also of problems in countries with PR that have nothing to do with their using PR and, indeed, might make them ungovernable without PR.

He mentions Belgium, a country composed of two separate communities. This is not unlike Northern Ireland which was ruled by a super-majority of the representatives of one group until 1999. The PR system put in place after that may have its problems but it does give the different communities a voice.

Mr Plaut mentions South Africa and Israel. They and the Netherlands are, I believe, the only places using a single national closed list for their elections. It is a system beloved by party bosses but by few others.

Most systems involving lists require parties to get a minimum percentage of votes, a threshold, to keep out very small fringe groups; but Israel has a very low threshold (it was 1 per cent, now 2 per cent) which results in many small, fringe, parties having one or two seats.

It is also possible to have open lists systems where voters can amend the order of the candidates and the German state of Baden-Württemberg does not use lists. There the best performing runners-up form the lists for their respective parties.

One “secret” of FPTP, first-past-the-post, is that the large parties are “big tent” coalitions. Behind the scenes battles rage between different factions and control, and policies, swings from right to left and back again.

Coalitions formed under PR tend to be more stable and voters can express their dislike for parties who entered coalitions they didn’t like in the same way that voters turned away from the Liberal Democrats in 2015 because they joined the Tories. Ironically, under FPTP, this benefited the Tories!

Now the question of the far right. I suspect they get some of their appeal by portraying themselves as the “truth-tellers” suppressed by the system.

If they have a level of support it is probably better for their representatives to be somewhere where their views can be challenged than building up support on the internet or by infiltrating the mainstream parties.

There is no perfect system of PR. The Electoral Reform Society (founded 1884) is a good place to find the details of the different options.

I’m a supporter of Make Votes Matter, whose “Good Systems Agreement” lists 10 principles of a good voting system for general elections and has been endorsed by many political parties and organisations.


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