Sunday, 9 May 2010

Deciding on Electoral Reform

The ConservaTories and LibDems are negotiating about forming a government. One of the central issues is electoral reform. Each party agrees that something must be done to make for a fairer voting system and each have suggested reducing the number of MPs, but they have very different proposals. On the one hand the LibDems prefer a Single Transferrable Vote type of Proportional Representation in which you rank your preferred choices (leaving blank the boxes next to the MPs you don't want). Each constituency can have several MPs. The Conservatives prefer First Past the Post but suggest that each constituency should have an equal number of voters (something that may be deemed fair for a PR constituency, too).

Wouldn't it be properly democratic, and avoid the self interests of each party, to put these choices to the electorate? Should we consider other referendum options too - the Labour Manifesto suggested a referendum on the Alternative Vote, which also allows you to rank Candidates but just one is chosen for each Constituency.

Interestingly, if the electorate were presented with more than two options, then should the ballot be counted on a FPTP basis or a type of PR?

The objective of the referendum should be to reach a clear decision, building a consensus from the degree of support for each proposal, yet be simple to operate. It should accommodate views on preferred, acceptable and unacceptable choices. To my mind it would therefore be sensible to allow voters to rank their preferences, if they wanted to, counting 1st place as worth three times the power of the 3rd place and the 2nd place as double the value of the 3rd place (1st is worth 3 points, 2nd worth 2 points, 3rd worth 1 point). No ranking is effectively a vote against that proposal. While the calculation may not be fully understood by everyone, the ballot paper would be clear and simple.

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