Monday, 5 July 2010

Thoughts on the perfect electoral system

Mark Wadsworth put up a post recently on what he considered to be the least bad voting system - do please go read it, it's interesting stuff, but I don't think it would solve the problem that we have here of two monolithic parties that control the country despite having very little total support.

I did put up a comment there, but the discussion was fairly minimal, so I thought I'd re-post it here:

A few quick thoughts...

This does still mean that a vote for anyone who doesn't rank highly is still wasted. Perhaps the party can reallocate a few (one third?) of the votes for members who definitely aren't going to get a seat?

I still think there's going to be some barrier to entry here - a small party that does incredibly well and gets 50% of all the votes of one member's-worth of constituency (which would guarantee a win in the single member constituency) would have only 1/10th of the vote in the 5 member MMC proposed.

Consider if two large parties get 1/3 of the vote each, and the remainder are split between smaller parties (including the 1/10th to the party that we're looking at) the large parties could simply give each of their top three 1/9 of the total vote, meaning that they'd have a fight for the top spot (likely going to whoever had a few more votes) and they'd end up with all of the seats between them.

This would be lessened somewhat if people voted for individuals instead of parties, but most tribal voters would literally vote for a plastic toy with a red/blue (delete according to taste) rosette on, so chances are they'd all be votes for the party directly. (although it occurs to me, you could make votes for the party itself worth less in comparison to direct member votes, as direct member votes have the risk that the entire vote could be wasted).

I would perhaps be a little more radical in electoral reform. We have ~60m population and ~600 MPs, why not just make it so that each MP requires a pledge from 100,000 people. They would then represent those people directly, rather than a geographical area. Each person could only pledge to one MP, of course, and for the avoidance of doubt you would not be able to change your mind instantly, perhaps a minimum term of 6 months or 1 year before you can remove or change your pledge? And if an MP got 200,000 pledges, he or she would get two votes in the commons. Simples. And under this system, every vote counts.

If we must stick close to the system we have now, I'd probably halve the number of constituencys and run the voting as we do now, then I'd add on a PR system that assigned the other half of the seats based on the number of seats each party should have got nationwide.

You could even question the need for parliament altogether. We have the technology now that we could build a computer system where everyone in the country (identified by NI number perhaps?) could vote online on our laws, giving a truly democratic result. Of course if it was built by the government the system would be very insecure, full of faults and likely have big gaping back doors so people could cheat, but it's an idea...

Anyone else have any thoughts?


Mark Wadsworth said...

RA, that was a good comment, but it was specific to multi-member constituencies. I am still mulling a proper response to it, as I think that given where we are starting from (and what people's prejudices are), MMC's are the best next step.

The other voting system you suggest (100,000 votes for one MP) would be far better suited to elections to House of Lords, which is supposed to be a bit wild-card-y.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Oh yes, and I originally went with the idea of a mixture of FPTP and top-up seats (which they have in other countries) and was shouted down because people don't like party lists.

So if people don't like party lists, surely the way forward is to give people a choice between voting for an individual or a party, which is unworkable on a national level - you'd need a ballot paper with thousands of names on it - but works well with MMCs of up to ten candidates or so.

And finally, sure, independents might find it a hard slog in five member MMCs, but there have never been more than two or three independents in any recent Parliament, so that is a non-issue.

Rational Anarchist said...

((commenting seems fubarred atm - can't post under my google account :S ))

With the infrequent updates, I didn't realise that anyone was reading this :-) I just wanted to remind myself to check your post regularly and (on the off-chance that someone was reading) to see if anyone had any other ideas.

Regarding MMCs, I think you're right in a way - they would be a good next step (I don't think they're too big a step, and as such we might conceivably get them sometime in the next few decades), but I don't think they're the end result that we want. They still leave a lot of people with essentially worthless votes. As you yourself have pointed out, at the last election the number of votes required to win a seat varied massively between different parties, so some votes were worth a lot more than others, and some were worthless.

What we want ideally is a system that gives each vote equal weight (assuming that we want to fully embrace Democracy, anyway. It's not great, but it seems to be the best system we have [and that's another topic]...) So, the ideal system would be one man (or woman, or whatever), one vote. The true ideal system would be literally to have the entire populace vote on new legislation. Perhaps have it so that new legislation is introduced by petition (100,000 signatures required to bring it to the national attention?) then use online forums for everyone to debate and vote on it. This is probably still a little beyond our reach at present (and given the farce of any government IT project, we'd want to be very careful before signing up) but it would be nice if it could be made to work.

So, short of that, what can we do? Well, I like the idea of top-up seats. The main argument against top-up seats seems to be that people don't like party lists. So don't use one? Make it so that the people who get elected to the top-up positions are the same people that were going for the seats but didn't win, and award the top-up seats in order of who got the most votes out of these folks, or who was closest to winning (i.e. how many votes short they were), or how many votes ahead of the person in third, or some combination of these methods. Party lists are a recipe for (corruption, greed, bribery and) disaster. Note: seats would be allocated to parties based on total party votes, but then distributed within the party in accordance with these other criteria, so that the party can't just parachute whoever it wants into the seats.

In all honesty, I think a lot of the problems that we have are due to the party system. If people stood as individuals, based on their own beliefs, then allied with like-minded people once elected, things would be better (particularly if you had to state your principles before the election and were prevented from reneging on them). Party whips are horrible things - anyone with a claim to principles would ignore them anyway, but they daren't if they want to have any chance at a ministerial role. It distorts things massively.

For that matter, would it be possible to set up a system where people could vote for policies rather than people? Have the people list their own policies beforehand, then each person votes on the policies they support and states which they are against, and the vote counts as a vote for whoever it most closely matches?

Mark Wadsworth said...

"The main argument against top-up seats seems to be that people don't like party lists. So don't use one? Make it so that the people who get elected to the top-up positions are the same people that were going for the seats but didn't win, and award the top-up seats in order of who got the most votes out of these folks, or who was closest to winning..."

That's another way of doing it, but either

a) You don't have party lists, so what that would boil down to is the top two candidates in each seat gets elected, which wouldn't help smaller parties, but it might help particularly popular independents (big deal - more pork). It would keep the "local constituency link" though.

b) You do have party lists, in which case the favoured candidates would get the safe seats as at present, and the not-quite-so-favoured candidates would get the fairly-safe seats, and you lose the "constituency link".

PS, I like FPTP with top-up seats, but others shouted it down - I am merely passing on their concerns.

Which is why I like MMCs. A single member MMC is FPTP, a 650-member MMC is full PR - but requires too much guesswork by parties to decide how many candidates to field and a ballot paper as thick as a telephone directory. So there must be a happy medium, like 3 or 5 or 10 or whatever.

And I do like the party system. If we only had independents then we would have pork spending and rampant NIMBYism, we'd always just have the lowest common denominator and the worst of all worlds.

As to voting on individual policies, forget it. Most people are totally incapable of any sort of intellectually coherent thought and are capable of holding two diametrically opposed points of view simultaneously, depending on how you phrase it.